By Amelia Woolford, Project Development Officer.
Back in 2010 a small orchard was planted at the Allerton Project using apple varieties sourced from Leicestershire with an aim to conserve traditional varieties along with an opportunity for research into their genetics.
The planting is part of the farm’s Higher Level Stewardship Scheme. The Leicestershire varieties include Barnack Orange, Prince Charles, Annie Elizabeth, Peasgood Nonsuch, Dumelow Seedling, Cottenham Seedling and off course, Loddington. Some of these varieties can be traced back to 1710 and 1820. The orchard also has the added of bonus of contributing to local heritage programmes and local businesses.
The orchard has been developing year on year with a greater crop of fruit each time. This year we have taken our apples to the local Bottle Kicking Cider Company based in Hallaton, a stone’s throw away from Loddington. Bottle Kicking Cider is a small scale, craft cider maker inspired by the local ancient tradition of Hare Pie Scrambling and Bottle Kicking.
After picking the apples with the team back in October we were invited to see the pressing and a pre-tasting before our apples are made into cider next spring. The company are centred around using local produce and efficiency.
The apples are washed, milled and pressed as soon as they arrive at the farm and the pulp goes to a local farm for animal feed. The juice is then left to slowly ferment in a carefully controlled environment in clean, recycled water troughs.
Although the apples contain natural yeast the process is enhanced by using a champagne yeast. The natural sugar present in the apples is used to turn the juice to alcohol, the cider is then ‘racked off’ in vacuum packed containers and left to develop. In the spring the different blends are made, some of which are tailor made for each customer. The company makes around 50,000 litres a season and supplies local pubs, restaurants, country shows and regional events.
Traditional orchards have been part of the English landscape for centuries are important for conserving genetic diversity as well as their wider contribution to biodiversity conservation. They are a distinctive part of the UK landscape and can be found across many farms, small or large.
Although this partnership is on a small scale, it reminds us how important it is to support local businesses and British produce especially as we come into a new age of UK agricultural markets and policy. British farmers provide a great variety of quality food and support over 3 million jobs.
Food security and self-sufficiency are paramount as we become more food savvy and want to support British farmers. We have an opportunity to reconnect with consumers and diversify the market all whilst enjoying fresh food that has been locally produced.