Latest major edit 14th August 2006, (few notes added September 2007) I intend to add more images later, waiting for apples to ripe fully before taking photos. Most of the images are quite large which means they will take a few seconds to load, but are bigger and better pictures and make great screensavers. All my material on this site is copyright, but I give permission for any text and pictures to be freely downloaded and stored or copied for any honest not for profit use. Acknowledgement and a link from your site would be nice.
(NB the British are the only people who grow sharp acidic apples like Bramley etc. for cooking. The French, who use apples in cooking more than we do, use dessert apples in salads and meat dishes as well as tarts and cakes which definitely do not work with acid apples. You will never see a Bramley in France. I like Bramleys in their place (baked with Muscovado sugar and sultanas, as a chutney base or apple sauce) but they are NOT the only apple you can cook, and I recommend cooking with dessert apples as well as or instead as traditional 'cookers' (see recipes.)
And the Cider apples
DESCRIPTIONS OF THE APPLES WE GROWI have put as muchas possible of my own experience of growing and eating these apples in these descriptions, but have inevitably drawn on books, particularly Rosanne Sanders "The English Apple", Edward Bunyard's "The Anatomy of Dessert", and for cider apples Liz Copas' excellent "Somerset Pomona", all reviewed in the books section. Ms Sanders worked closely with the Royal Horticultural Society and tasted the apples herself as she painted beautiful watercolours of the fruits, blossom and leaves so I have reason to trust her descriptions, but all observations, my own included, are subjective. My descriptions cannot be taken as Gospel. Apples vary from year to year, soil to soil, and in any event flavour is hard to describe, so no guide is ever perfect. I have tried to be as Pomologicaly correct as possible but I can't disentangle my own preferences, and I can't accept responsibility for any decisions you might make about planting trees. Before making the important decision to plant an apple tree, compare as many sources on information as you can, taste all the apples you can (go to Apple Day events) and make your own judgement. There are fewer books about the old apple varieties available now than when I started (although there are a few very good ones, reviewed elsewhere in the site) but there's a growing amount on the web and there is Apple Day.
Miller's SeedlingWe bought a specimen of this fruit, which like Beauty of Bath used to be widely grown but is now rare, from Keeper's nursery in Kent (see links)about 20 years ago. I found them in "The Good Fruit Guide" and they were listed as the only nursery in England stocking this apple. I have propagated from this and we grow around 20 trees. I found about this apple from a quirky old book, "New Forest Orchard" by Hugh Quigley, in which the story was told of an retiring industrialist who wanted a change so bought some land in Hampshire and planted an orchard from scratch, knowing nothing. Miller's Seedling was highly praised in the book, said to have "saved the orchard" by its regular cropping and ready sales. We find it a useful second early apple which crops very well in 'on' years but tends to go biennial if not pruned with great care. It has a good 'vinous' flavour (i.e. tending to the crunchy, brisk and slightly bland North American style of Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Spartan etc.) rather than the spicy aromatic style of Cox, Irish Peach, Pitmaston Pineapple etc. It is green flushed red, very crunchy at first, and will keep for about 2 or 3 weeks after picking. It crops very heavy (needs thinning for good fruit size) and is a useful apple for our first sale of the year in August when it is ripe. ORIGIN Newbury, Berkshire, 1848 where it was raised by a nurseryman called James Miller.NB we have gone off this apple a bit, it is VERY biennial, poor shelf life and not really very tasty, our customers aren't very keen, so we are reducing numbers by half-September 2007
Worcester PearmainThis was widely grown in my adult lifetime but I haven't seen any in the shops for years now. The supermarkets, who control 80% of food production, transportation and selling in Britain today, won't carry a product with a limited season and short shelf life so it's goodbye early season apples. Worcester Pearmain is a reliable cropper which if left on the tree until properly ripe develops some red coloration of the flesh and a pleasant flavour of raspberries. Even when it was more widely grown it was usually picked before ripe, understandable as this extends the shelf life although it tends to prevent the full flavour developing. Such is life. Worcester Pearmain is a tip bearer making a medium sized tree which tends to bear good regular crops. ORIGIN raised in Worcester by Smiths, thought to be a seedling from that other early apple Devonshire Quarrenden, introduced in 1874 and won an RHS First Class certificate the following year.
