Celebrate Apple Day at Cornish Orchards
PUBLISHED: 15:19 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:52 20 February 2013
In our October / November issue, we thought it very timely to celebrate Apple Day, officially on 21 October this year, at Cornish Orchards, which has won awards for its ciders and apple juices. Halfway between Liskeard and Looe is Westnorth Manor ...
Halfway between Liskeard and Looe is Westnorth Manor Farm. Part of the Duchy of Cornwall estate since the early '50s, it originally farmed pigs, chickens, cows and grew corn and potatoes. It also had an orchard growing apples for both eating and making cider.
Fast forward to 1990 when farms were beginning to diversify. Thanks to the Cornish Orchards Project whereby local nurseries were encouraged to propagate apple trees, all of which were originally grown in Cornwall, Westnorth Manor Farm decided to invest in this new venture and in 1993, 200 new apple trees were planted. There are now 15 acres on the farm containing 1,300 trees at different stages of maturity. Although there are still livestock around, the animals have taken second place to the apples.
By 1999, all the hard work in the orchard had produced its first good-sized crop. It soon became apparent, however, that even if everyone at the farm ate an apple a day and baked endless apple pies, there were still more apples than could be consumed. So, time to diversify again.
"We started off with apple juice," explains Andy Atkinson, Farm Manager. "That went down very well. We contacted other farms in the county and said we would take any apples they didn't want, and soon boxes of apples such as Ellison's Orange, Beauty of Bath, Cornish Longstem, Tommy Knight and Colloggett Pippin were arriving by the day."
Before long, Westnorth Manor Farm, which was now trading under the Cornish Orchards banner, was making cider. This, in turn, led on to other products such as non-alcoholic wine, a pudding wine, a summer Apple Cup, an Apple Cider Vinegar and Mulled Apple Juice.
Elderflowers from Cornish hedgerows, as well as fruits that grow easily in Cornwall such as rhubarb, gooseberry and white currant, may be added for flavour. Spices like cinnamon, star anise and cloves are mixed with apple juice or cider to make a mulled drink, while adding citrus fruits, vanilla and mint make a deliciously refreshing drink.
Back to apple juice. Mixing together different apples gives a very different flavour to the finished product. Early-season, barely ripe apples are fresh and sharp, whereas late-season apples are sweeter. A combination of King Byred, Pig's Nose, Tydeman's Early and Queenie apples makes a fresh, clear juice, with mixtures of Ben's Red, Captain John Broad, Russet and Cox's apples bringing many different flavours.
Ciders may also use different types of apples, thus producing sweet or dry cider all able to accompany meals as diverse as roast pork or chicken, a spicy curry or the regular 'pub' staple of a Ploughman's Lunch.
The large barns that once housed livestock now hold machines to clean and press the fruit, oak barrels and stainless steel vats, a bottling plant and storage areas. Some barrels still contain the 'flavour' of their previous contents, such as whisky, brandy or rum, which further enhances the flavour of the cider, though cleaner-flavoured cider will come from the stainless steel vats.
"We regularly have a tasting session to see if the juice or cider is right to bottle, or whether it should be left longer. And we decide which blends should be mixed with which to make the best flavour," says Andy, with a big smile.
Westnorth Manor Farm's latest venture is the Draught 5 and Fresh and Fruity, a medium-dry cider and an apple juice that both come in a bag in a five-litre box. The cider is fermented using the apple's own yeast and is blended with fresh-pressed apple juice, finishing up as a 5.2% alcohol volume drink that will last for up to eight weeks after the box has been opened. "There are no added sulphates, preservatives, colourings, artificial sweeteners, carbonation or fixing agents in our cider," says Andy, proudly. "It's as natural as cider can be."
Helen Wybrow, who describes herself as a Jack-of-all-trades at the farm - "one day I may be working on the farm website, another day I'll be sticking labels on bottles" - explains how Andy likes to involve the farm's staff in new ventures. "One of the part-time staff came up with the design for the apple juice box," says Helen. "Corinne is an art student and drew the pictures on the box, which really bring a smile to your face. Amongst the apple trees, she's drawn the farm's two cats, Moggs and Mulberry, George the cockerel, our cows, Bison, Three-of-Four, Bessie and Billy, and Barry on his tractor. On the other side there are pictures of Alison, Julie, Rowena, Charlie, Andy and I, showing how the juice is made."
The Fresh and Fruity apple juice was awarded Best New Product at this year's Royal Cornwall Show. The Cornish Black and Gold Sparkling cider and Black and Gold Still cider won a silver at Taste of the West Food and Drink Awards in 2006, and the Mulled Apple Juice received a bronze in the Great Taste Awards. And, if that wasn't enough, Jamie Oliver uses Westnorth Manor Farm products in the cocktails at his Fifteen restaurant in Newquay.
"We are proud of our effort to bring orchards and Cornish apples back to Cornwall," concludes Andy. "We may only be a small producer, but we are all delighted with what we've achieved here."
Westnorth Manor Farm, Duloe, Liskeard PL14 4PW. (01503 269007, www.cornishorchards.co.uk