apple juice, Nature, Out and about, Uncategorized

Ashmead Kernel – the apple that took 280 years to be recognised


Ashmead Kernels on the kichen table

“What an apple, what suavity of aroma. Its initial Madeira-like melPhilip Morton Shand, author and grandfather of Camilla Parker Bowles.lowness of flavour overlies a deeper honeyed nuttiness, crisply sweet not sugar sweet, but the succulence of a well devilled marrow bone. Surely no apple of greater distinction or more perfect balance can ever have been raised anywhere on earth.” Art critic and pomologist Philip Morton Shand (right), BBC Radio 1944.

“Outright winner was Ashmead’s Kernel, so good we almost eliminated it from the competition as it was not fair on the others.  This is an intensely aromatic apple, with a pleasing balance of sweetness and acidity.  Crisp and juicy.  It is a late season apple that stores very well.” Gloucester Apple Trust – tasting notes 2005.

“Never to be forgotten, that first long secret drink of golden fire, juice of those valleys and of that time, wine of wild orchards, of russet summer, of plump red apples, and Rosie’s burning cheeks. Never to be forgotten, or ever tasted again…” Laurie Lee, Cider with Rosie

This autumn ten of the 25 apple trees I planted six years ago have finally borne worthwhile fruit.  I had to look up my planting notes to work out which ones they were. Five of the trees were Ashmead Kernel. They were absolutely laden with very large almost khaki-coloured fruit. Some of the branches were bent down almost to the ground with the weight. Closer up you can see the colour is green underneath but overladen by the furry “russet” coat, which is a sort of light brown in colour.

I picked them all. Most have been pressed into apple juice – which is particularly flavoursome – and are now in the freezer in plastic bottles. But I still have a tray in the cellar because they are meant to keep into February. They are both acid and sweet at the same time, as the tasting quotes above show. The four pictured above I’ve just brought up from the cellar. The boys gobble them up very fast.

They are called Ashmead after the Gloucester worthy who first grew them in his garden in what is now Clarence Street, Gloucester in about 1700. Sadly the original tree was destroyed when a new road was built through the garden in the nineteenth century. The site of his garden is now taken up by this unlovely Primark outlet. primark-gloucester

Luckily, a local nurseryman name of Wheeler propagated the apple for sale in about 1766 and it became locally successful ie in West Gloucestershire. It is seen now as one of the finest products of Gloucestershire, so could quite likely have contributed to Laurie Lee’s drink of golden fire, quoted above from his novel Cider With Rosie.

Despite Morton Shand’s wartime fervour for its taste,  according to some info I found from a community orchard outside Bristol, it did not come to national notice until the 1960s when it showed well in blind testing conducted by East Malling Research Station. It finally gained acceptance when, in 1981, it was awarded a First Class Certificate by the Royal Horticultural Society – after nearly 300 years.

If you surf the web, rather pleasingly, there are quite a few American bloggers talking about how much they like it, but how difficult it is to grow, including one poor chap who only managed to find a couple of apples in a very special supermarket when they were past their best in December. He had to nibble the top and bottom bits (near the poles) to get the “acid drop” taste, which had seeped away during storage nearer the apple’s equator.

I knew none of this when I bought the saplings from a nursery six years ago. I chose the trees based on what was available (the nursery had run out of many  of its varieties and generally takes bookings a year ahead) that fruited late and kept well and were reasonably disease free. So I’m feeling quite smug about my choice.

A few of my Ashmead Kernel apples have got a  mild case of “bitter pit” which is thought to be brought about by lack of nutrients but with my apples it is not severe enough to affect the flavour.

The whole idea of planting late fruiting varieties was to have enough apples to keep in the cellar and last us through winter, so we’ll see how they last.

They are there in the musty gloom alongside about seven trays full of Claygate Pearmain, the other five of my planted trees that did really well this year.

Here are some of the Claygate Pearmains.