Edmund's PippinAlso St Edmund's Russet, this is one of the best
flavoured early apples and could easily be mistaken for an Egremont Russet
but is more golden rather than olive brown and is ripe sooner. Raised in
1870 at Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk by a Mr R Harvey. Small apple, variable
cropper from light to good, rich and good aromatic flavour when ripe, which
is September give or take a week. Won't keep long or travel, therefore no
use to the supermarkets, therefore you will almost never see one for sale
except at farm shops (I found it once in Sussex, somewhere off the A272
between Billingshurst and Haywards Heath). We have 2 trees of this variety,
come to one of our sales at the right time and you might have one opportunity
a year to taste some. Like all our early varieties, we can't offer a taste
at our Apple Day event as they don't keep until late October. I would recommend
this as one of the apples in a ten or 15 tree orchard, but like all early varieties,
you don't want it to be the only apple you grow.
Laxton's EpicureAnother fantastically juicy, richly aromatic, August and September apple which is perfect in it's season but won't keep. A very heavy cropper, usually needs thinning. The trees tend to be very upright growing but the weight of fruit from the second year after planting will pull them down to the horizontal. Big blowsy blossom, huge leaves, gangly looking bunches of apples with very long stalks. It was raised by the famous Laxton brothers from a cross between Cox and Wealthy, in 1909. Said to be frost resistant so recommended for growing further north, I read that in a book so I can't vouch for it. Very juicy, rich spicy flavour-the best late August/early September apple I know. The birds love it.
Devonshire Quarrenden is first mentioned in Worlidge's Vinetum Brittanicum in 1678, so its a really old apple. The name is thought to be derived from the town Carentan in Normandy so maybe it came over to Devon from France. The other possibility for the name is quarantine, meaning 40 days, perhaps referring to the fact the apple kept for about that length of time. It is said to thrive in the west country as it doesn't mind lots of rain and wind, although is susceptible to scab. Cropping moderate to heavy, as to flavour, we have only planted 2 trees in 2002/3 so haven't had any to try yet, flavour is said to be very tasty, Sanders says "a lovely fruity flavour, sweet, juicy and crisp". We planted some because so many of our customers asked us for it-apparently this apple is remembered with fondness by people who were able to buy it a generation or so ago, before most of our small orchards were destroyed and the rest planted over to Braeburn and Gala.
Orange An apple people tend to love or hate, I love it.
When this apple is just ripe it has a lovely crisp, clean sweet flavour.
As it matures, it develops a very spicy flavour with strong aniseed tones.
It then becomes soft. If you catch it just right it is in my view one of
the best apple flavours. If you taste a properly ripe Cox (if you can FIND
one) one of the complex blend of flavours is aniseed. This is developed
almost to excess in Ellison. This apple can crop very heavily, requiring
thinning, and also can become biennial, despite which faults I do love
it and would recommend it as part of a medium sized orchard. It doesn't
keep long, say from late August to the first week of October. ORIGIN the
Reverend C C Ellison of Bracebridge in Lincolnshire towards the end
of the 19th century raised it from a cross between Cox and Calville Blanche,
a French favourite. (you may have noticed I am quite pro-French in matters
of food and drink. Credit where its due-the French value flavour and haven't
sold their small farmers down the river like we have-check it out and see
if there are any ENGLISH apples in French shops!!!!). This apple, like
most we grow, you will NEVER see in any supermarket. image not available
LambourneI have read dozens of apple books and can confidently
say that this is the apple most often recommended if you only have room
for one tree. It has a good flavour, half way between the aromatic and
vinous-imagine Cox crossed with Spartan. It is a regular steady cropper
and does not need thinning-apples are of average size, average colour,
average flavour-a good regular uncontroversial apple. Moderately disease
resistant, recommended for making apple juice. It can be eaten straight
from the tree in September or stored to November. Probably not the first
choice for flavour of someone who really knows apples, but a good steady
performer with very decent flavour. Nobody ever got fired for planting
Lord Lambourne. It makes a compact, round headed tree which crops reliably
well, every year and doesn't need thinning. Widespread. ORIGIN James Grieve/Worcester
Pearmain cross, Bedfordshire, 1907. NB as of September 2007, we have had VERY heavy crops 2 years running, our customers like it and it stores reasonably well. A strong recommend.Click
here for picture.
