With apple trees in Cornwall and Devon likely to yield a far leaner harvest than usual this year, one Cornish cider maker is inviting owners of small orchards to share their produce. Simon Parker raises a glass to them.
Community groups, sports clubs, schools and charities are hoping to reap the rewards of this autumn's poor apple harvest by gathering up every last fruit for a Cornish cider maker.
Cornish Orchards, which produces a range of alcoholic and soft drinks at its farm near Liskeard, is calling on people to bring them their apples.
Each year, the owners of small orchards – and even those with only one or two trees – deliver their excess fruit to the firm, which is then turned into Heritage Cider, one of the many distinctive brands it produces.
Tons of local apples are processed during September and October each year, with growers being reimbursed either in cash or liquor.
This year, however, there are fears that far fewer apples will be available – and Cornish Orchards is calling on local groups to organise collecting teams, with the aim of earning some funds for their causes.
Communications executive Caitie Parrott said: "Following a very wet and windy summer which destroyed much of the region's apple crops, we are keen to round up as many local apples as possible. This project aims to gather apples from Cornwall and Devon for use in our Heritage Cider, while at the same time helping local groups raise some money."
Cornish Orchards don't mind fruit that is slightly bruised or bumped, but the firm is unable to use rotten apples. They should be collected daily and delivered once a week in hessian sacks or boxes.
"We take any type of apple, we're not fussy, but they must arrive in good containers – not fertiliser sacks or anything that has previously been used to store chemicals. And we're happy to lend growers some hessian sacks."
The firm pays £170 per ton, with each bag delivered being weighed and added to each individual's or group's tally over a number of weeks. They are then paid in cash or, if they prefer, take it as credit for cider and juice in the company's shop. These "community apples" go to produce the firm's popular Heritage Cider, which recently won two gold stars in the Great Taste Awards.
"Many of our native apple varieties are now ready to pick," said Caitie. "To test whether they're ready, the best thing is to let the fruit drop and then taste it. You can give the tree a shake if you like and if they fall they're probably ready – but tasting will confirm this. If you're unsure, take a bite and if it's sweet and sugary it's ready."
Cornish Orchards is keen to hear from anyone with apples to spare. And as well as receiving cash for their labours, the team raising the most apples and with the most creative apple-collecting idea will win a day out at the Eden Project, a day out at The Lost Gardens of Heligan, a farm tour and tasting at Cornish Orchards, plus gifts of Cornish Orchards juices.
Groups wanting to get involved will be provided with posters and fliers to help raise interest.
Participants will also be invited to celebrate their hard work at Cornish Orchards' first Wassail event after Christmas.
The firm, which has 24 staff and this week exported 36,000 bottles of its products to Australia, has won several awards in recent years.
Established by former dairy farmer Andy Atkinson on Westnorth Manor Farm, part of the Duchy of Cornwall estate at Duloe near Liskeard, it recently underwent a successful rebranding and has seen a 40 per cent increase in production over the past year.
There have also been several developments in its yard, including a new production building and apple bay part-financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.