QUIET CORNER FARM APPLE JUICE
Patricia Thompson moved with her husband, Brian, to the secluded little Henstridge holding of Quiet Corner Farm 40 years ago. It included an orchard of about eighty apple trees. She has worked hard over the seasons to be a good caretaker of the land she tends. The orchards now comprise aged and younger, recently planted specimens.
“I’ve done my best to preserve an old orchard,” Patricia told me as we drove to the Bath & West Showground with a consignment of her own apple juice a fortnight ago. “The tithe map of 1839 shows the orchards were already in existence. When I first came here in 1970 Rosie’s Cider came to collect the apples.”
Gradually commercial interest dwindled so Patricia decided to use the fruit herself. She started to sell boxes of apples at the farm gate and then, about eight years ago, touted her wares at Farmers Markets in Wincanton, Sturminster and Shaftesbury. As raw fruit apples are a low value crop but much fun was had.
Then Sue Place from The Balsam Centre in Wincanton approached her with a proposal to run an independently funded juicing project.
“Without really knowing what we were doing, we brought a press and crusher,” Patricia recalls. “Seven villagers did but the work was hard and heavy. It started well but gradually drifted. In the end a Slovakian girl and local mum came every Tuesday and Thursday. We sold juice at Farmers Markets. Then we lost them too.”
Inspired by the potential of her annual crop, Patricia got better kit and invited anyone with apples to bring them along and make their own juice. It was a roaring success. In 2009, over forty people came.
Patricia says the process is remarkably simple. Apples are pressed, the juice strained and collected, bottled then heated to 180 degrees C to pasteurise. After that caps are fitted and, hey presto, you take home your own homegrown juice at a bargain £1 per bottle.
Quiet Corner Farm juice is Patricia’s pride and joy, and the reason we’re headed up Shepton-way. She’s entered juices in the Single Variety Apple Juice Class (Warrior, a Dorset apple and Ashmead’s Kernel, a Russet-type) and also the Mixed Class, which is a random blend of varieties. She confesses to feeling excited after refining her technique to produce something which, I can vouch, is an absolute delight to consume.
“It’s a learning process. The secret is tasting juice straight off the press as it pours out. Put a glass underneath and have a good drink,” she grins. “If it’s too sweet shove in more Bramley’s or something sharp-tasting.”
It’s the day before the Show opens. Patricia could have taken her entries to Gaymers in Shepton to be collected with others from as far a-field as Truro in Cornwall and Bradfield St Clare, Suffolk, but she wanted to do it personally. Combining luck and judgement, we locate the Cider Tent, which is where the juicing competition will be held. There’s a makeshift bar taking shape, full of demi-johns and bottles. She hands over her entries and we sit down for a spot of lunch. She says she’s unhappy with her presentation. “I wasn’t thinking about things like matching bottles,” Patricia confides, slightly gloomily. “I think that sort of thing helps.”
Four days later she rings me with great news! Quiet Corner Farm won Second Prize in the Blended Class. “I feel quite elated really,” says the soon-to-be 81-year old.
Copyright, Joe Hashman June 2010