Ever eaten a Medlar? Ever enjoyed quince jelly? Ever even seen a Service Fruit? Fewer and fewer people are able to answer yes to these questions which is a shame because they were once very popular.
Medlar, Service and Quince are three rarely seen trees that grow wonderfully well in most of the UK. However because their fruits don’t keep well, you never see them in shops (aside from the odd jar of Quince Jelly) and so their popularity has slowly declined.
This can be seen as a shame but equally could be viewed as a great opportunity to enjoy a pleasure known to only a select few.
If you plant a service or quince or medlar tree you will be able to enjoy a harvest of rare fruits for decades to come.
Quince is the best known of the three and as I mentioned you can pop to the supermarket and get some quince jelly to taste. It is highly perfumed, sweet and delicious.
Medlars may look like they have a bum and the fruit pulp is the wrong shade of brown but the taste is exceptional. Tangy, warming with spicy notes a blotted medlar is a taste of heaven. It is also a blast from the past as this fruit was enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans too.
Medlars are self fertile and not that bothered about where they are planted so chuck one in the ground and see what you get.
Like the Medlar the Service fruit is ancient and looks similar to a pear. However high acidity and tannins need to be bletted out before you can eat the wonderfully flavoured pulp. It tasted just like spiced pear.
So, just because the supermarket cannot make money from them is no reason for us to forego the pleasure of enjoying these great gifts from nature. Plant a Quince Medlar or Service tree and enjoy some decidedly different fruits.
60% of the varieties grown in our grandparents day have gone forever. If the supermarkets had their way we would all be eating big shiny, but utterly tasteless apples which will keep for months on their shelves.
Remember, supermarkets are all about profit. So, fight the power and grow your own. In the UK, the home of the National Fruit Collection is Brogdale Farm in Kent. They have about 400 varieties and will create a cutting especially for you so you can grow your own tree. So, get down there in october, taste the apples (and they are amazing), find a flavour you adore and get a cutting grafted onto a rootstock suitable for your garden.
Apple trees that have been trained into cordon or espalier shapes are best pruned in summer. This is different to the standard winter pruning method which is still considered best for ordinary apple trees.
There are still crops being pulled up this month. Leeks are doing well and brussells sprouts are looking good. The last of the pumpkins has been lifted and we now have to think about next year.
Soil preparation is the key. We want a healthy weed free soil to give us a kick start, so we are mulching deeply with rotted horse manure and a covering of black membrane on top of that. It should keep the weeds down and by spring the worms will have pulled all the goodness into the topsoil.
Next month the apple trees will need a good pruning. I have one apple tree that is way to big, so over the last 3 years I have taken on major branch away, to slowly regain control. If I chopped all the major branches in one go the shock might kill the tree, so a gradual approach is definitely called for.
If like me you have an apple tree in your garden, and if like me you haven’t touched it in a decade except to pick apples in autumn, then by default you have organic apples. Hooray!
The very best thing you can do with organic apples is to ferment them and produce your own scrumpy cider. Free booze! Hooray again!
Now be careful, because the alcoholic stuff that comes off apples can be potent so if you follow the traditional method of cider making that we advocate you should be in for some pretty amazing, knock-your-socks-off, pink elephants on parade results.
And what is the best method for making organic cider?
Simplicity itself. First sort out good apples from bad and pulp the good ones. A food processor is good and a cheese grater is better than nothing, but the basic requirement is to chop up the apples very small so that you can press the juice out of them.
The press can be nothing more sophisticated than a cheesecloth full of mashed apple beneath a heavy board in your first year. Later on you will want to buy or build a press to extract more juice.
Take your organic apple juice and some cider yeast (or beer yeast or wine yeast or leave it in the garden with the lid off and hope for the best) and mix together in a big lidded bucket. After 4 or 5 days transfer to a demijohn with an airlock and allow to ferment for a week or two till the airlock is still.
Transfer to sterilised bottles and allow your cider to mature for a few months before cracking open a bottle.