John DownieThe best known ornamental crab apple, it is very reliable and a useful pollinator for most other apples. It can reach the size of a plum and makes very good crab apple jelly. Nice ornamental tree to grow if you have the space, the fruits are very pretty and if you don't want to cook them you can leave them for the birds. Golden Hornet is the other well known crab, yellow fruits in bunches, useful for pollination and looking beautiful, very acid and tiny fruit. We have a few of each dotted around here and there for fun. Can be eaten raw although obviously small. image not available yet
Sunset Described byLawrence Hills in 'The good fruit guide' as "the best of the Cox taste-alikes" ( I respectfully disagree, I think Kidd's Orange is better, but that's the wonder of apples-so many flavours!!!). This makes a very compact tree that does not reach a huge size, and if you are after an apple for a small garden or to grow in a large patio pot, this may be the apple for you. Highly praised by Geoffrey Bell in "Establishing a Fruit Garden". A smallish, flattened apple which is mainly flushed red on a yellow background, not many stripes. Notable for regular, heavy blossom, it usually sets too many fruit and has to be thinned-I like to thin it to singles (1 fruit only per cluster) for best size. You can eat them fairly sharp from the tree in September and they will keep to Christmas, we have kept them longer. They turn yellow in store and do become soft by November-some people hate this but some of our toothless older customers are very happy about it. The best apple pie we made had slices of Sunset between layers of frothed Bramley. A good apple which is said to succeed where Cox fails, it is a Cox seedling and has much of it's parent's flavour. Spicy and aromatic, it often seems to fizz in the mouth. Makes fantastic apple juice. It can be susceptible to scab and wants good soil-we have about 70 trees of Sunset and there are parts of the orchard where 5 year old trees in good soil are doing far better than 8 year old trees in thinner soil (well drained sandy loam). We could have improved this by compost but didn't have the time and energy. ORIGIN raised at Igtham in Kent by Mr Addy in 1918 from a pip of Cox. If you are planting this as part of a collection of apples, plant it where it will be seen as the show of blossom is reliably spectacular. NB in 2007 this apple has been a disaster, half of them cracked and split when a dryest-ever April was followed by prolonged rain. OK, this was problem weather, but the other apples weren't afected like this. Another apple I have gone off just a bit, although the advantages mentioned above still apply. image not available
James GrieveGood cooker before Bramley is ripe, it has a distinctive and really good flavour eaten raw. Scab susceptible on our soil, but Julia's mother grew one for years in her clay soil without sprays and regularly had good crops of fruit which stored almost to Christmas. It is a good pollinator for other apples and sets quite reliably. Ripe as a cooker August onwards, best to eat raw October-November. Did well in the cold, wet summer of 2007, tending to confirm the books which say it does better in the north. John Seymour (author "A Practical Guide to Self Sufficiency" ) said this was his favourite apple. This might be a good choice for the one-apple garden if you do a lot of cooking. When people ask us for a Bramley in August we suggest they try this instead, its much better in that season. no image available yet
Arthur Turner Exceedingly reliable cooker. Alternative to Bramley, crops every year without fail. A trouble free cooking apple for a small garden. when I say trouble free, of course you don't want to spray a tall tree in your back yard as you will get spray drift next door which is a problem, although you could do it after dark. Our back yard trees are unsprayed and therefore get a lot of scab and maggots, which we tolerate as the blackbirds eat most of them anyway. Click here for image.
