Festival of British Fruit 2013

Taken from The Fruit Grower, written by John Guest

This year the Marden Fruit Society celebrated the 80th anniversary of the first show in 1933.  Conscious that this very special occasion should be followed by an equally memorable ‘post-Show’ event the committee considered their options.  Should we take the Festival of British Fruit to a venue far away from its roots in the Kent countryside or find a venue complementary to the history of the Fruit show.

The National Fruit Show has enjoyed generous sponsorship for the Festival over the last two years.  A.C. Goatham supported the visit to the Countryside Live event in 2011 at Harrogate, transporting the show fruit, associated equipment and provided financial support for member’s expenses.  In 2012 the committee chose Wakehurst Place in Sussex as the venue for the Festival and A.C. Goatham again sponsored the event, with physical and financial support.

The 2013 Festival of British Fruit took place at the Barnyard, A.C. Goatham’s fruit farm and visitor centre at Gore Farm, Upchurch near Sittingbourne, Kent.

On Friday 18 October, the Society’s members and other helpers arrived with pallets of Show fruit and a determination to make the most of the excellent setting for the 2013 event.  The fruit display was set up down the centre of the marquee, the tasting and selling tables in a curve at one end, and all the way around the perimeter the stands representing associated products and countryside activities, such the Taste of Kent Awards, Kent Wildlife Trust, Roger Worraker and Malcolm Withnall promoting their new pruning book, Edward Lade from Kentish Cobnuts with cobnuts and a range of cobnut products.  The Bramley Campaign, Worldwide Fruit and OrchardWorld were also present, and hosts A.C. Goatham, with their stand promoting their products and facilities at The Barnyard.

In the car park, preparations were underway for Sainsbury’s Food Wagon, Face Painting, the World Champion Melon Carver, apple bobbing and refreshment providers, and a dining area.  The festival opened at 10.00am on Saturday 19 October.

The Sainsbury’s personnel, buoyed by the arrival of Dr Theresa Huxley, Sainsbury’s Produce Technologist and avid supporter of British produce, were able to network with Society members, growers, helpers and those manning the associated stands, which facilitated a better understanding of all aspects of British fruit and countryside matters.

As the visitors slowly arrived, the Sainsbury’s Food Wagon created considerable interest.  The apple punch, made from freshly pressed Zari apples and brought to temperature with a mix of orange and lemon slices in a pan with added fresh fruit ginger and cinnamon, was a winner and ideal for any winter celebration requiring a warming drink.  Also demonstrated was a delicious dessert made with chopped Zari apples, melted English butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and a few English raspberries.

Nearby, face painting was taking place, always popular with children, and adults who enjoy a quiet time while their kids are decorated.  Next to the Sainsbury’s Food Wagon, David Loh, World Champion Melon carver, entertained visitors with his consummate skills carving pumpkins.  There was also apple bobbing to enjoy, with almost guaranteed success, as the Zari apples used have a long stalk and naturally float with the stalk uppermost, and with sweets as prizes, children went away happy.

This season is a very late one, as all in the top fruit industry are well aware.  The later varieties were not yet really ready to eat; Braeburn, Cameo and Jazz being examples.  The choice of varieties displayed for tasting required some consideration by the Chair Sarah Calcutt, Vice Chairman Robert Oliver and their team.  However, with the Show fruit exposed to ambient temperatures since it was delivered to the National Fruit Show on the previous Monday, the fruit maturity had moved markedly.  Certainly, the later varieties were not at their best, but they were edible, and the experienced members in charge of tasting were able to explain the virtues of all the varieties available.

Farm tours were a feature made possible by the location on a working fruit farm, available to visitors from 10:30am on an hourly basis on both Saturday and Sunday.  Led by industry experts Andrew Tinsley of the Horticultural Development Company (HDC) and Paul Bennett of Agrovista, the tour took in Gala, Braeburn and Rubens orchards and, in the final phase, an outstanding view across Gore Farm and the picking of Gala taking place in the valley below.

All the Gala and Braeburn at Gore Farm is planted on a tall hedgerow system.  The orchards are high yielding and Gala has recorded 58.7 tonnes/ha in year six, well above expectations from a standard plantation.

Nigel Stewart, A.C. Goatham’s Technical Director, explained the use of picking platforms.  By keeping the fruit wall narrow, light interception is good all the way down to the lower fruiting areas.  The added height adds a considerable tonnage to the yield and the fruit picked using platforms from the tops of the trees is cheaper to pick than that picked from the ground.  The use of platforms in A.C. Goatham’s orchards is now well established, for pruning, tying in tops, thinning and picking.  Nigel said that they have three platforms at the moment and are adding one more to finish this season’s harvest, and are considering adding three more to harvest future crops.

On the Sunday morning it was not raining and the sun was visible, a pleasant start to the day.  It was hoped that the visitor numbers would be up on Saturday’s.  After a slow start the numbers increased to exceed Saturday’s head count, but to no significant level and clearly well down on the anticipated thousands.  Certainly a disappointment, as the Festival was staged in a pleasant setting and the display layout for the Show fruit, tasting tables and stand-holders was one of the best we ever had.  The commitment shown by Clive and Ross Goatham, and Theresa Huxley and he Sainsbury’s colleagues, was unequalled, and the opportunity to see apples being picked on a very modern fruit farm was unique for the Festival of British Fruit.


15 November 2013

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