The sun-kissed Claygate, fruit of a glorious Suffolk autumn

Like the Ashmeads, they are covered in russet but they have a rosier tint on the side where the sun reached them, this segues first into orange, then yellow and then green as you travel around the apple’s equator. But the whole skin is suffused with greeny freckles.

The flesh is softer in the Claygate and it does not have Ashmead’s sharpness, but they’re still nice.

Claygates also have a back story. They were discovered in a hedge in the village of Claygate, in Surrey by Claygate resident John Braddick in 1821.

The Claygate trees have this year been even more prolific than the Ashmead. But strangely, one of the five trees produced a mass of smaller apples and hardly any full sized ones. I tried to thin out the baby apples in mid summer but that tree may either have been more attractive to bees for some reason and so set more fruit or it may have been one that I missed.

Here are some tasting notes on Claygates from the Orange Pippin website

“After a month in cold storage, the tropical fruit flavour develops into one of the most deliciously complex apples I’ve ever tasted. I would rank this in my top five desert varieties. A shame it is not widely grown in USA.”

“A very superior apple. Flavour is incredibly complex if picked when ripe and stored for a week or two. There are definite pineapple notes on offer. So far, this is the best apple I have ever tasted.”

It’s such a joy and privilege to be keeping alive these historic discoveries. And they are discoveries. Each of the hundreds of English apple varieties represent a little fortutious accident of nature, not deliberate breeding. Apples can not be “bred” like many domestic plants and animals. The pips do not grow true – they do not grow up into the same variety of apple they came from. The blossom on the tree is fertilised by pollen from another variety. The tree produces a predictable apple variety, but no one can predict what genes the seed inside the apple contains.

Often people’s carefully planted and long-tended pip grows into a tree that does not even produce apples.  Johnny Appleseed, despite his name, and what I was told at school, did not go around America scattering pips. He planted nurseries, with the aim of selling trees, not orchards for selling apples.

So it is up to nature to produce new varieties. When an apple arrives that happens to be tasty to us humans, it is our role to discover it, whether it is in a hedge, like Claygate Pearmain, or in someone’s garden. And then we have to propagate that plant, from cuttings, not from pips.

As you saw, Ashmead’s Gloucester garden is now a store selling cut-price imported  clothing and it is unlikely that any of the commuters living in Claygate would have the time or inclination to scan their local hedgerows for new varieties of apples today.  So we can only keep on propagating the discoveries of our vigilant ancestors.


How nature programmes get things out of proportion


Michaela – stronger than a stoat


I have a lot of time for Chris Packham and BBC’s Spring Watch. But the other day his co-presenter Michaela Strachan repeated the age old nature programme gimmick of scaling up small animals “feats of strength” to human size and then being amazed.

“Wow,” said Michaela, “That stoat carried the rabbit all the way back to its kits, and the rabbit weighs more than it does.  We’ve worked it out astoat with rabbitnd it’s as if I carried a red deer stag by my teeth.”

Weight lifters sometimes go in for that kind of mistaken mathematics as well, with smaller bodybuilders or weight lifters often claiming that “pound for pound” they are stronger than their bigger rivals and that therefore they have better muscles.

When gymnasts have to lift their own bodies on the parallel bars, it is always harder for a big person to do it than a small one. This is not because the small person has done more exercise.

The mistake here is to assume body weight is proportionate to strength. Body weight is not proportional to strength. What determines the strength of a muscle is its cross sectional area, not its weight or volume. A thicker muscle can exert a bigger force, a longer, thinner one with the same volume would be weaker.  Never mind the size, feel the thickness!  Your strength is proportionate to the cross sectional area of your muscles.

Thankfully, as you grow, the cross sectional area of your muscle increases, as does its length and overall volume. But here’s the key to it all: your muscle volume and weight increases at a faster rate than your muscle cross section does.

So if you are a tall person trying to lift yourself up on the parallel bars, you will find it harder than you did when you were smaller, because your weight has increased by more than your muscle cross section.