Orange Red New Zealand Cox/Delicious cross from 1932. If
I was condemned to only have one apple tree in my garden it would have
to be this one. The apple is medium to large, deep red with yellow stripes
and irregular russeting which can form an extensive network. It was going
to replace Cox as it tastes pretty uch the same but is much easier to grow,
but it never caught on. Its commercial failure was thought to be partly
due to the irregular russeting of the skin which some people don't like.
Catch one of these apples properly ripened and you will think you are eating
a Cox when they used to grow them properly. In a ripe year there is also
a hint of violets. Kidd's is a sturdy tree which usually carries a good,
sometimes very large, crop. In my view, this is the apple with the best
combination of garden or orchard performance and good flavour and I heartily
recommend it as a mid to late season dessert. I gave trees of this to my
parents and my brother Nick, and they crop well in their gardens too. Did well in the difficult summer of 2007-still my number one recommend for the one tree garden.IMAGE
Egremont Russet Probably the best known and available of the highly flavoured, distinctive old apples we used to know. Its distinctive rough skin varies from olive green to golden brown, its flavour nutty and slightly dry with a unique texture, it is one of the best tasting apples you can grow. Most of the books we read said it was a very easy apple to grow, but we find it unreliable. Last year (2003) we had very good crops on the 15 trees we have in Bunyard's, but the previous year almost no crop and this year quite light. We have found that the tree does better in poorer soil-we have 2 rows in Bunyard's some 60 feet apart, and the row in the richer soil tends to make more growth but less fruit. When the tree is carrying a light crop, it sends out masses of shoots which require aggressive summer pruning to stop the tree closing up completely. Having said that, most writers find this tree easier to grow than us so it is worth considering. It is said to do better in northern and western districts, so maybe not ideal for the soft south. The flavour and to me beautiful appearance of the apple make it very desirable. October to December season, but note this apple is prone to a problem called bitter pit where little brown dots with a bitter taste form in the stored fruit. This is made worse by excessive nitrogen feeding and reduced by even water supply (irrigate or mulch) and liquid seaweed foliar feed (we use a commercial trace element spray called Wuxal TM). ORIGIN uncertain, first recorded 1872. Don't let me put you off though, the flavour is excellent. NB as of September 2007, this apple did very well this year and in 2006. Only problem is that a lot fell off before they could be picked. I don't worry, as they can be picked up and washed and are a good addition to a cider blend and make a great base for apple wine with added sugar. One of the top 5 or 6 dessert apples i would say.Click for image.
Margil We grow one specimen of this very old, very rare tree with a fantastic flavour. Ms Sanders says it is suspected that George London who worked in the garden at Versailles brought it over from France in the 1700s. Bunyard wrote in 1929 "Margil is a fruit but little known, despite a long sojourn in this country...its flesh is delightfully fondant and its flavour is certainly of great price. An older apple than either Cox or Ribston, it is very possible that it is among their ancestors, and it certainly has much of their flavour, and must be placed among the old masters." Its a small apple and a light cropper, makes a small compact tree which is ideal for a small garden. The flavour is rich, sweet and perfumed, said to go well with a light sherry. Keeps until January stored carefully. Like many of these very rare very old apples, you could count on the finger of one hand the number of nurseries who still stock it. THESE OLD APPLES ARE A PRECIOUS PART OF OUR ENGLISH HERITAGE AND THEY ARE FACING EXTINCTION please grow one, just one, if you can, go on rip out that dreary lilac or dwarf conifer and plant a decent apple tree instead! no image available yet
contrast with Margil, this is a common, bland red apple from America. We
first grew it by mistake, when growing an experimental row of cordon apples
in our garden in Sholing, Southampton, to find out about the flavours of
these apples we read about but couldn't buy. We ordered a Saint Edmunds
Pippin, the fruits were being grown in alphabetically named rows, and we
got Spartan instead by accident. When we tasted it, the flavour was better
than we had expected, and we ended up, for the sake of variety and customer
choice, planting 20 Spartans in our orchard. This tree is a representative
of the 'vinous' style of apple which is so popular in north America. Other
examples include Jonathan, Winesap, Northern Spy, Cortland and Golden Delicious.
