Orchard, Found

I caught up with Philip Parr again in the waste ground opposite the model village at the bottom of Stanley Park.

Not only is it a dog walkers paradise, it is the Lost Orchard Found. According to Philip?s expert eye there are about 40 trees here, with maybe 500 apples a piece, making for 20 thousand apples for the taking in central Blackpool. And what?s more, they?re apples unique to Blackpool, ?volunteers? grown from the compost of an old green tip, here at least 40 years ago, apparently. I can vouch for three very different sweetly full flavoured apples.

When I arrived he?d just finished two hours of clearing brambles and undergrowth from a particularly tasty red russet, giving air to the trunk and freeing up a path up to the jewels hanging there. His plan was to pick the higher apples, with his makeshift apple picker, so leaving lower hanging fruit to attract more pickers. And not just dogs. Alfie clearly knew all about the orchard, and, according to his walker, enjoyed a couple of apples every day in the season.

In the six weeks since I?d first met Philip he?s been collecting apples with a variety of people. He spent half a day at Mereside?School?working on a tree just next door to the school then drying the fruit in his dehydrator for everyone to savour the intensification of the sugar. This and works best on larger apples, and was perfect for the tree there. Only two out of the thirty children had ever picked apples before and he?s hoping the school will now make it an annual jolly to strip the tree

Sad that scrumping has gone out of fashion. He recently picked with an older man who used to scrump as kid, although not quite, as he got permission from the tree?s owner. Still, the boy took all the apples he picked and sold them for a penny down at the cinema. Ahh, the good clean enterprise of olden days ?

Philip contributed to the ritual by gaining permission from another tree owner to pick in his garden. The owner, a retired landscape gardener, had bought the land, with apple tree, and built his house there. He then grew another five apple trees in the back garden. These trees he still harvested, but was happy for Philip to take the front garden fruit.

There seems, to Philip, a real sense of growers in Blackpool. It?s what people do here to supplement their income. And the knowledge of growing is passed down, like an heirloom. And certainly, I?ve witnessed at Cherry Trees and Chepstow Gardens with Grow Blackpool a real wealth of knowledge for growing and eating.

I left Philip welding his bag up in the tree ? height being a definite advantage to the job. He had two wheely suitcases to carry the fruit back in. Carrying the apples would force him to discern the best ones, to enforce a selection process so his enthusiasm couldn?t get the better of him.

He?s quite confident he?ll have plenty to share on his stall in the Winter Gardens Food Hall Saturday 24 October. He?s already got ten different varieties stashed in the Left Coast Office. And alongside the apples, there?ll be apple jellies, sweet dried rings (nothing like the sulphated ones you buy in the shops) and a map of where the orchards can be found. This is a map that?ll never be finished ? after all, there?s always another apple tree?

Apple Picking. Gallery

Philip Parr rounded up children from Mereside School to discover the delights held in the apple tree just next door to their playground

In Search of the Lost Orchards

Everyone has a story about apples. Adam and Eve. Snow White. Isaac Newton. William Tell?Philip Parr. Philip, a theatre maker running Lost Orchards of the Left Coast for Banquet, has plenty. The one he told me is quieter, with many branches that curve and bend towards the light, each carrying another story that had its own seeds that will grow into another story.

Phillips Apples Banquet (4)

Philip grew up in Sydney, Australia, next to an empty plot of land. It was left empty because the row of houses had been built from either end of the street, and where they were due to meet, the last plot, it was six inches too narrow for the final house. This vacant lot was attached to the neighbouring house. The one his parents bought. There were apricot and peach trees along with a grape vine on the lot, but completely overgrown. So they cleared the overgrowth and added lemons, mulberries, red grapes, more. Everything was transformed it into pies, jam, chutney, preserved and relished. So much so, fruit equals food in Philip?s head, real food that is as much an art as anything made.

Wyre Salters at Mereside. Banquet Aug 2015 (2)

When he was looking for a house to buy, many years later, he found one in East London with a huge apple tree spreading across the width of the twelve foot garden, in fact beyond, as it overhung the neighbouring gardens. Whether this was the sole reason Philip wanted the house I don?t know, but I suspect it played a key role in his falling for it?

All the houses in this street had had apple trees planted in the back gardens when they were built, making a community orchard for the inhabitants of the street. When Philip found the house, there was still one other apple tree two gardens down and a crab apple further along the street, not as old as the one in Philip?s garden-to be, but a wonderfully ancient pollinator all the same.

Wyre Salters at Mereside. Banquet Aug 2015 (6)

The house had been owned by just one family since it?d been built, and was for sale because its owner had died in an accident. Nobody else in the family wanted it. They just wanted it sold, and offered Philip a quick sale if he took it with all its contents. Philip agreed and moved in. Nobody had been in it since the day the previous owner had stepped out into his fate. So in view of this enormous apple tree that had grown alongside the family?s home, Philip read through the history that was stacked, shelved and boxed away in the house, learning of the rich life of his predecessor who had left school at 14, travelled the world, been a boxing promoter in Rhodesia, worked on cattle farms in Australia before returning to London to work as a motorcycle courier.

There are 600-700 apples on the tree this year. Philip?s already begun stewing them. They?re cookers which turn into eaters later in the season, soon they?ll be ripe for eating straight from the branches. Each one will form part of a new meal, a new story, a point at which to savour what life offers, a reminder to be open to the world around us.

Meanwhile he wants to pick apples from the trees he?s found in Blackpool and the Wyre. He wants to pick and cook these apples together with others, to share recipes and stories, to celebrate the ritual of people coming together to prepare food, to acknowledge the pleasure in the one thing we need to do: eat.

Wyre Salters at Mereside. Banquet Aug 2015 (21)

*If you have an apple story you’d like to share, or want to know more about the project, get in touch

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