The Castle Hotel Orchard
The Chapman Family Orchard @ Charlton Orchard
Living and working in an area that’s surrounded by great produce and passionate suppliers is the biggest support for any kitchen and its chefs. The last thing any restaurant wants to worry about is getting sub standard produce, it really is a massive disappointment. I compare it to unwrapping a Christmas present that you didn’t want from your dear old grandma. At the Castle we have extremely high standards set in place, to match your high expectations as a diner. We check and sign for each delivery and anything that looks below par is sent back. We have great relationships with all of our suppliers and visit them regularly. Most of our suppliers are local and know our standards.
I recently put a Pork dish on the menu from Pitney Farm using the beautiful Saddlebacks I wrote about a couple of blogs back. The dish consists of pork chop, slow cooked belly, potato puree, bramley apple, kale and roasting juices. Mr. Chapman asked to try it (as he does with all dishes new to the menu) to give his seal of approval or sometimes constructive criticism. After he ate it he asked me where I sourced the pork and apples from. He then asked why I didn’t use the Castle Orchard, initially I thought it was a joke, but realised by the stern face it wasn’t. So Sam and I headed off to have a look and learn a little from the friendly folk at Charlton Orchard.
The Castle Orchard was set up in 2010 by Mr. Chapman to celebrate the hotel being in the family for 60 years. There are 10 different apple varieties producing from August to November. The Orleans Reinette and Pippins were ready to pick so we took some back and served them in the hotel that day.
It’s only 10 mins outside of Taunton and when we walked into the shop we were greeted by the beautiful perfume of quince. I think the easiest way I can describe quince is that it is a cross between an apple and a pear. When it’s ripe it has the most amazing perfume; it’s truly fantastic, sweet and floral. We’re using quince with partridge and kohlrabi on the menu at the minute. We then introduced ourselves and met Sally who gave us a tour of the shop and then got Barry to show us the orchard and the Castle orchard, set in over 30 acres of land.
Barry was very informative told us everything about the trees, the history of the place and types of apples grown there. Any apples that fall on the ground at Charlton are left to decompose and fertilise the ground surrounding the trees. They would cloud the apple juice if they were used for pressing, so all around the orchard there are apples scattered on the ground. Most apple trees are grown on root stumps to stunt their growth as apple trees can grow to over 40-50 feet- these heights would make life that little bit more difficult for the pickers. The main threats to the trees and their fruit are wind and hail stones. If there is a strong hail storm it can pierce the apples and the wind can blow them off. The other threats are rabbits and deer. The rabbits and deer, even though being surrounded by apples and green grass, prefer the bark of the trees and particularly love saplings so most of the trees are covered with mesh in the early stages and for the deer there’s a hut for stalkers to keep the numbers down.