These sorts tend to be crispy, sweet, uniform in colour, and lacking in
the aromatic flavour compounds which characterise the more highly flavoured
apples such as Kidds' Orange, Orleans Reinette, Egremont, Margil
etc. Spartan is a very fair representative of that class of apple, its
other advantages are heavy regular cropping and a pretty mahogany red skin
with a light yeast bloom that polishes up to a pretty shine if you rub
it on your sleeve. There is a faint savour of honey when they are properly
ripe. On the down side. this apple is susceptible to scab, always needs
thinning, and many customers will reject it because they associate the
appearance of this apple with wooly texture and no taste (although they
are often pleasantly surprised when they try one). This apple develops
better flavour grown in England than America and is worth considering if
you have a lot of children, it also has the advantage that it can be eaten
straight from the tree but will also keep until January or February. It
is also a very good pollinator for other varieties. ORIGIN McIntosh
x Yellow Newtown Pippin cross at the Dominion Experiment Station, Summerland,
British Columbia, 1926. click
PineappleSmall, conical shaped, golden yellow apple with curious
lateral ridges of broken russeting. The flavour is eyebrow raising, it
really does taste of pineapples, you won't believe it until you try. Rich,
honeyed and sweet. One of the rarest apples there is, and one of my favourites.
Unreliable cropper, always needs thinning, relatively prone to scab and
canker, in fact the only thing this apple has going for it is that it has
an absolutely fantastic flavour. Season October-November, ORIGIN unknown.
Said in one of my books to be a descendant of "the old golden russet" whatever
that was. If someone re-badged this fruit with a cool name and imported
it from Malaysia, it would become the talk of dinner parties and retail
for £6 a kilo. We have 4 trees mainly for our own consumption (that's
right, we DO keep the best for ourselves!) and exhibitions and to supply
genetic material to graft from to try and help the variety remain alive.
It makes quite a small tree. George Monbiot (link to his article on English
Aplpes from main menu) said he would plant one of these on his allotment.
here for picture.
Putt Known as a triple purpose apple, can be eaten raw,
cooked and said to make decent cider. Of course you can eat, cook or ferment
any apple with varying results, but this one is said to do all three tolerably
well, and be a good reliable cropper too. We have only just planted 2 trees
last year so can't speak from personal experience, by my chums on the Google
ukcider group consistently rate if one of their favourite cider apples.
Small size, red stripes on green background and a knobbly shape, it was
apparently raised in Somerset in the late 1700s by the Reverend Tom Putt,
but he had a relative of he same name who lived in Honiton, Devon, and
maybe he raised it, it was all a long time ago..... Said to be a very regular
cropper with a somewhat acid taste. Liz Copas writes that it was called
"the cottage apple" as it was widely planted in West Country cottage kitchen
gardens presumably as it was multi purpose. The tree is said to have remarkable
powers of rejuvenation, sending out vigorous new branches even from very
old gnarled trees so perhaps that's another reason for its vernacular popularity.
Pippin One of the most important apples in our great English
heritage, first grown in Knaresborough, Yorkshire in 1688 reputedly from
pips brought over from an unknown apple in Rouen, Normandy. It used to
be widely grown and before Cox appeared was thought to be the best flavoured
apple. In fact, pips from this apple were sown in his garden by Mr Richard
Cox, a retired brewer, and gave rise to Cox's Orange Pippin and Cox's Pomona
( a now rare cooker). The rich flavours of Ribston are a little drier than
Cox but the parentage is recognisable, Bunyard compared the difference
to that between Burgundy and Claret. Many other good apples have come from
Ribston Pippin crosses and this apple appears to have remarkable genetics.
