Farm gate to plate... Thompson's fruit farm, Great Oakley
PUBLISHED: 09:07 07 July 2015 | UPDATED: 09:07 07 July 2015
PETE Thompson heads this third-generation family business which was originally founded at Brook Farm in northeast Essex in 1948 by his grandfather, George Thompson. It’s a little too early to say if there will be a fourth generation, Pete explains: ‘My children at the moment want to grow up to be Transformers but they do enjoy our fruit.’
Having expanded and evolved through the decades, Thompson’s is now a market leader in specialist products for the wholesale markets and food service sector, growing a variety of vegetables and fruit crops locally on the rural Tendring Peninsula.
Thompson’s specialises in niche crops due to the size of the farm and one of those is apricots. ‘We planted our first ones in the winter of 2009/2010. Now there are probably eight growers of these varieties across the UK. We only sell to the wholesale market, but you can buy our apricots in Sainsburys, M&S and Waitrose and hopefully some other supermarkets besides from the end of July. If you pick them too soon you don’t get the benefit of the taste and the juiciness.
‘Countries like France, Spain or Turkey aren’t able to grow such a good apricot as ours due to our latitude and climate. Our apricots are sweeter, with more of a reddy, orangey blush and are almost too juicy! It’s because of our wetter climate, they are almost peach-like.
‘When I was originally asked to start growing them, I wasn’t keen. The ones I’d tried from abroad were bland, yellow and dry. An apricot should be a juice-on-your-chin experience. We are of course very reliant on the great English weather, but this year so far it looks like there will be a very heavy crop from late July. We pick our three varieties over a three-week period.’
Two of Pete’s apricots are a traditional apricot, Tomcot and Flavourcot which are developed from French stock, and one is smaller and more like a giant cherry, which is very flavoursome.
‘We are just trying different varieties to get a more regular, consistent crop,’ adds Pete and they should be appearing in shops this week. ‘The retailers stock them literally from harvest day for three weeks. It’s quite labour intensive as they are very delicate and have to be harvested by hand from the trees.’
Thompson’s also grows other fruits including Flavorcot (sometimes known as FlavorKing) which is sold and very popular in the US. It looks more like a plum and is very dark in colour and also very juicy.
‘We’re not a big farm so we focus on the more specialist crops. We work with the food industry to look at what we can grow. Apricots are a very low maintenance crop and other than some copper spray, they don’t require any other pesticides at all, so they are practically organic.’
Once harvest is over at the farm any fruit which is not cosmetically pretty enough to go to the supermarkets is used to make Tendring fruit juice — ensuring nothing is wasted.