The National Fruit Show is evolving, not declining, according to new honorary chair and former executive chair of the Marden Fruit Show Society Sarah Calcutt.

Sarah was quick to respond to comments from renowned show veteran David Banfield, who wrote to South East Farmer following the impressive 2022 show putting forward his views on why he felt the number of entrants was declining.

David said the cost involved, the time it took and the fact that growers had other priorities, not least finding the workforce to pick their fruit crop, was all having an impact on the number of exhibits at the show, opened this year by Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex.

Using Bramleys as an example, he said: “To pick and collect for the show is done in two stages. You pick more fruit than you show as you pick and size as you go. I pick more fruit at this stage because you can’t always see problems such as pests, scratch marks or internal condition. 

“Enough fruit is picked for class one and two, which takes approximately 10 to 12 hours. Then there is the sorting and packing for the display trays, which can take up to three hours for each entry, providing fruit is sized well, free from blemishes etc. It takes three trays for one entry.” 

He went on to suggest that picking for dessert apple categories took longer, “as you need a lot more fruit per tray; for a 35 count you need approximately 350 plus apples to select for show trays”. He suggested that would take 12 to 14 hours. Pears were easier, needing “about 300” and taking six to 10 hours, he suggested.

In response, Sarah Calcutt pointed out that there were two new entrants in 2022, both of whom won a class, and said that despite considerable consolidation across the industry, “we are seeing consistent support from our core entrants and new competitors join in every year”.

Sarah said that Katie Langridge, a younger exhibitor who was successful at the 2022 show, taking home three prizes, packed her 15 entries of fruit over one weekend and picked fruit in the evenings, “so perhaps a half day of time over the harvest season”.

 David, 89, has been showing fruit for the past 40 years, with the Bramleys he selected for Richard Edmed judged as the overall winner at this year’s show.

Here’s how to do it

Meanwhile Brian and Norma Tompsett, chair of the judges and competition manager respectively, have put forward their thoughts on preparing fruit for display. They also pointed out that they are happy to advise newcomers on how to approach the task and reminded newcomers that there are novice classes at the annual event.

Top tips

  • Select for uniformity of colour; remember there are no points for high colour, just consistency.
  • Be strict on pests and diseases, shape and blemishes.
  • Don’t pick masses of fruit as it takes time to pick it and then to choose the best; set yourself a high standard and stick to it.
  • Keep to a narrow size range rather than picking to the extreme range allowed in the class.
  • In classes with two sizes per variety, pick both at the same time (for example, for Cox 65/70 and 70/75 we would pick from 67 to 73 and separate them later).
  • Using this strict approach, aim to pick three times the number required (i.e. 100 fruits per entry for dessert classes).

The two experts added: “It is hard to recall how long it took us, but I guess we could pick an entry in three to four hours. With different varieties this task is spread over several weeks.

“As for packing, from memory we would pack 12 entries over the weekend prior to the show. We would take the fruit out of store on the Thursday, giving time for it to come up to ambient temperature ready for packing on the Saturday.

“We would strongly advise encouraging keen and enthusiastic members of staff to take on this work and allow them to keep the prize money.”