Yesterday I left a very wet, dreary Dublin behind and set off with my brother (got my camera back too, yippee!) to attend the Irish Seed Savers Association's Apple Day. They're based in Scariff, Co. Clare and it's just about a three-hour drive which was worth every second of it. Gorgeous scenery driving around Lough Derg and it was a fabulously sunny day down there. I even got a bit of colour on my face and that's making me feel slightly better about the cold I'm starting.
I've been to wine tastings before but have never thought I have a particularly refined palate as I could never really see where they were coming from with their descriptions "hint of blackcurrants and strawberries" etc. But boy, could I taste the difference between different varieties of apple. It was amazing. We had a little booklet and I think I managed to mark down all of the ones I tasted and there were a few which I really, really loved. It was interesting to hear other people talking about their reactions too. At one stage I had just tasted an apple and all I could say was "mmmmm, that's fantastic", and the guy standing beside me tasted it and said, "hmm, well now, that's an interesting taste". My brother and I have very different tastes as well (I like sweet and for him the more sour the better) and it was great fun tasting the different types of apple and seeing which ones we both liked. Even just reading through the names is fun.
Bloody Butcher aka Bloodhound or Winesap
Ecklinville Seedling aka Glory of the West
Eight Square aka Kill Apple
Lough Key Crab
And I really like yellow pitcher, Mrs. Perry and golden spire apples - I even bought a bag of dried golden spire rings but unfortunately they weren't selling any fresh apples. I also liked the Lough Key Crab purely because it was so pretty - it's a lovely pink/purple colour even inside. A couple of those listed above are cooking apples but were still okay to taste raw.
There was also a short talk by Aoife Ni Giollacoda (leader of the regional Slow Food group and keeper of native black bees) and another on growing apples by a local commercial apple grower, Con Traas of Karmine Juice. It was very interesting and although I'm not in a position to be growing any apple trees myself I figure it wouldn't hurt to pick up any tips I can. Obviously I should have brought a notebook though because apart from the fact that planting trees on a slope is good because they don't like to have wet roots I don't remember many details. Following those talks we went on a guided tour of the heritage orchards and were also free to wander around the gardens and polytunnels. Our tour guide was a guy called Will Softly who seems to be very passionate about local food and was certainly very enthusiastic about the orchard and his work. Everything they do is not just organic but also biodynamic and it certainly seems to be working for them.
We were also able to take a look at a cob house currently under construction and I got some seeds for greens which should grow over winter and some garlic to plant out soon. I bought the biodynamic calendar for 2008 and am glad to have bought it now as a quick glance through makes me feel that I'm going to need the next few months to try and figure it out!