Last month I went to heaven, apple heaven that is. My pilgrimage to Brogdale in Faversham, Kent, was an apple lover’s dream. The southern England climate is ideal for fruit growing, and I wandered among the long neat rows of the UK National Fruit Collection drinking in names, colors, scents and stories.
First the dessert apple collection, “dessert” being apple-speak for eating and cooking apples. In 1978, the Brogdale founders planted over 2000 apple varieties from around the world. In the US we think of the Big Five—Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala and Fuji—those ubiquitous and boring yellow, red and green apples tasting only of “tart” and “sweet”. Most Americans don’t know that apples can be orange, burgundy, striped and brown, with complex flavors, aromas and textures. Cox’s Orange Pippin (an ingredient in Foggy Ridge Cider’s First Fruit blend) is aromatic with a spicy finish. Bramley’s Seedling is sharp, with upfront acidity that puckers, then mellows to a complex blend of tart and sweet. Brogdale’s apples ripen from July to early spring—on my August visit boxes of Wheeler’s Russet, Macy, Sans Pareil and Claude Coates were stacked at the end of rows.
I confess to a severe case of apple envy in the Brogdale cider apple collection. Six long rows of 95 cider apple varieties, most from the West Counties and France, showcase the most famous cider apples in the world. Somerset, Devon, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire are “cider central” and many apple stars were born in this fertile corner of England. Even if you’ve never tasted the fruit, the names are compelling—Tom Putt, Black Dabinett, Breakwell Seedling, Black Vallis, Cider Lady’s Finger, Ellis Bitter and Morgan Sweet.
The Brogdale property includes a meat market with local produce, heavy on the gooseberries and cherries, and a real butcher shop. I mean real, with actual pigs lounging in a sizable pen just around the corner from apple fed pork chops. These Mangalista pigs, short legged and half the size of an English Spot, produce flavorful meat, darker than factory farmed pork and densely marbled. The local perry and cider was a disappointment with selections dominated by Double Vision Perry from West County and Rough Old Wife cider from Kent.
Back at Foggy Ridge, my feet are on the ground but my head is still in heaven. After all, I just ripped out 60 trees that weren’t producing—maybe I’ll add Tom Putt to the Foggy Ridge cider luminaries and create a Brogdale Blend.
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