Blog: Season of mists and mellow fruit by Fanny Charles
Marlene Belbin’s Home Farm Shop is really off the beaten track at Tarrant Gunville but worth the journey for the food and the warm welcome.
... from the Jurassic larder
IT’s October and it’s definitely autumn – the leaves are falling (followed, as mud follows rain by the leaf-blowers with their pointlessly phallic power-tools), there are chilly mists in the early morning and English apples are in the markets and the shops.
Apple Day is only a few weeks off and it looks like a good crop this year, after last year’s disappointment.
We are lucky in Dorset with some outstanding growers, notably Elwell Farm near Broadwindsor where Caroline and William Jackson grow more than 30 varieties of apples and pears.
Thanks in great part to the dedication and imagination of Common Ground, the environmental arts charity which created Apple Day, and to the work of apple and cider experts like Liz Copas, there is now a real interest in supporting English apple varieties.
When Common Ground created Apple Day – which many people now think has existed for a lot longer than 22 years – it was to raise awareness of the drastic destruction of traditional orchards and to encourage interest in the vast diversity (more than 3,000 different regional and local varieties) of English apples.
The event caught on and is now part of the national calendar. People are planting traditional apple and pear varieties and looking for the fruit in markets and shops. Even the big supermarket boys have recognised that there is a demand for traditional native fruit and you will now find quite a good selection in many of them.
But growers like the Jacksons are the ones you should support. You will find Elwell Farm at some Dorset Farmers Markets.
What’s that apple?
The interest in buying, eating or cooking with traditional varieties has led to some happy discoveries. Again, we should give thanks to Common Ground and Apple Day that there are now apple identification events all over the country in the autumn, usually on or around Apple Day on 21st October.
This year it’s a Monday, so look out for events over that weekend, 19th-20th October. One that will definitely be worth the trip is the sixth annual Apple Day event at the Community Orchard at Symondsbury near Bridport.
A regular feature of Apple Day events is an apple identification table. Real apple experts, who can tell their Tom Putts from their Warriors, are in huge demand, and identification events will be spread over the next few weeks. If you have an apple that you think may be a traditional or even rare variety, find out where your nearest identification event is – some get very busy, so be prepared to be patient and wait.
Look out for posters around Dorset – Kingston Maurward College usually has one, but an event that is local to you may produce some hyper-local rarities.
Farm shops – minimal food miles
Keeping it local is what farm shops and farmers markets are all about – the food, whether it’s apples, pears, vegetables, meat or dairy produce, that is sold in these shops and stalls will usually have travelled minimal food miles, in many cases just yards!
Dorset’s range of farm shops is remarkable – some are nationally known and have won many awards, others are so off the beaten track you have to be a local to find them. Here is a small selection, just four of them, that are worth a visit and many happy returns!
If you live in the Bridport area you will know Washingpool, the Holland family’s multi-award-winning farmshop which stocks meat, produce and home-grown and cooked food from the farm, as well as meat, dairy produce, fruit and vegetables from other local farmers and growers, plus a range of top quality products from biscuits and bread to wine and yogurt. Washingpool farm shop is at Allington, a mile north of Bridport. It has a good cafe and you will see lots of farm animals, highlighting the fact that this is a working farm.
A few miles further west, at Morcombelake, below Golden Cap and with matchless views of the Jurassic Coast west to Devon, Felicity Perkin has established Felicity’s Farm Shop, which she runs with her sister Penny and with meat produced on a nearby farm by her son Tom. Felicity’s, celebrating its third birthday in just over a month, is a big farmshop, selling produce from many excellent local growers and producers, and beers from local micro-breweries including the recent Taste of Dorset winner, Mighty Hop Brewery. There is a cafe, a range of cards and gifts, flowers, plants and more. It’s a haven for travellers on the busy main road and a very good farmshop supported by many local people.
On the other side of Dorset and at the opposite extreme in terms of size, Home Farm Shop at Tarrant Gunville in the beautiful Tarrant valley is tiny, packed to the rafters with delicious food and a guaranteed warm welcome from Marlene Belbin and her staff. Marlene started selling her produce – notably her ducks and her preserves, chutneys and piccallilis – at farmers markets and went on to open the shop at the family farm, half a mile along a track and two miles off the C13 Blandford to Shaftesbury road. It is worth the journey, for the quality of the produce, the delightful little cafe and the unspoiled Cranborne Chase scenery. In the run-up to Christmas, Marlene puts together excellent Christmas Hampers – the ideal present for foodie friends and family.
Another personal favourite among farmshops is Gold Hill Organic Farm at Child Okeford, with its shop selling the farm’s first-class organically grown vegetables and other local produce, and cafe with home-made soups and cakes and Christine’s tarts and puddings. It’s Andrew and Sara Cross’s 25th anniversary this year – they have “celebrated” by launching a vegbox scheme and updating and improving their website. Like Marlene’s, this farmshop is off the main roads – you have to go to Child Okeford from the A357, and drive slowly through the village looking for the sign at the end of the track pointing to Gold Hill Organic Farm. There are more businesses in the farmyard, including The Art Stable, where you will see London-standard art exhibitions, Christine’s Puddings, James’s Cheese and workshops for other artists and makers.
Big Barn’s website will help you find some farmshops, but in Dorset, thanks to the Screen Bites Food Film Festival, you can also discover many at one of the food and film evenings in a village hall near you.
Find out more about Washingpool at www.washingpool.co.uk