If you happen to be passing through the Chilterns, you may have noticed that a lot of the roads and houses in the Chilterns area have names such as “Orchard Road” or “Cherry Wood”. That is because the Chilterns have been famous for growing cherries for many years.
The climate, together with the soil in this part of England is ideal for growing the fruit. The main varieties grown have been Croons and Buds, together with White Heart, Napoleon (Naps), Bigger Roo, Elton, Early River and Black Hearts. Many of the hill top villages in the Chilterns provide the perfect location for these crops. Holmer Green, Seer Green, Flackwell Heath and Preswood to name but a few.
Cherry orchards were prolific and some date back to the early part of the 18th century. Years ago, each village would have its very own cherry watchman who would fire blanks with a gun or use a wooden clapper to scare off greedy birds. Due to the short harvest time, picking was a real community event with children staying off school to help. Harvested crops were sent to market in London originally by horse & cart and later by train. At times failed crops were sent to be turned in to fabric dye.
The cherry tree life span is generally between 40-60 years. However, over the years they have not been replenished due to the availability of cheaper imports and the rise of air transport. This, together with land needed for development has seen the demise of this popular fruit in this area.
Today, wild cherry trees and old orchards still exist as well as the odd tree, spared by property developers. Nevertheless, the history of this crop is still preserved. Some villages still hold celebrations in honour of this fruit. Seer Green has the annual Cherry Pie Fair where hundreds of mini cherry pies are baked and consumed annually. This is held on the third Saturday in June. In years gone by local bakers would provide room in their ovens to bake the pies and competitions were often held to find the best.
Originally the cherry pie was baked to treat the workers out in the fields at harvest time. They took the form of a small pastie. Below is a tongue in cheek recipe for such a treat, which was said to be discovered in a tin box in the chimney of an old house in Seer Green in 1974.
“For pastie, use flour saved from ye cleanings and lard from ye fresh killed pig. Roll out verie thickly so as to contain ye cherry juice and give boddie to ye turnover…Gather a hatful of black cherries by moonlight. Those high up are better in taste. Let them ripe enough to contain ye juice when gentile prest.
Put a double layer in ye pastie with four atop and seal with fresh drawn water from ye well. Cook gentlie in ye oven on a fire of faggots. Gather round and when ye pastie is cool enough not to scorch ye fingers, break off one end and drink ye juice. Repeat….and yet again…and then again” – ah life is sweet!
Obviously, this is not the recipe used today – that is my secret! After baking the cherry pies annually, myself from 2000-2010, I am delighted to report I am returning to the honour this year. I will certainly make sure my village; Seer Green rightly deserves its mark on the map as ‘The Cherry Pie Village’ – see you Saturday!!
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