Heavyweight boxer Mohammed Ali was 1.91m high and in his prime weighed in at 107kg while Amir Khan, a light welterweight, weighs just 63kg and his height is 1.65m

Amir: Feel my cross section

So Ali is roughly 1.16 times taller than Khan but 1.7 times heavier.

mohammed ali

Ali – it’s all about the cross section

Every inch increase in the length of our muscles is cubed when it comes to the volume of the muscle but only squared when it comes to cross sectional area.

So Ali’s muscle cross section will be larger than Khan’s but nowhere near 1.7 times larger.

Obviously Ali is stronger than Khan and Michaela is stronger than the stoat. “Pound for pound” Khan is stronger than Ali and the stoat is stronger than Michaela Strachan. But that’s not a fair way to look at it. Cross section for cross section they are all roughly the same strength because all four of them are very fit.

So how could Michaela really take on the stoat in a fair challenge? The stoat has a cross sectional area of about 12 sq cm.  You can probably fit around 40 stoat waists into Michaela’s waist. The stoat carried a rabbit weighing a kilogramme. So, to match the stoat, Michaela should carry something weighing 40kg. This is about the weight of a large family dog, like a German shepherd. It’s roughly what British soldiers carried on their backs when they yomped across the Falkland Islands.  Not easy, but certainly more achievable than a male stag.

I’m sure she’d do it to feed her kits.





Local politics, National Politics, Nature, Politics

Now even the AA thinks Cameron has gone too far

NB This was written back in July, but it looks like I forgot to press the publish button, so it has been in draft form.

I have been holding off writing much lately, because the string of self-serving policies the Government has been announcing has just left me a bit dumbstruck.

But today Cameron and Osborne have driven even the AA, the motorists lobby group, to put its name to that of the National Trust, the RSPB, the Council for the Protection of Rural England, Greenpeace, the Wildlife Trusts (including Suffolk) the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth and various other groups in writing a letter to the David Cameron warning that they are weakening environmental policy in 10 areas which is likely to wreck our chances of meeting targets for cutting carbon and avoiding runaway climate change.

In its latest budget the government is removing the tax break on hybrid vehicles but keeping one just for electric vehicles. What this is likely to mean is that manufacturers will have no incentive to develop a new generation of hybrid vehicles – which were seen as the stepping stone towards fully electric ones.

“Since May, the government has ended subsidies for wind and solar power, increased taxes on renewable energy, axed plans for zero carbon homes, and closed its flagship energy efficiency scheme without a replacement. It also made a U-turn on banning fracking in Britain’s most important nature sites, and lifted a ban in some parts of the country on pesticides linked to bee declines.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, which represents 47 local wildlife groups across the UK, said: “This list of recent policy reversals is shocking, and shows disregard for the health and wellbeing of current and future generations, as well as for the environment we all depend on.”

“We would encourage you to resolve some of the contradictions that have emerged between the stated intentions of government and the actions of your ministers in its first period in office,” the groups said in the letter, which was also signed by Friends of the Earth, WWF, the Wildlife Trusts, and the Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The ban on neo-nicotinoids, by the way, the pesticides linked to deaths of bees, applies to THIS part of the country, East Anglia.


What’s in a Word?


I recently attended the Green Ideas conference in Bury St Edmunds and one particular talk by John Taylor, who works for Suffolk’s Greenest County iniative, stuck in my mind.

He said that trying to change society to use less fossil fuel, to be greener, was not, as many people said, like trying to turn around an ocean-going supertanker. Actually it was more like a murmuration of starlings: when one bird changes direction, the others follow, one after the other so that eventually the whole flock has moved.

Not only is that a beautiful image but it also makes use of a beautiful word. One that is rarely used, partly because starlings have become so rare.

And it got me thinking about words and how they can, in themselves almost, when they become popular, change our behaviour.

For example the words “twerk” and “selfie”. There is nothing new about dancing by waggling your bum, or taking a picture of yourself. I have no doubt people have been doing the first for as long as humans have had bottoms and the second for as long as we have had cameras that are technically capable of it. But because these activities have recently been given words, or at least the words have recently been recognised by newspaper columnists and TV news journalists, more people seem to be doing them.

