It was Apple Day at Ripon’s Walled Garden on Saturday. We went along.
For me, it was a chance to revisit my childhood. Every Saturday, I’d go shopping with my mother to the Tachbrook Street Market. My favourite stall was the greengrocer’s. I’d try to add to my collection of prettily-decorated tissues used by the citrus fruit growers to wrap their produce. I’d wonder at expensive exotica such as lychees or passion fruit. But really, we’d come to buy.
And my mother taught me that apples aren’t simply apples. There was something new to look forward to every month in autumn. The eagerly anticipated first apple of all – the bright red Discovery, quickly followed by Beauty of Bath. The Cox’s Orange Pippin of course, which we had to shake: it wasn’t ripe unless the pips rattled. Blenheim Orange. Laxton’s Supreme. Laxton’s Superb. Worcester Pearmain. Charles Ross. James Grieve. Egremont Russet, which I always associated with Bonfire Night, but which nowadays is already in the shops. Ribston Pippin. Ellison’s Orange. I learnt to love them all: some sharp and juicy; others more mellow, slightly less crisp; white-fleshed; creamy-fleshed; small; large; knobbly; oval; round – such variety.
Many of these have all but disappeared from the shops. It’s all about large, white-fleshed, crisp apples. Jazz, Pink Lady, Granny Smith – even Cox all seem much of a muchness. And half the time, when apple season is at its peak in England, they aren’t even from the UK. Cookers these days are Bramley Seedlings. Excellent of course, but where are the Lord Derbys, the Newton Wonders, the Grenadiers?
In places like Ripon’s Walled Garden, that’s where. Look at my Rogue’s Gallery of all the varieties they still grow.
This display below piqued my interest. I recently read Tracey Chevalier’s At the Edge of the Orchard, a partly-true story which begins in Ohio in Pioneering days. A bit-part in the tale is played by an apple variety, Pitmaston Pineapple, that had been carefully brought over from Herefordshire. I’d never preciously heard of them, but … they’re still grown in Ripon. I tasted one. The so-called pineapple taste eluded me … but I was still glad to have eaten a little bit of history.
Ripon Walled Garden is Ripon’s best kept secret. It’s a a charity supporting young people and adults with learning difficulties to learn horticultural and catering skills in a sheltered environment. Come here for a delectable tea-and-cake moment or a light meal, made using their fresh garden produce: sit at a table in the shade of the old apple trees in the well-tended and colourful garden. You’ll go home refreshed and happy.