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Apples, Pears and Tattie Tales

Autumn without doubt is a beautiful time of year. The days are shorter but the light is magic. The colours of woodland leaves are awesome with fruits and harvest in abundance. It is a time for picking and preserving: jams and jellies, drying and pickling. A deeply satisfying pursuit, especially when life needs some normality and warmth.

Visit a supermarket – heaven forbid – and you will see apples from the southern hemisphere when we have apples galore right here in Scotland, indeed a variety for every day of the month! This is both tragic and despicable!

We have such colourful names as the Bloody Ploughman, named after the unfortunate Perthshire farmworker who met an untimely death for stealing apples,

and the James Grieve from Edinburgh, taking the name of its grower. There is Beauty of Moray and Lady of Wemyss and around thirty more, all Scots, all different, all reflecting their heritage. There are almost as many Scottish pear varieties including Gourdie Hill and Castle of Dreams both of which are rather special for me.

Gourdie Hill, long since gone, was my parent’s first home, when newly married. Hailing from Dundee the old house was but a stone’s throw from their work and the staff quarters were up for rent. Seventy years later my dad still recalls how freezing it was in winter! The big hoose had formerly been home to Patrick Matthew, an authority on horticulture in the 1800’s, where he was famed for creating orchards with over ten thousand apple and pear trees. Indeed his son went on to set up one of the first commercial orchards in New Zealand. Matthew was particularly interested in food production and natural selection and many recognise his research before Darwin hit the headlines. Whether Darwin independently also discovered the principle of natural selection or read Matthew’s research we may never know for sure.

The Castle of Dreams is an ancient pear unique to Megginch Castle, home of the Drummond family since 1661, where many trees are centuries old. The Castle of Dreams trees are filled with so many blossoms in spring they look like a ship under full sail and its pears are delicious too. The ancient and fascinating history of Megginch is intertwined with its fruit orchards and is home to two national heritage collections: one for Scottish apples and pears and one for cider apples. We were delighted to be invited to Megginch to meet the family (Catherine, pictured) and the fruit! Having photographed them all I am in the process of researching them for Slow Food’s Ark of Taste in recognition of their rarity, their importance, their heritage and flavours for posterity. Megginch also hosts the local Neighbourfood so that may be an opportunity for some of you to buy more local produce in Perthshire.

Supermarket tatties are another no-go area in our house! Why would you want a sweaty plastic bag of spuds called ‘baker, white or baby’ when you could buy a paper bagful from a farm shop or indy store labelled Edzell Blue or Arran Victory, Majesty, Highland Burgundy Red (pictured) or Epicure? There are many heritage potatoes available from The Potato House

Like orchard fruit, potato plants vary in size, shape, colour and flavour and this biodiversity is to be celebrated and cherished. Another on-going mission for that Ark of Taste so watch this space!


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