I had the misfortune recently to catch a few minutes of a rock concert on the telly and after the band had performed the “presenter” Nicki Minaj went into the audience and took a “selfie” with a fan in the audience, she then announced that her fans would then be able to see this “selfie” on Twitter.

But, hang on a minute, we can already see you Nicki, on the TV screen. If I wanted a still of you, I could simply video this concert and take a still off the video. What have you added by doing a “selfie” with an unknown fan? Nothing. But you have made use of a trendy new word.

A bit later the newspapers made a big fuss because someone had “invented” a “selfie stick”: a stick you put your camera on. So now you can take pictures of yourself at a slighter longer distance. But wait. Didn’t we always use to do that? We’d put the camera on timer and rest it on a rock before galloping back to join the group for the group photo. But it wasn’t called a “selfie” back then, so obviously it was not a valued thing to do.

About two years ago I was travelling on the tube in London, something I haven’t done for several years. I was amazed to see that many apparently intelligent passengers were intently reading a free newspaper called “Metro”. What was in this journal that was holding so many people’s rapt attention? I picked up a copy.

Virtually every story was about a young celebrity of one kind or another doing something inane to promote sales of their concert/music/lingerie/deodorant/biography. Page 3, I think it was, had a lead story about how Miley Cyrus  had just visited London and done some “twerking” and then waltzed off.

miley cyrus

I had no idea what twerking was at the time. But obviously a young American pop star doing it was thought worthy of a page three lead in one of London’s apparently best read newspapers. How can this be, I wondered. I assumed twerking was not anything particularly sensational, and I was right when I found out what it meant. It was simply that Taylor Swift had the word for it. So if she did it, all the reporters would have the word for it, and they would be able to use it in their stories about her. And everyone reading it would be able to use it. And the word itself would have its own justification. Taylor Swift, the Metro reporters, the readers of the Metro article: they were all celebrating the verb “to twerk”. Just as Nicki Minaj was celebrating the word “selfie”. The word was the reason.

If only we could celebrate some words with a bit more depth to them, a bit less selfish and self-indulgent. Words like murmuration. Imagine a murmuration of people, changing their behaviour in response to one another.

Robert Macfarlane has written a book “Landmarks” in which he details his search for “the language of landscape and natural phenomena”. I have yet to read it but heard it reviewed on the radio. He discovered the now almost defunct word for the sound long grass makes when it is rustled by the wind – fizmer.  We don’t use that word any more, so we don’t value what it means – the experience of hearing long grass rustled. Because we don’t know the word, we stop valuing the experience. Grass nowadays has to be mown within an inch of its life, regularly, by a noisy, petrol gobbling machine. “You have to keep on top of it” people will tell you. If it’s on the verge, it’s obviously getting in the way of our vision from our car when we’re at a bend or junction. In a field it’s harbouring “weeds” – in other words, wildflowers. But look at old drawings or photos of our village greens. The grass was long, rampant. And people didn’t mind. Hay had a value. But so did the experiences that came with it.

We are losing the words because we no longer experience the landscapes. We are too busy twerking and selfieing and twittering and facebooking; wearing bling and lippie and binge drinking and raving. (We always did those last things as well but we have words for them now, so they are now celebrated.)


The other day I tried to find something on the internet about swifts: the birds that come from Africa to visit us in Britain, including here in Suffolk, for just a few short summer weeks, shrieking past us in yards and alleyways. They are now red-listed because their population has plummeted. This is partly because we no longer value them. New-built houses have sealed up roof spaces which prevent the swifts from nesting. I could find virtually nothing on the web about these charismatic, awesome characters that still define summer for a dwindling minority of us. But guess what took up the first few pages of the Google search for swifts? Yes, a young popstar by the name of Taylor Swift. Some of the stories were about how she had taken up twerking…

Now if swifts could take selfies, perhaps they wouldn’t be endangered.

Local politics, National Politics, Nature, Politics

Pope to issue edict saying climate change is a moral crisis


You read it here first! Pope Francis will on Thursday issue an edict on the moral necessity to take action on climate change.

