The slogan of the London Orchard Project is “urban fruit for urban communities”. Since the 1950s, more than half of Britain’s orchards have disappeared because of cheap fruit imports and pressure on land. The project is doing its best to address this problem in our own back yard, planting fruit trees in built-up areas and thus helping to reduce food miles, encourage healthy eating and wildlife and celebrate biodiversity. I went along to see the work of the project at their Apple Day, held at Camley Street Natural Park in the unlikely environs of King’s Cross.
Tucked behind a giant building site at the back of King’s Cross, Camley Street Natural Park is a little pocket of wooded green space by the Regent’s Canal. Its wrought-iron gates are a portal into leafier world, with paths looping through the trees and the surreal sight of diggers, cranes and the spire of St Pancras occasionally visible through the canopy.
The Apple Day featured musicians, stalls selling chutney, cider and scrumpy, apple-peeling competitions and art projects for kids. The greatest sight though, was the huge variety of apples assembled, a testimony to the diversity of this precious fruit. The London Orchard Project promote forgotten varieties, and are planning a medlar day when a chef will demonstrate how to cook the little burnished-gold fruits, which were hugely popular in the medieval period.
The medlars are being harvested in Hackney, where the Orchard Project has carried out lots of its work. There’s the edible forest in Haggerston Park – fruit trees surrounded by edible shrubs – and a mini orchard and mural at the Wilton Estate on Graham Road. Along with volunteers in Stoke Newington they set up Hackney Harvest, a brilliant scheme which maps fruit trees in the area and runs harvesting expeditions.
Simple, effective and community focussed… three cheers for the London Orchard Project from Eat Hackney.
These are three of my favourite autumn recipes, starting with pumpkin and amaretto pasta from Stephanie Alexander’s huge Cook’s Companion. Baked apples are a great quick and cheap pud: you can vary the ingredients according to what’s in the cupboard. And the red cabbage recipe is a classic, from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The chestnuts used in this recipe are fiddly to peel – it’s a job best fobbed onto someone else – but give the dish wonderful texture and depth.