Julie Bailey of Apple Natural produces a range of apple shreds, also known as fruit leathers. They're sweet with natural sugars, healthy and sourced locally, mainly from apples grown in her own orchard.
Down a warren of country lanes, not far from the Tamar Valley in Cornwall, is Julie Bailey's orchard Lower Trelabe, where she grows historic local varieties of apple and makes her delicious Apple Natural apple shreds, traditional fruit leathers that contain only the natural plant sugars.
Julie and her husband moved to Cornwall in 2003 and came to Lower Trelabe farm in 2012. Her passion for food and cooking, combined with a desire to provide her young son with wholesome snacks, led her to start making fruit leathers. Delving into old maps they discovered the land's history as an orchard and in 2016 began planting traditional Cornish apples suited to the land and climate.
Apple Natural started in Julie’s kitchen with a small dehydrator, but as the orchard grew to 400 trees so did the apple leather making operation. Now based in a former Dartmoor Rangers hut alongside the orchard, Julie produces a range of apple leathers, both 100% apple and with additional flavours from gooseberry to seaweed to blackberry.
All the apples come from the orchard, with the additional fruits and vegetables that flavour the leathers sourced locally and sustainably. Once the apples have been harvested in the autumn, they're washed, cut and the pips taken out. They are then steamed and made into a purée, which is spread thinly onto sheets to be slowly dehydrated over several hours. These sheets are then rolled up like parchments and stored in an air-tight container until they're later shredded and cut into strips, The shreds are finally packed into home compostable packs with labels printed on recycled paper, using vegan-friendly inks and water-soluble adhesive.
Inspired by local artist Mary Martin who, with her husband James Evans, spent many years rediscovering and preserving local apple varieties, Julie's orchard is home to a remarkable collection of over 60 predominantly Tamar Valley apple varieties, along with quince, meddler, plum, pear and cherry trees.
The whole South West is famous for its orchards but the Tamar Valley has always been particularly known for its fruit production. Benefiting from south-facing slopes and a sheltered position against northeast winds, the valley enjoyed a unique microclimate that benefitted cultivation. Fruit production in the Tamar Valley peaked between the 1850s and 1950s, when it was particularly famous for its strawberries, cherries, apples, and pears, with individual villages and districts developing their own distinct fruit varieties. The industry began to decline in the late 1950s due to a shrinking workforce and intensified competition both domestically and internationally. The orchards and market gardens gradually fell into disuse and now less than half of the land once dedicated to growing in the Tamar Valley remains in active production.
This decline is reflected across the UK with 80% of our traditional orchards now lost. Although over 2,200 species of apple are recorded in Britain's National Fruit Collection at Brogdale Farm in Kent, only a handful of varieties can be found in the shops.
Traditional orchards like Julie’s play a crucial role in supporting ecosystem biodiversity by providing a haven for wildlife. Similar to wood pastures, the mix of trees, meadow, and hedgerow boundaries in orchards creates a diverse habitat for many wild plants, animals, insects and birds. The meadows around Julie’s fruit trees are full of orchids, wildflowers and butterflies. The hedges are made up of native British shrubs and trees like hawthorn, blackthorn, elder and oak and alive with foxgloves, ferns and small mammals. Overhead house martins and swallows dip and dive. Bees buzz and crickets sing. Julie’s passion for wildlife and intermate relationship with the land is clear from the wild and untamed nature of the orchard. She points out the perching posts for owls dotted among the trees, the ladybird larvae on leaves and newts in the pond.
Julie produces wonderful apple shreds, sweet with natural sugars, healthy and sourced locally. She's also a considerate and vital custodian of the land.
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