Cross Lanes Fruit Farm in apple pie orderBy Linda Fort
November 30, 2010
Last winter was “quite cold” according to Gill Franklin who was out in the worst of it doing her winter pruning.
Linda Fort talks to the woman who turned an apple hobby into a passion.
And if you’re wondering what to give the foodie in your family for Christmas, her apples and other fruits can be boxed for the perfect gift
Gill Franklin thinks she probably gets some of her energy from the six or seven apples she eats every day.
She said: “Yes, I do think if I am feeling a bit tired or weak, eating an apple picks me up.”
It is impossible to imagine Mrs Franklin ever feeling “weak” as she strides round her orchards, a diminutive figure greeting thousands of visitors on her Apple Day last month.
Her husband Dennis bought Cross Lanes Fruit Farm in Mapledurham 1977 as a hobby for her before she started a family.
She said: “It was in times a bit like these when people were being made redundant and he thought he might be.
“His idea was that if you bought a property with some land where you could make an income then you would be all right.”
In the event, he was never made redundant and Mrs Franklin set about developing the orchard which has become a full time occupation for the whole family.
At first, they grew just four varieties of apple – Worcester Permain, Ellison’s Orange, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Egremont Russet.
The last of those apples is Mrs Franklin’s favourite although she adds: “It is a seasonal thing and at certain times in the season when another apple is at its best then that is the one I like best. But if I had to choose, the Egremont Russet has a texture and flavour which makes it as good as the most exotic fruit, in my opinion.”
The Franklins clearly take a dim view of the EU as the little history of their orchard “The Story So Far” shows.
Prior to their taking over, in 1973 doubt over the future of the Cox was such that many of the trees were grubbed up to make room for Charolais cattle.
The Franklins took the opposite view of such EU warnings and when in 1996 a grant was offered if apple trees were destroyed, Gill and her husband Dennis, “infuriated by this”, set about planting more trees.
They concentrated on old English varieties including Brownlees’ Russet, Blenheim Orange and Claygate Permain selected for their “special flavour and strong tastes”.
The Franklins sell all their apples – and pears and plums – from their own shop and at 15 farmers’ markets each month.
Mrs Franklin said: “The most important to me are Reading, Henley, Newbury, Wallingford and Purley because they are the nearest.
“I do go further afield but really farmers’ markets are supposed to draw on a 50-mile radius. There trouble is that there are so few apple growers around that the markets want us there.”
She starts picking the earliest crops of apples and plums in August and has apples for sale right through to mid-January.
This year the Cox’s crop was late and Mrs Franklin was afraid she would not have them all picked in time for the Apple Day early in October. However, on the day all the Cox’s Orange Pippins were safely gathered in for the eager crowds of customers.
Her winter months are spent pruning the 2,000 trees with the help of one other girl.
Although there are 68 varieties of fruit trees – 46 different kinds of apple – the majority of the trees are Cox’s which remain the most popular with customers.
They are also according to Mrs Franklin, the most difficult to grow because they make a lot of wood and are complicated and time-consuming to prune and “they get every pest and disease going”.
But she adds: “They are a wonderful apple with a wonderful flavour, especially if they are picked when they are ripe.
“I think if people say they don’t like a Cox it is because they have eaten one from a supermarket which has been picked when it is not ripe.
“The supermarkets seem to think people want crunchy apples but to my mind the Cox is at its best in December and January when it is softer and full of flavour.”
All the Cox’s grown at Cross Lanes Fruit Farm are the traditional Cox’s Orange Pippin rather than the Queen Cox often seen in shops now.
Not all the apple trees are great croppers and some, Mrs Franklin says, she grows “just for fun”.
With names like Orleans Reinette, Wiliam Crump, Court Pendu Plat and Pitmaston Pine Apple, some are only of limited availability while others go on right through until mid-January.
The shop also sells honey and apple juice and is open from Wednesday until Sunday each week from August until mid-January from 10am to 6pm.
You can also learn how to prune fruit trees on courses held in January and February and Mrs Franklin she also organises talks on apple farming, the history of apples and varieties, the orchard year and fruit tree pruning.
It is a relief to learn the family do get away on holiday each year – between May blossom and the first August crop.
She said: “I do think you need a holiday to recharge your batteries.
“But then of course when we have a bit of spare time we go and do something silly like visit an orchard.
“And I read about apples all the time and whenever there is something in the newspaper about apples I want to read about it. It does become a consuming interest.”
As for cooking with apples, at first she says she doesn’t. She is coeliac and cannot eat gluten so doesn’t go in for pies and crumbles
“But,” she said, “there is nothing better than a baked apple filled with mincemeat or some other tasty filling, is there?
“And of course, I use apples a great deal in savoury cooking with meat and game.
“Pheasant stuffed with apple and onion is really delicious.”
Cross Lanes’ late storing apples available from November:
Kidd’s Orange Red
Tydeman’s Late Orange
Court Pendu Plat
To find out more about Cross Lanes Fruit Farm visit www.crosslanesfruitfarm.co.uk