There is something of an orchard revival happening in South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This area used to be the cider capital of England, every farm had its traditional orchard with branches bending low with fruit and valleys wreathed in blossom. Now orchards are much less common.
More often you will see a few remnant trees tucked away in a corner of a field or garden or notice street names such as “Orchard Way.” But gradually new orchards are being planted and old orchards are being restored.
Never mind Golden Delicious or Braeburn, with over 6,000 different varieties of apple in Britain, each area had its own local specialities. Apples traditionally associated with South Devon include Slack-ma-girdle, Pig’s nose, Devonshire Quarrenden, Tang Harvey, Tom Putt and Browns of Staverton.
One very local speciality is the plum found immediately around Dittisham overlooking the Dart Estuary, known locally as the Dit’sum Plowman.
Orchard Link was set up in 1998 by a group of orchard owners, cider makers and fruit enthusiasts, all determined to reverse the decline in traditional South Devon orchards.
The organisation offers technical advice and support to members and training courses in tree pruning, grafting, cider making and the planning and planting of new orchards. The less experienced can also learn from those with more knowledge at Orchard Link's regular open meetings.
If orchards are to be properly maintained, there needs to be a value to their harvest. Orchard Link hires out presses (of different sizes), mills and pasteurisers to members for use at harvest time. In addition, it puts cider and juice makers in touch with those with surplus fruit, and vice versa.
Orchard Link produces an informative newsletter three times a year and organizes events such as orchard visits, cider and juice tastings and presentations by experts. There is also plenty of opportunity to 'talk apples' at its Annual Gathering. Membership is £12 a year. Visit the Orchard Link website.
Devon Apples also has a useful website listing local varieties of apples and fruit.
Apple juice and cider makers are still at work in South Devon. Heron Valley near Loddiswell, Real Drink Ltd at Stoke Gabriel and Ashridge Cider near Modbury are just three examples, bottling the flavours of our local orchards and bringing them to you.
More information about local food and drink producers can be found on the Love the Flavour website of Food and Drink Devon.
A number of small community orchards are open to the public to visit at any time. These include Stoke Gabriel and Holbeton. Stoke Gabriel holds a traditional orchard wassail event every year in early January.
If you have any material about orchards and apples that you would like to provide for our website, we would love to hear from you.