One of the tasks I have to do with the Marmalade Project is to price fruit and build a financial (cost/time/income/profit) model for the manufacture. I have had a wonderful offer to look at an orchard beside a house near Chipiona not far from Jerez. I knew that fruit was a common product – but I didn’t know exactly what grows where and the time of the year. I’m beginning to build a picture. I would have to decide whether to make the jams and marmalades all year and import or produce according to season. I have an inclination to make these products exclusive and fresh on demand for certain stores and restaurants. But that’s an important decision. So imagine my astonishment and delight when someone I asked to help me said ‘come to visit the orchard my father planted next to our old family home near Chipiona.’ So I was spirited away to a finca somewhere in the country surrounded by vineyards and the greenhouses around Chipiona – apparently well known for market gardening. I know the area around Almería, – my husband and I used to holiday on the coast near Garrucha and lately one of my best friends lives in the hills near there. However apart from knowing this area of Andalcia around Jerez is known for the famous Palomino and Pedro Ximenez grapes and potatoes, I am woefully clueless about what other cash crops are grown. This for a former geography teacher is next to heresy. Geographers study what the main economies are of an area including cash crops and agricultural businesses. As it happens I am more aware of the aeronautical industries around Puerto Real since my home town of Bristol has similar industries and I used to work in this sector. However this is about fruit and a very personal take on fruit at that.
To put this in context. I grew up in North East London on the edge of Epping Forest. We lived in a large suburban property where my sister and I could hide in attics and I could sit on top of an old water tank at the bottom of the garden and wait for my best friend Christine (AKA Teddy) to slip in through the back gate and we would go off across the green and play amongst the gorse bushes and sit and talk in the aeroplane tree by the cricket pitch – my mother was a cricketer and always lives near cricket pitches – however I digress this post is about fruit. This ‘back garden’ had been bought my parents to build a new house on, but for all of my growing up it was an orchard with about 20 apple and pear trees and several damsons and plum trees – all old English species which probably can’t be found now. My father travelled a lot in his job, but on his times at home he was often out in the orchard and I was invariably close by learning how to keep away bugs and mould. We also had a large fig tree and a rambling vine and a large amount given over to my mother’s fruit and vegetable garden with broad and runner beans, onions, and soft fruit like redcurrants and blackcurrants. We had deep freezers full of frozen fruit and my mother made jams and marmalades. All very rural for a suburban part of London. So to have an invitation to see an orchard with that history and being fascinated by agricultural economies was an exciting prospect. I loved supplier visits when I was a Marks and Spencer trainee – and I love talking to Guy Watson of Riverford organic foods and doing farm visits to their restaurant in Buckfastleigh. As a Riverford ambassador I have been given opportunities to go to their secret suppers and learn how the recipes work. This is heaven to me.
At first we had a look round a flower farm – chrysanthemums sent north to a Dutch flower company. The production under plastic is exceedingly intensive and beautiful stems cut constantly on rotation. One line containing new seedlings until the flowers are ready to be cut and harvested, packed in plastic and shipped off. I find it fascinating to see how these things appear in our shops and houses. (One of my other passions is flowers – arranging and painting them).
Then we go to see the orchard. Yes neglected, but none the less you could feel the love in that place – peaceful and tranquil. The view from this place is spectacular with a 180 degree view of the sea – does this impact the fruit like it does with the grapes? There were lemons, oranges, grapefruits, pomegranates, nisperos, persimmons, and ones that were new to me – strange exotic fruits from tropical climates. The apricot trees had fruit that were nearly ripe, and plums and figs that will ripen later in the year. Then there was the lime tree with it’s sweet fruit just being left, the grapefruits had already fallen unpicked. I felt a mix of wistfulness at the neglect, but excited as I picked as much as I knew I could deal with in the limited time that I had. Since then I have been experimenting with recipes and look out for my next blog with things to do with limes.