MARC WEST picks out his favourites of the scrumptious varieties that were on offer at Waterperry Gardens’ Apple Day

OCTOBER'S Apple Day has become a calendar custom and a celebration of core values – not only of the importance of orchards to our landscape and culture, but in the provenance and traceability of our food, particularly the variety and diversity the nation’s favourite fruit.

Each year, alongside the juicing, baking, pruning and grafting, the most popular part of this harvest season is without doubt the display, buying and tasting of the numerous varieties suggested by enthusiastic experts.

In Britain today, our horticultural heroes grow more than 4,000 heritage varieties of the best apples in the world and orchards across the width and breadth of the country host their own annual day to encourage us all to honour this most English fruit – whether it be in our childhood lunchbox, a sparkling pint of chilled cider or a delicious hot apple pie.

Juicy, sweet and rich in flavour, Cox’s Orange Pippin is a quintessential part of pomological heritage and since 1825 it’s been the benchmark to which all others are measured.

But, having tasted them all myself, I’d bet on our region’s own Old Fred, Eynsham Dumpling or Woodstock’s original cooking cultivar Blenheim Orange as the pick of the bunch – planted by tailor George Kempster around 1740 and later receiving the Banksian Silver Medal for its distinctly nutty overtones.

While Oxfordshire might not be one of the great growing counties – such as Kent, Herefordshire or Somerset – our patch does produce a steady yield.

By gently “genetically engineering” their trees, Waterperry Gardens’ five acres have grown a reputation for fine fruits and now supply a host of top hostelries – including Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir.

However, anything other than Grade A isn’t just wasted, it gets pressed and bottled onsite using traditional and time-honoured methods to produce an award-winning, healthy and refreshing juice that’s high on taste and low on food miles.

An oasis of calm set deep in the heart of the countryside, Waterperry Gardens’ ornamental landscaped grounds have been a source of inspiration and a gardener’s delight for more than eighty years. Founded in 1930’s as a school of horticulture for ladies by Beatrix Havergal, they continue to host events throughout each season and this coming half term look forward to welcoming children of all ages to the Great Pumpkin Hunt from October 21.