Saturday, 24 October 2009

Apples galore

Off into a grey and wet day for my jaunt to Chelmsford and Lathcoats Farm, thanks to a seasonal tweet from essexgourmet. Getting there was surprisingly easy, and as soon as I'd arrived at Chelmsford station, the right bus turned up to take me through Galleywood estate with its fabulously bird-named streets (Peregrine Drive, Firecrest Walk etc) and drop me just opposite the farm. Lathcoats grows over 40 varieties of apple (as well as other fruit and veg) and most of them were available to taste in the busy tasting shed. There were baskets and baskets of apples, with plates of chedder morsels to scoff in between fruit.
As soon as I paused by a basket, a knife wielder appeared to shear off a slice for me to taste. I had a long chat with one of the farm's owners, who told me about apple picking for his grandad and his garden apple tree onto which he's grafted seven varieties.
One of the apples I most wanted to taste was D'Arcy Spice, an 18th century Essex variety.
It was lovely - almost sparkling with yes, a rich spiced flavour. My apple advisor pointed me to Topaz. I was a bit snooty about this one, as it's modern and not British - but he was right.
The flavour was outstanding - almost sherbety - and the more I ate, the better it got.
Next up was Ashmead's Kernel, first recorded in 1700, and it's another lovely spicy apple. Next to it was Temptation, a french variety from a Delicious cross, but it tasted bland in comparison to the others.
Kidd's Orange, a New Zealand variety, is a Cox/Delicious cross, and was much better, with an almost jammy finish. I must have tasted around 20 varieties, and I was bowled over by the differences in taste. Truly a wonderful fruit. By now, I was appled out, so I bought some D'Arcy Spice apples and wandered over the yard to admire some of the farm's veg, stacked outside the farm shop.
Beautiful pumpkins and very painterly cauliflowers.
There was a scrum around a small tent on the other side of the yard, so I gently elbowed my way in.
There were a couple of tables with recipe leaflets and the food made from the recipes. This apple cake was particularly good.
On the other side of the tent, I joined the queue for Lathcoates single variety apple juice - make mine a bottle of Topaz. The farm had invited several of its farm shop suppliers to have a stall, including Cratfield Beef. After guzzling a couple of roast beef samples, I bagged a small joint of silverside.
I had a long chicken chat with the father and son team from Essex Birds - their rather wonderful slogan is 'chicken raised free as a bird'. They supply the farm shop with poultry, and are now rearing their big chickens for Christmas. I promised to return to the shop to see if the taste is as good as my beloved Wickham Manor Farm chooks.
I headed for the farm shop, which has a very good selection of fruit, veg, bread, preserves and dairy produce. Yet more apples in the specially cooled fruit and veg room. There were notices up explaining that one day this June, the heavens opened and all the orchards were pelleted with hail for an hour. Hence some of the apples are slightly stippled. I bought some bread and cheese, then headed out to meet a few of the animals.
This pygmy goat was on the lookout for stray food...
...but the kune kune pig was gently snoozing under a much-munched apple tree.
It was a great trip, and the farm was bustling with families, enjoying the apples, riding donkeys or getting a bite from the farm cafe. I'll certainly return. It's the kind of place that makes me feel very good about British food.


mangocheeks said...

Looks like you had grand day. I envy the fact that you were able to sample some of the very many apple varities we have growing here.

fran39 said...

Thanks, Mango - I've never seen or tasted so many apples in one sitting! It was a superb day.

Dan said...

Fran, Aha - Essex, love it.
What a great way to spend a few hours. I'm intrigued by the apples, do they always sell so many varieties including the historic types?.
I'll have to get over there to check it out - Chelmsford is a 30min drive from me.

fran39 said...

Dan - yep, they grow and sell all 40 varieties. The apple season starts in Aug and ends next month: my fave, D'Arcy Spice, is cropping now so you'll find it in the farm shop.