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UP CLOSE: Sidmouth's award-winning Four Elms Fruit Farm

By Philippa Davies

13th Sep 2021 | Local News

The Four Elms Fruit Farm, just past Newton Poppleford on the road towards Sidmouth, has been making award-winning apple juice for years – and this year it also scooped two Taste of the West Gold awards for its cider. Sidmouth Nub News took a tour of its orchards with director Richard Smedley to find out more about this family business which has been growing apples there since the 1960s.

The fruit farm consists of 70 acres of land on two sites, growing 14 varieties of apple - mainly Cox, Egremont Russet, Bramley, Braeburn and Gala. Richard explained that apple varieties go in and out of fashion. He said: "Green apples are not very popular at the moment – the Gala is now the Number One UK apple." His team are currently in the process of replanting more Gala apples in place of some of the Coxes, which have become less popular over the years.

Four Elms apples are distributed throughout the South-West and further afield through a network of wholesalers, and can be found in supermarkets, greengrocers and farm shops.

For the juice, Four Elms is one of the few apple growers in the country that uses only home-grown, hand-selected fruit. This means the team have absolute control over the quality, and the apples can be pressed at their perfect ripeness. The gently pasteurised juice is bottled on site. Unlike the generic apple juice sold in supermarkets, Four Elms offers juices from different varieties of apple; Russet, Cox, Braeburn and Bramley, and these have been consistently winning Taste of the West Gold and Silver awards, as well as several prizes from the National Fruit Show.

When the fruit farm branched out into cider

With Four Elms having such a long track record of producing high quality apple juice, the question arises: why did they only start making cider three years ago? Richard explained that they've been growing cider apples for many years and pressing them for cider makers, but didn't take the process to the next stage themselves.

"Then a couple of years ago the cider makers at Darts Farm retired and as we were already pressing the apples into liquid, Mark (Smedley) decided he'd ferment it and bottle it. It wasn't starting from scratch because we were already pressing the apples for cider and selling it in bulk, and they would take it away and do the rest. With a bit of help and guidance we did a bit more to reach the craft cider stage. The blending has been adjusted with some dessert fruit to reduce the amount of tannin in it."

Four Elms now offers three ciders: Devon Ridge (dry), Devon Roots (medium) and Devon Hills (sweet). Devon Roots and Devon Hills both won Golds in this year's Taste of the West awards.

The team are currently gearing up for October's apple picking, after a year when the weather wasn't particularly helpful to producing a good crop. The cold wet April with several night frosts was bad news; apples need a cold winter followed by a warm, dry spring in the flowering season.

Richard said a 'traditional English summer' is ideal for apple growing; this year's has been dull and unsettled a lot of the time.

However, there's plenty of fruit on the trees – and the team are currently looking for people to help pick them, as they're facing a shortage this year. Anyone interested can contact Four Elms Fruit Farm on 01395 568286 or by emailing [email protected]

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