While you were counting the days until pumpkin spice lattes were back on the menu, I was patiently awaiting the arrival of apple season. Many English estates and historic houses offer some type of festivity around the autumnal apple bounty. But few can beat the appeal of picking your own apples in the royal orchards near the Queen’s famous country estate at Sandringham. (!)
First planted in 1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the orchards have been open to families for picking since 1971. Visitors may pick Bramley and Cox apples, but other varieties (even pears!) may be available for sale on site. Several juices from other varieties in the orchards are available for sale online or in a variety of royal gift shops.
This was our first time apple picking, so we had loads of questions.
Do I have to pay to get in?
The Sandringham Fruit Farm isn’t on the grounds of the house and gardens. It’s a few minutes’ drive down the road. Parking and entry are free. You just have to pay by the kilogram for what you pick.
So… what do I do?
Follow the PYO Apples signs past the estate (details here) and to the orchards, park for free and wander up toward the weighing huts. You’ll find a box full of plastic bags there. Grab as many as you need.
If you’re looking for apples for baking, head into the Bramley entrance. For snacking, you’ll want the Cox orchard. Go forth and pick to your heart’s delight! Bring them back to the weigh station to pay by the kilo.
Will I have to climb a ladder or anything?
Nope! The trees are cultivated close to the ground so you can easily reach most of the branches.
How do I know which apples are the good ones?
The mushy brown ones are obviously not OK. It’s probably best to skip the ones on the ground. You want to pick apples that have a nice size and color and come off easily with a gentle twist.
A good Bramley is large and green with some hints of red. This year has been exceptionally wet and warm, so many of the Bramleys have “scabs.” These are superficial and don’t affect the fruit under the skin, which is fine because they’re for baking anyway!
Cox apples are red-skinned, crisp and juicy. Apple-y perfection.
Will there be any left by the time I get there?
Apple picking takes place at specific dates and times. (See here for that info.) There are many very, very long rows of trees completely covered with clusters of delicious fruits. We arrived after a tour bus and there were still PLENTY to choose from. You might want to call ahead if you’re getting around to it later in the season and are really worried about it. But, yeah. There will be apples for you.
Are there activities or refreshments at the orchard?
No, you won’t find apple cider donuts or hay rack rides here. You can buy bottles of apple juice, boozey cider, vinegar and chutney at the weigh station.
If you’d like to get more out of your trip, the Sandringham Country Park just outside the house entrance is free to enter (with free parking!). You’ll find a playground, trails, restaurant, toilets and gift shop. Of course you can also buy tickets to visit the Sandringham Estate to tour the house and gardens while you’re there. Or you can go back for that another time when family is visiting.
Uh, so, what do I do with all these Bramleys?
Bust out the apron! Bramleys are notoriously sour and so are best used in baking, which mellows their flavor. Here are some recipes I want to try. Scones are baking away this very minute!