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News | Autumn harvest Cashing in on pumpkin craze

WHEN autumn arrives, it seems the nation’s appetite for pumpkins grows stronger each year. And that is very good news at a

family farm in Chart Sutton which has been working flat out to supply a bumper crop of more than a mil- lion and a half of the distinctive fruits to supermarket chains this autumn. Jake and Mark Thompson from

Dan Mackelden Ltd have seen their pumpkin production expand year by year.

Founded in 1947 by their grand-

father, the farm, which was then producing classic Kent fruit such as apples, strawberries and hops,was taken over by the brothers 16 years ago. It continues to grow apples but the brothers decided to grow pumpkins and squashes which are now two of their main crops. In 16 years, their pumpkin patch

has grown from 80 to 250 acres. A team of 40 staff handpick the pumpkins which range from 13 to 27cm in diameter, before they are washed and dried individually. The colourful fruit end up on the shelves of supermarkets across the country, including Asda, Mor- risons, Sainsbury, Tesco and Aldi. Mark’s wife Jemma, who is pres-

ident of pumpkin picking for the business based at Lested Farm in

Small apples

are more juicy WHENit comes to this year’s apple crop, size doesn’t matter, according to Kent fruit farmers. Despite thewarm summer, grow-

ing conditions in 2016were less than perfect, including a mild winter and spread-out blos- som and ripening periods. The bad news

was that apples are smaller, but there is good news – this year’s fruit is

tastier and juicier. Sarah Calcutt (pictured), chairman

of the National Fruit Show, run by the Marden Fruit Show Society said: “Itwasn’t cold enough this winter to kill off all the bugs and for the trees to sleep.Although the leaves fall off, and the tree looks dormant, it has never quite stopped growing.” Growing conditions through

spring and summer made it a chal- lenge for farmers to produce the standard sizes required. “Supermarket customers will not

see any difference,“ said Sarah. “But the fruit at farm shops doesn’t have to be a standard size.However, fruit quality is outstandingly beautiful this year. The apples are tasting wonderful and very juicy.”

28 Maidstone December 2016

Winners Sean Finlayson and Annette Bardsley with BBC Radio Kent’s Andy Garland and organiser Matthew Kearsey-Lawson, Colin Young and Alexander Cornwallis.

A STAPLEHURST fruit grower has won the accolade of produc- ing the best apple in the Garden of England. Bardsley Farms won the prize

for their Rubens variety, beating dozens of high-quality apples. The county’s top pear variety

went to Farmcare Trading, High- land Court Farm at Bridge, near Canterbury. Produced in Kent’s panel of public judges tasted more than 90 apples and 20 varieties of pears from those on display at the Na- tional Fruit Show.

Growers pick up fruit prizes THE WINNERS

Garden of England Champions Top Apple: Rubens, grown by Bard- sley Farms, Staplehurst

Garden of England Champions Top Pear: Conference Pears, grown by Farmcare Trading Highland Court Farm, Bridge.

Judges were required to rank

the fruits’ flavour, juiciness and crispness, with the top 10 apples and top five pears going through

Jake Thompson with some of the pumpkins heading for supermarkets

PloughWents Road, said: “A great amount of care and effort goes into ensuring they are of the highest quality for people to carve and eat at Halloween.” But the increasing demand in re-

cent years is because families are not just buying pumpkins to cut into lanterns, but looking for tasty recipes to turn them into culinary treats. And this year’s warm summer

and autumn has provided ideal growing conditions for a bumper crop. Jemma said: “We had a good climate for pumpkin growing.

They can’t grow in cold, wet weather, but because of the beauti- fulwarm summer,we have a won- derful crop of perfectly big, orange pumpkins. Halloween in the su- permarkets is the third biggest cel- ebration after Christmas and Easter, and the UK market is fol- lowing the US tradition for trick or treating more each year.” Besides the wholesale trade, the

farm opened a pick-your-own site near Ashford two years ago. Jemma said: “Last year we had just under 16,000 people picking their own pumpkins in 13 days.”


IS A pumpkin a vegetable or a fruit? The experts say the orange- coloured, fleshy fruit contains the seeds and thereforemust be considered a fruit. It also grows froman initial

flower, another feature of a fruit. On the other hand, stems,

leaves, roots and even flower buds are considered to be vegetables. We might see the bright orange

globes in supermarkets, but pumpkins come in an array of differing colours, shapes and sizes. They can be red, yellow, green,

or striped and be flat or bulbous. They are members of the cucurbit (gourd) family, which includes pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, luffas and melons. Most of the plants in this family

are vines, however there are a few exceptions. There are four main species: Maxima, Pepo, Moschata and Mixta. Pumpkins are low in calories but

rich in fibre and anti-oxidants as well as being fat and cholesterol free. The seeds are thought to be good for heart health. However, cooks need to find excitingways to use its bland flavours into something palatable.

to a second round taste off before an overall winner was selected. The eventwas sponsored by the

BTF Partnership. The winnerswere announced at

the National Fruit Show at the Kent County Show Ground in Detling. Colin Hall at BTF Partnership comments:“We are once again de- lighted to sponsor the Taste of Kent Awards, Top Fruit cate- gories, and the winners are both very deserving of the title of the growers of the tastiest apples and pears in Kent, congratulations.”

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