Jo Malone hears how our heritage apples are making a comeback.

There's much more to apples in Norfolk than Bramleys and Gala. Jo Malone hears how our heritage appels are makign a comeback.

Apple of my eye  

A bite of sweet and juicy Red Falstaff, a sharp Captain Palmer or a striped Hanworth Codlin? There’s much more to apples in Norfolk than Bramleys and Gala. Jo Malone hears how our heritage apples are making a comeback.


Pictures: Antony Kelly

Cold crisp winters, mild springs, a decent amount of rain and just enough sunshine. It’s no wonder apple growing in Norfolk dates back hundreds of years – our weather is ideal!

A 13th century Norfolk document is the earliest written account of apples in England, describing how one farmer in the county paid his annual rent with 200 Pearmains and four hogsheads of Pearmain cider.One or two of those medieval varieties of Norfolk apples survive today, and many more have been developed in the past 300 years. With romantic names like Pine Apple Russet, Norfolk Royal Russet, Lynn’s Pippin, New Costessey Seedling, Admiral, Jordan’s Weeping, Norfolk Green Queen, Norfolk Beauty and Golden Noble, it’s no wonder there’s increasing interest in growing these traditional varieties once more.Norfolk was once well known for its apples, with large, commercial orchards in mid, south and east Norfolk and towards the fens in particular. Fruit went to local markets or to London and to the famous Gaymer’s Cider Works at Attleborough, which closed in 1995.

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 Now, as a rising number of people takes an interest in local produce, Norfolk apple growing is beginning to boom again. Clare Stimson, one of the founders of the East of England Apples and Orchards Project (EEAOP), which was started by apple enthusiasts originally as the Norfolk Apples and Orchards Project, explains that it is working to track down the “missing” Norfolk varieties.

The EEAOP holds a number of workshops and apple days when people can taste various types and bring along their fruit for identification. So far the project has found about 40 Norfolk varieties now growing, and members believe they will find another 35 or so, if they can encourage people to get their apples identified.“Every different variety has a different flavour. If you only have apples from the supermarkets you are missing out on so many tastes. We want people to keep growing them. “Norfolk apples are a part of our culture and we want to keep it alive,” says Clare.She is keen to encourage people to try the different varieties, adding that while her favourites are usually whatever is ripe at the time, she is particularly fond of Hubbard’s Pearmain and Magdalen, as well as the cooking apple Striped Beefing.“Norfolk has some really good ones,” she says, pointing out that many varieties are available for sale from EEAOP’s nursery in north-west Norfolk.

The Sandringham Royal Estate is well known for its orchards. Most of the 50 acres of eight main varieties were planted by King George VI, says Steve Mann, the fruit farm manager. He says that while they grow commercial varieties such as Cox’s, Discovery, Katy, Worcester Pearmain and Laxton’s Fortune, they do have several Norfolk varieties dotted about.

Our weather, not too hot and typically without blossom-killing late frosts, is ideal for apples, adds Steve. “It is absolutely perfect in Norfolk.”It’s not simple on a large scale though, with a balance needed between keeping pests down and growing the fruit until its flavour develops. Varieties picked early, such as Discovery, don’t keep very long, while those picked later, such as Bramley, will last for ages.

 Pick your own is popular in the Sandringham Orchards in the autumn (see for details or call 01553 612908).Whin Hill Cider, at Wells, has its own orchards, with trees including a good mixture of Norfolk varieties, and Salle Organics, north of Norwich, is one farm to recently move into the apple business, taking on an existing orchard and converting it over several years to an organic industry.Giles Blatchford, Salle Organics’ farm manager, says the apples are grown the traditional way and he loves this new element of the Salle Organics produce.“It is fantastic, seeing the varieties of apple ripen and being picked throughout the orchard,” he comments, adding that Salle would be introducing more Norfolk heritage varieties too.“We can grow a lot of the traditional varieties that have been given up on because they are not so high yielding,” Giles says, explaining that the organic traditional methods were ideal for these lower yielding, yet very tasty, apples because time was spent nurturing the tree and fruit.

Norfolk has a great many smaller orchards recently planted with traditional county varieties, grown for interest and flavour rather than high yields. Among these are the half hectare Coltishall Community Apple Orchard, off Wroxham Road, which was planted 13 years ago with a mixture of Norfolk varieties such as Vicar of Beighton, Norfolk Coleman, Striped Beefing, Banns, Jordan’s Weeping, Norfolk Honey Russet, Dr Harvey, Foulden Pearmain, London Pearmain, Norfolk Royal Red, Magdalen, Look East, Captain Palmer and Norfolk Summer Broad. Visitors are welcome and local people can pick the crop.

Grants for planting are sometimes available too. Ask Jason Kidman, of the Norfolk County Council countryside team, on 01603 222765.


EEAOP:, 01328 838403.

Find out more

September 12-13 2009: Sandringham Game & Country Show, 10am-6pm, Sandringham Royal Estate.Falconry, fishing, wildfowling, archery, country sports and pursuits and the chance to explore the orchard. See 4 2009: Apple Day, Stow Hall Garden,Stow Bardolph.The hall gardens here support more than 60 varieties of apples. See 11 2009: Apple day, 10am-4pm,North Walsham Garden Centre,01692 402591.www.northwalshamgardencentre.comApple day with displays, identification, sales, fruit tree information and sales, a cider maker, plus hopefully local craft stalls and local food.October 17 2009: Apple Day, Creake Abbey,Burnham Market, 01328 738321.More details on the East of England Apple and Orchards Project website at October 25 2009: Apple Day, 10am-5pm, Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse,Gressenhall, 01362 860563, fun family day with apple identification, apple tasting, country crafts, displays, apple games and the traditional means of preserving food.

Apple facts

• Apples are members of the rose family.• They originated in the Middle East more than 400 years ago.• Eat up! Apples are fat free and contain about 80 calories.• Apples were the favourite fruit of the ancient Greeks and Romans and they’ve been cultivated in Britain since the Roman occupation.• Avalon (or Abalon), the sacred island in the tales of King Arthur, translates as “apple orchard”.• Apples float because about 25pc of their volume is air.• Apples usually have five seeds.• You need about two pounds of apples to make a nine-inch pie. • Churchman and historian Thomas Fuller described Norwich in 1662 as: “Either a city in an orchard or an orchard in a city.”