Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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“We don’t irrigate,” said the owner of Home Cottage Farm, a friendly woman who added matter-of-factly, “if it rains less one year, then the apples will be smaller.” An apple orchard in England can indeed thrive on rain, but that’s more something a family would do. A farmer? Not so sure. When I asked her how many trees they had on the farm, she didn’t know. Her only unit of measure was that they used to be able to prune them all in winter after Christmas. Welcome to a lovely family apple farm near London and to one of our favorite autumn activities, apple picking.
This is Home Cottage Farm, a very small-scale and friendly pick-your-own apple farm in Iver near Uxbridge,right outside London. It’s easily accessible by Tube and bicycle (or bus) from London and apples are reasonably priced. What more could you ask of a nice October day out with kids?
Every year, my family goes on an apple picking trip and we come back home with 10 to 20kg of different apples. As it gets quite cold in London, we can store them outside in big plastic boxes without refrigeration and they last us well until Christmas. We love eating them raw or baking with them, using the different varieties in our everyday cooking.
When I moved to the UK in 2011, I got acquainted with British apple varieties as they were very different from the ones I knew in California. This came with finding new Pick Your Own (PYO) apple farms around London. Though I started my apple farm quest with big farms through NetMums such as Garsons, I’m now looking for small apple orchards where small scale and history are as much part of the fun as the actual apple picking. Home Cottage Farm fits that bill perfectly. In fact, the owner told me with a shrug, “we’re small.” She meant it as, “we don’t offer the big farm experience.” That’s exactly what I love.
Taking non-folding bikes on the Tube on Sundays is super easy and as we were going west to the end of the Piccadilly Line at Uxbridge, there was plenty of space for our four bicycles.
From Uxbridge Tube Station, we cycled roughly 15 minutes out of the city, over the M25 and into Iver to find a hand-painted sign “Pick Your Own” at a junction and then, to the entrance of the farm. I was stoked that it was so easy to get to this farm without a car. Bonus points in my book! We parked our bicycles against a shed and grabbed a plastic bag each to go on our apple expedition.
On the day we visited, there 5 apple varieties in the u-pick orchard, plus another 3 or 4 already picked in the shop. On the trees, we had a choice of Cox Pippin, Red Pippin, Charles Ross, Blenheim Orange and Egremont Russett. Inside the shop, I also got some Bramleys and looked at the Lord Lambourne with envy but our bags were already full.
We went through each row of apple trees, marveling at the Snow White color of some of the Red Pippins (glorious, really) and picking fruit on the trees as instructed on small hand-made signs–no pulling branches, simply lifting the fruit. I may have had to twist a few stems on the branch but overall, the apples were ripe and easy to pick.
The sun kept going in and out of clouds, playing shadow puppet games on the grass with the silouhette of the trees. As the apple trees were not very tall, my girls simply went off on their own to pick apples and didn’t need any help to come back with a full bag of coxes, my favorite red apple.
As we came out of the orchard with four big bags of apples, I saw a mother taking pictures of a her little boy around this barn and I couldn’t help thinking that it was indeed a very instagrammable building.
After weighing our harvest, the total came out at 20 kg of apples. We could have stopped there, but the apple farm shop (another quaint barn) also sold quince jelly, honey and apple juice. While we have jams and honeys at home, we were out of good apple juice and thus, added 3 bottles to our loot. My girls were so thirsty that they drank one on the spot. “It’s delicious!” they exclaimed. And so we added 3 more bottles to our backpacks and bicycle paniers.
As we handed the empty bottle to the owner, she said, “we can’t even recycle them here. Can you believe it? Our apple juice needs to be bottled in new glass bottles.” What a waste, small scale farms should really be encouraged to recycle their containers.
When I asked her about pears, she said that it was the end of the pear season and that the only pears she could sell but a few firm pears in a wooden box. She was very proud to add that her pear trees were grafted onto trees that were 175 years old. That would make them trees that started growing when Queen Victoria was a young queen and San Francisco had not seen the old Rush yet. How very cool.
Ready to return to London, we hopped on our bicycles and I couldn’t resist this picture with all the fall colors in the foliage. I won’t lie, returning to the station was slower and going up two small hills felt properly Herculean, but we made it to London back for the afternoon snack and a cup of tea. That was a success.
I highly recommend this small orchard if you want to support a small family farm close to you.