By joemasonspage on March 9, 2018
The apple Norfolk Beauty was developed by crossing Warner’s King with a Waltham Abbey seedling. This large and very pretty, mild flavoured mid-season cooking apple was produced by the head gardener at Gunton Park in the nineteenth century. At around the same time the dessert apple Caroline was introduced at Blickling Hall Gardens in 1822. Both these apples are picked in early September. Another cooking variety is the Golden Noble, found in Downham Market by the Head Gardener at Stow Bardolph Hall in 1820. It is picked in early October and will keep till Christmas. The Norfolk Biffin (my preferred spelling – others are Beefing and Beffan) was first recorded in the seventeenth century. It is a tough skinned keeping apple that was used for producing dried apple rings. One of the apple’s claims to fame is its appearance in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
There are over 30 extant apple varieties that originated in Norfolk, and about twice that number that are known by name but have been lost. An orchard is recorded at Castle Acre Priory in the eleventh century, and new varieties of Norfolk apple were still being introduced nearly a thousand years later in the twentieth century, the most recent (Red Falstaff) being in 1989. The first named variety of apple to be mentioned in England was in the fourteenth century when a Norfolk farmer paid his rent with 200 pearmains and 4 hogshead of cider. Pearmains were obviously well known by then.
In contrast to the many local apples there are only two varieties of pear recorded as Norfolk’s own; the dessert pear Robin which has been known for centuries, and Hacon’s Incomparable, a culinary fruit. This seedling was propagated from a tree growing in a baker’s yard in Downham Market by a Mr Hacon in 1814. Robin pears should be eaten soon after picking in September, but the cooking pear will keep for up to six weeks after harvesting in mid October.
Around the North Norfolk coast other kinds of delicacy may be had. Samfer (as we locals spell it), or the more posh spelling samphire, grows along the muddy tideline all the way from Snettisham to Cley. In fact the plant is neither samfer nor samphire, which term is more properly applied to Crithmum maritimum, a kind of plant with white flowers that grows on rocky cliffs. This is probably the species mentioned by Shakespeare in King Lear. The proper term for our samfer is Salicornia europaea or glasswort, so called from its medieval use in the making of glass. Whatever it’s called, it makes a tasty dish, in my opinion best served cold with vinegar. Also found along the sea-shore are mussels and Stewky Blues, cockles that are gathered from the rich black mud of Stiffkey. On a more commercial basis a fleet of cockle boats sails from the creek just north of the docks at Kings Lynn.
For the meat eaters among you, the Red Poll can trace its ancestry back to the Norfolk Red, a breed of beef cattle that is now extinct. The Red Poll is a dual purpose dairy and beef cow, and although originating in East Anglia, is now grown across the English-speaking world from New Zealand to the United States. While on the subject of local delicacies I should also mention the Suffolk sheep, which was raised primarily for its meat.