This has been in the air for a while (and I see there is a Guardian piece on it today) but it was the first I knew about it. I heard about this morning at a talk and workshop at St Mary’s Church, Hadleigh, organised by the local benefice, and run by Colin Bell of something called the Faraday Institute. As far as I can tell Mr Bell and the Faraday Institute are working to turn the Church of England green.

The Pope has spent the past two years honing this edict, says Mr Bell, and the hope is that the Church of England and other protestant churches will follow him. If they don’t they risk being seen as more conservative than the Pope. He also showed us a rather good cartoon summarising the recent history of international climate talks

And there was a great quote from one of Pope Francis’s scientific advisors: Bishop Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has said: “The challenge of climate change has become not only economic, political or social. It is also an issue of morals, religion, values such as justice and social inclusion, the obligation of solidarity with future generations and the moral obligation to care for the earth, namely creation, which is our habitat.”

The other good thing about this session in Hadleigh was that it might just lead to a Transition Hadleigh group, to try to make the town and the church greener and less dependent on fossil fuels and to get existing groups in the town working together.

Pleased to see our new Conservative MP James Cartlidge was there, although he did not stay very long. There are key decisions for world leaders coming up in Paris in December as part of the next round of climate agreements – known as COP21. There have been positive noises from the G7 about becoming fossil fuel free by end of the century and from China and President Obama on a bi-lateral deal to cut carbon emissions. So things are going in the right direction for once. I hope our MP will take on board the importance of these talks and press his superiors in Government to pledge big carbon cuts for Britain – both before 2020 to meet existing commitments and for tough new commitments after 2020.

If you feel the same please write to him, or try to go see him on Wednesday 17 June in Westminster at the Climate Change event.

Another thing it would be great to see would be Suffolk County Council, which has a well meaning initiative to be “the Greenest County”, getting its pension fund to sell its huge £15m stake in BP – one of its single largest investments. At least four fifths of the world’s declared oil reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid 2 degrees of global warming. BP’s business plan is extract and burn as much oil as possible. So why is Suffolk’s pension committee risking its members’ retirements by investing in a company intent on releasing more carbon than is compatible with the survival of human civilisation?

Next on my to do list – start a divestment campaign aimed at Suffolk County Council’s pension fund.

Nature, South Cosford

Semer bore hole fails

Semer water worksnedging water tower

Tucked away off the Bildeston-Hadleigh Road, at Semer on the side towards the Brett River, down a little private drive is the mini pumping station and water treatment works that conceals a bore hole that since 1992 has been providing all the water for the villages from Hitcham, Bildeston, down to Kersey in the south west and Hintlesham in the East. It’s pumped up to Nedging water tower (pictured) and a mini reservoir that sits alongside the water tower and from there supplies 3,500 homes. But it’s now failed.

Anglian Water have put in a pipeline to the nearest working borehole at Watson’s Corner as an emergency measure but apparently this will not be enough once spring and drier weather arrives. Anglian Water are therefore going to drill a new bore hole close to the existing building at Semer site. This will need planning permission. Babergh planning officers met Anglian Water on site and say the works described appear “acceptable”. Anglian Water predict they will to start the works in March and will have to apply retrospectively.  AW have decided to consult directly with the affected parishes. I’ve spoken to the planning officer and he tells me that he believes the bore hole failure is technical rather than the aquifer running dry.

Just a few metres south of the water works – further towards Hadleigh on that side of the road – there is a lovely fenny, flooded area amongst trees and when I cycle past I often see a heron perched in the water there, presumably waiting patiently for a fish to move. I have not yet been able to get a photo of it.

Local politics, Nature, Out and about, Politics

Sudbury – bypass or traffic calming? Please do my survey

South SuffWater Meadows Sudbury Suffolk Englandolk’s Conservative parliamentary candidate has decided to make building a bypass across Sudbury’s water meadows the key plank in his campaign. But I want to find out what people really think. So please fill out my quick, 10 queston survey below. Thanks. – Robert