When we moved to Top Barn in 2001 the site was no more than a field. First the hedging was planted and soon after we began to acquire trees. The first trees we planted were just saplings, in fact a surplus from the Highways Department, at no more than 50p each. Trouble is, they take years to grow, particularly in an open exposed site like ours. I’m pleased to say that the trees are now well established, so much so that many, through lack of good annual maintenance, need some serious work to keep them healthy and well-shaped.
After a few years, we began to plant some fruit trees and have gradually acquired quite a collection, mostly apple trees. We now have twenty-two apple trees in the orchard, mostly about ten years old. For it was just over ten years now since we discovered the East of England Apples and Orchards Project, a not-for-profit company, working to ensure a future for local orchard fruits and orchards. Soon after we decided that we should join and where better to stock our new orchard? For many decades, local varieties of apples and other fruits have been in decline and so we thought it would be a good idea to plant Norfolk variety apples in our new orchard. This was really the start of our passion to eat locally sourced food and grow whatever we could here at Top Barn.
There are many Norfolk varieties, some dating back to the sixteenth century, delighting in names such as Vicar of Beighton, Winter Majetin and Norfolk Dumpling. Sadly, over time all the labels on the trees have been lost, so it’s a little guesswork and identifying the ripe apples in the autumn which helps me to locate each variety. Late February is the time I generally start the long, painstaking job of pruning my fruit trees, particularly the apple trees. Thankfully the job is now completed for another year.
Many of our Norfolk varieties disappeared as a commercial apple when cheap fruit, particularly, in my opinion, the bland and tasteless French Golden Delicious flooded the UK market in the seventies after we joined the Common Market. Now we at least have our own supply of Norfolk apples. So, with all these apple trees at Top Barn you would think that we would be eating fruit throughout autumn and into winter. But no, instead, we choose to extract the juice from all our apples and convert it to delicious Top Barn cider.
Cider is relatively easy to make, can be stored for many months and so can be enjoyed all year, if you can resist it that long! The 2016 harvest produced 130 litres of apple juice, so that’s well over 100 litres of delicious cider, mostly dry still cider but about 20 litres of sparkling. This is our fifth cider harvest and each year we try and perfect another blend or the ideal sparkling cider. It’s so much fun trying!
The first for 2017, bottled in February. Be sure to ask for a sample next time you visit Top Barn.