Scottish apples are in season. So why are supermarkets full of produce flown in? – Stephen Jardine
It’s apple season in Scotland and this year we’re enjoying a bumper crop. Thanks to a sunny start to the growing season, followed by plenty of rain to nourish the blossom, our orchards are groaning with fruit.
Not that you would know it from a visit to your local supermarket. Retailers who compete to be the most seasonal and sustainable seem to just give up when it comes to a crop we can actually grow in Scotland. Right now you will find apples from South Africa, New Zealand, France and Spain filling the supermarket shelves. Washed, packaged and wrapped, they look uniform and perfect and utterly unappetising.
What a contrast to Apple Day last weekend near Ancrum in the Borders. Tables groaned with varieties with names stretching down the years like White Melrose, Scotch Dumpling and Bloody Ploughman. Every single one I tried was absolutely delicious.
Apples are having a bit of a moment right now. The rise of the supermarkets, globalisation and reduced transport costs led to a glut of cheap imports forcing many UK producers out of business. But a new focus on nature and the planet has led to a production revival, mostly thanks to community groups and neighbourhood orchards.
All of this would have greatly pleased Scotland’s Apple King, Willie Duncan. Wille had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject, gained working at the Scottish Crop Research Institute and growing over 80 varieties in his own garden. I met him years ago at an Apple Day at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh where he was on hand to help people identify fruit from their gardens. I joined the back of the queue and shuffled forward until it was my time to proffer a slightly bruised and battered specimen.
Willie rolled it around in his hand, sniffed it and declared: “It’s James Grieve. Next.” Now that is a party trick. Sadly, Willie passed away last year at the height of the autumn harvest but this apple renaissance is part of his legacy as we learn more and care more about a fruit we all learn to love from childhood.
It’s also part of our history. Apple cultivation in Scotland can be traced back to monks in Fife in the 12th century and, at one point, there were hundreds of orchards from the Highlands to the Borders. Now they are coming back. Last year, I visited my old school in Dumfries where pupils have planted apple trees in the grounds as part of an environmental project.
I was more than happy to eat the delicious apple pies made with the produce but they have plenty of other uses. The Edinburgh Cider Company opened its first tasting room in Stockbridge this summer and Scotland’s first cider shop, Aeble in Anstruther, has been going from strength to strength since it opened during the pandemic.
No wonder, they have plenty of stock to choose from with producers like Naughton, Flemings and Lost Orchards all producing delicious ciders right here in Scotland.
Of course, nothing beats an apple, straight from the tree. So if you visit your local supermarket this apple harvest season and find only international fruit on the shelves, ask them why. If they really want to be seasonal and sustainable, they can start by not ignoring Scotland’s homegrown apple harvest.
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