In my continuing mission to publish posts that have been lurking behind the scenes of my blog for months, I now arrive at the account of the fantastic day we spent out at Stagrennan Fram, an orchard in Drogheda, back at the end of October.
We had the perfect day for visiting; clear and bright with that crispsness that you only get in the autumn.Our journey started out in the car park of the Tesco in Clarehall, where myself, Sarah of Cake in the Country and Deirdre of The Food.ie met up with Michal from Bord Bia and a mini bus and we trundled off to Drogheda.
On the bus Michal presented us with some very useful fact sheets about Bramley apples and some delicious looking recipes, all of which can be found on the Bord Bia recipe site. My favourite is definitely this Apple and Jameson Tart.
On arrival at the farm we were joined by Kristin from Dinner du Jour and Aisling from Mangoes with Lime and were enthusiatically greeted by the very lovely Fiona McNeece, who immediately offered us a choice of her homemade apple cake or apple & sloe crumble or perhaps a bit of both. This offer was eagerly taken up by the food bloggers and soon there was much munching going on. I'm afraid I was too busy tucking in to remember to take a picture of the food, but I did take one of their antique tractor outside.
While we were eating Fiona and her brother Olan told us about their family and the history of Stragrennan Farm. Their father bough the farm back in 1962 and it is on the site of an old country house, where their house is now was once part of the cow shed. But apple growing is not a recent trend in this family, their familys been in the apple business since the late 1890's.
After eating, we all trooped outside to be shown the latest addition to the orchard fleet, a very narrow tractor designed to fit between the rows of trees in the orchard, before being whisked off to the orchard proper to see the apples and learn all about their production.
Up by the apple trees, Olan told us about the main apple they produce; Bramley's and how in order to encourage cross pollination each row of Bramley's are interplanted with a row of dessert apples such as Golden Delicious, Cox's, Discovery or Elstar.
At this stage of the autumn all the Bramley's had already been collected but the other varities were still on the tree and we were invited, nay, positively encouraged, to pick a couple and try them fresh from the tree. They were so juicy and delicious!
Olan told us that most apple trees are grafted to different root stock in order to make a stronger tree. As you can see from the picture this causes a lumping at the base of the tree but otherwise you would never tell that it had been done.
He also demonstrated to us the correct way to harvest apples and pointed out that the trees are never allowed to grow too high, so that they don't have to use ladders. Instead they encourage horizontal growth to produce more fruit per tree. Olan told us that their apples are used for eating, industrial baking, apple juice production and the windfalls and dropped apples are gathered up and used in cider.
The McNeece's also have future plans to turn some outbuildings on the farm into a visitors' centre and encourage local schools to come and visit them to learn about how apples are grown and their many uses.
Like the producers at the Kilkenny Food Camp, they are passionate about their business and product and want to share this enthusiasm with others, especially children and young people so that they too might become passionate about local produce.
After our tour around the farm, we headed back to the house where we were met by Tara from The Tasty Tart, who was there to demonstrate some delicious apple recipes for us.
We tried a lovely apple, raspberry, pineablle & banana smoothie and a pork and apple bake but the hit of the afternoon was definitely the apple, bacon and blue cheese sandwich, a perfect combination of sweet and salty.
At the end of our visit to Stagrennan farm we were each handed huge boxes containing mountains of apples, real apple juice, and the cutest range of jars containing various jellys and chutneys. My family's favourite was definitely the spiced apple chutney.
Many thanks to Sarah and Bord Bia for organising the trip and to Fiona and Olan McNeece for making us feel so welcome. I only hope that we get to visit again, maybe when the blossom is on the trees.