21 November 1997

In celebration of English apple & its noble history

Some of the 100 varieties of apples grown for display at the annual Perry Court apple fair. The history of apples is of particular interest to fruit farmer Lionel Fermor pictured (left) with son Martin, daughter-in-law Heidi and two of his grandchildren, Cherry and Tom.

LIONEL Fermor knows a good apple when he sees one. He grows 71ha (150 acres) of them – Cox and Bramleys for the main crops and 100 other varieties for the farms annual apple fair.

Lionel and Jessie Fermor farm 283ha (700 acres) at Perry Court, Bilting, Kent, with their son Martin and his wife Heidi. With 10 apple fairs behind them, this years event ran like clockwork and had a magnificent display of apples of many varieties despite the devastation caused by frost which took 90% of the expected crop. Lionel reckons it is the most severe frost he has known since he lost an entire crop at his previous farm in 1944.

&#42 Unusual types

He is interested in the history of apples and started displaying unusual varieties in the farm shop. "Then my wife thought it would be a good idea to put on a show here, with profits going to charity," explains Lionel who sourced his trees from the Royal Horticultural Society, Brogdale and Lord Selbourne.

Apple juice tastings, country crafts and machinery displays round out the show which raised £3000 for Imperial Cancer Research this year bringing its total contribution to £25,000 for the charity.

There were some intriguing apples on display, such as the Pitmaston Pineapple. This russet apple has a distinct pineapple flavour. "But it is only an inch-and-half round. How do you get it picked? No one would want to give extra money for it," says Lionel. "There is usually a good reason why the old apples are not grown much now. Often they get canker, the flavour has gone, size or keeping qualities are poor – we havent found a miracle apple that has been forgotten."

&#42 Oddly shaped

"The only old one we thought could be used is the Adams Pearmain," says Lionel. "It is crisp and a good keeper but is oddly shaped. It used to be nicknamed the ducks bill."

He laments the passing of the green Cox which had excellent flavour and aroma. "The Pippin was forgotten in the 50s when people wanted a red apple. You could grow 700 bushels to the acre of green Cox. Only on very favourable ground will you get that amount with todays red ones."

But he still enjoys the modern Cox and thinks Worcesters take a lot of beating. Red Alkameda (spellings vary) is another modern apple he recommends.

Heidi Fermor (favourite apple Court Pendu Plat) had a busy time organising the apple pie competition. Head judge was French chef Remy Dupray from Eastwell Manor, Eastwell Park, Kent. He was looking for pastry that melted in the mouth and a filling that had a little sharpness. "Apple that is not too sweet," he explained, "and with a pastry base that is crumbly."

Two entries were not strictly pies and his verdict on a distinctly French-style apple tart was a sighed "Just like we get at home". However, it was a good old English apple pie that was to be the winner and he had to call in the non-professional judges to help him decide on the final choice. The winner, B Powell from Egerton will be able to put Remys dishes to the taste test when she takes up her prize of a free dinner for two at Eastwell Manor.

&#42 Natural state

But while the cooked apple pies looked delicious, apples in their natural state were even more tempting. Who could resist Christmas Pearmain? These little apples appear to be the real thing on which the synthetic Christmas tree apple decorations are based and would look much lovelier on the festive tree.

Blushed and golden, the Wyken Pippin was first grown in England in the early 1700s, reputedly from the pip of a Continental apple. Non Pareil, arrived from France 200 years earlier, brought in by the Jesuits. Heidis favourite, Court Pendu Plat, originated in Roman times. It is late flowering, so should miss any frosts and stores naturally until March/April.

"People are interested in getting to know the varieties of English grown apples and it is down to us to get them here tasting them," says Heidi. She maintains that the show almost organises itself now as the apples are selected as they are picked and local crafts people come back year after year. In fact it is such a success that they are tempted to emulate it with another of their crops. "We might try a strawberry fair as well next year," she says.

Balanced on a box of Bramleys is the winning entry in the 1997 Perry Court apple pie contest.