Stephen Jardine: Don’t miss Scotland apple revival

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jon Savage

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THE raspberries are finished and the strawberries are just a distant memory. As autumn tightens its grip, most of our favourite produce has now been harvested for another year. But one key crop likes to make a big finish.

The apple is the most popular fruit in the country and right now is when the harvest is at its best. Not that you would know it here in Scotland.

Even in the midst of nature’s bounty, it’s virtually impossible to find Scottish apples on sale here.

A trip to a major supermarket last night uncovered Pink Lady specimens from Australia and Golden Delicious apples all the way from the USA.

But where were Melrose Whites from the Borders or Bloody Ploughman apples from the orchards of Perthshire?

Next week, the crisis facing Scottish apples is on the menu at a National Orchard Gathering in Dunblane.

In what’s being billed as the biggest get-together since the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society Apple Conference over a century ago, experts will discuss the current situation and unveil a new inventory of the remaining orchard locations across the country.

The people of Scotland will be encouraged to value and protect these sites as well as planting more apple trees the length and breadth of the country.

The decline in Scottish apple production coincided with the arrival on the supermarket shelves of year-round imports from all over the world. The demise of trade barriers when we joined the EEC took away the final protection for the industry, allowing overseas growers the opportunity to bring more and more exotic varieties to these shores.

As a result, Scottish apples almost disappeared from view.

Brewing giant Heineken has just launched the “Helping Britain Blossom” initiative to create 100 new community orchards up and down the land.

By working directly with community groups, the project aims to help improve run-down areas as well as giving up to 4,000 people access to new skills. Following pilot schemes next year in London, Birmingham, Hereford and Edinburgh, the aim is to expand into urban areas all over Britain.

So what does the future hold for the humble Scottish apple?

The answer to that lies with all of us. To coincide with this week’s Apple Gathering, the Fife Diet group have launched an Apple Hunter’s Handbook.

It includes information to help identify obscure Scottish varieties as well as planting tips and guides to where the best existing orchards can be found.

But the best protection is people power, so the next time you are at the shops, ask for Scottish apples. Demand creates supply and, if we all do our bit, the great Scottish apple revival could just start here.

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