The cropping is a little unreliable and it does tend to drop its fruits
just before the ideal picking time, so watch the tree. It is supposed to
be an October to December apple but Bunyard said it could be eaten straight
from the tree and for those who prefer a firmer apple this is worth a try
(apples, like wines, vary in flavour and texture and mature with age, and
thank God we can all enjoy our own tastes). Our Ribstons are on M26 rootstock
which is a bit more vigorous than the MM106 we wanted and they went into
the best soil, we therefore find they grow a bit too strongly and always
require summer pruning to remove excessive new growth. they are also a
fiddle to pollinate, they are triploid and definitely need another apple
such as Spartan close by. An occasionally frustrating apple but truly lovely
when it comes right (good in 2007). Last year they cropped very heavy, about 40kg per
tree, but about half the fruits dropped off in September. We made them
into juice and it was the best juice we ever tasted. One last thing, if
you are going to indulge yourself by planting pips to see if you can get
a new apple variety perhaps to name after your granddaughter, (I do NOT recommend this-better instead to adopt an existing known quality variety which is threatened) Ribston Pippin
is arguably the most promising starting point, as Mr Cox discovered. Many
good apples have come from the rich genes of this parent variety. click
Orleans ReinetteThe venerable Mr Bunyard and I are agreed that this is the best flavoured apple in the world, ever. From his description in 1929, "...it seems to come from the Low Countries, where we first meet with it in 1776. Its brown/red flush and glowing gold do very easily suggest that if Rembrandt had painted a fruit piece he would have chosen this apple. In the rich golden flesh there is a hint of the Ribston flavour, much of the Blenheim nuttiness, and an admirable balance of acidity and sweetness which combine, in my opinion, to make the best apple grown in Western Europe....Orleans Reinette is an apple..rich and mellow, and as a background for an old port it stands solitary and unapproachable" When its really ripe there is an incredible melange of savours to this apple including nuts and orange peel. The texture inclines to the chewy rather than "crunch" (one of the things that makes me smile through gritted teeth at our apple displays is the customer, and there are lots of them, who say "I want a crunchy apple". Why don't they ask "I want a TASTY apple"? I suspect it is because so many of the apples they buy have had such a long journey down the cold chain from the other side of the world the texture becomes wooly when they finally come up to room temperature after purchase. However, asking for a "crunchy" apple is like asking for a "cold" white wine. Yes, fair enough, but what would you like it to TASTE of? We have, as Mr Hills observed, come a long way since "The Anatomy of Dessert" and sadly most of you reading this will probably never have tasted a ripe Orleans Reinette, let alone with a 1976 Quinta do Vargellas or other vintage port after dinner on Christmas day. Of course, they do grow this and other Reinettes in France, Reinettes are THE classic French apple for cooking, which accounts for a lot. click for image.
A vigorous tree which crops most years although not always heavily. The apples have a short stalk and should be thinned to no more than 2 apples to a bunch, preferably just one. If you are an artist, it is worth growing this apple just to paint pictures of its beautiful autumn colours. At its best in October/November for us but will keep until Christmas with care. If I had only one tree it would have to be something that cropped more heavily and reliably, like Kidd's Orange Red (see above) but if I had only 2 trees one would have to be Orleans Reinette, and I think it is a crime that this apple is not more widely grown and known in this country-why do we import so many kumquats, kiwi fruit, mangoes and melons when we can grow fruit of this quality?
Claygate PearmainAnother rare old heritage apple we planted so recently we haven't tasted it yet (we don't let apples carry fruits in the first year) This apple was a wilding or gribble, i.e. was found growing wild,, in a hedge in the hamlet of Claygate, Surrey, in 1822 by a man called John Braddick. Mr Braddick sent specimens up to the Horticultural Society of London who declared that "it is unquestionably a first rate dessert apple." Rosanne Sanders writes "The fruit has a rich almost nutty flavour, with a good balance of sugar and acid and a very refreshing zest." Said to be a good, reliable cropper. Like so many others on our list, this is a hard to find apple on the edge of extinction. The finding of it in a hedge encourages us to continue throwing apple cores out of our car windows on to roadside verges in the hope that some might grow! (PS don't wobble and crash if you do this)click for image.
Heusgen's Golden Reinette Dutch variety introduced in 1877, a flattened apple which is more red early on, fades to golden yellow. Curious taste and texture, not one of my favourites but so different to most other apples I am sure it must have interesting genetics. Julia likes it. Little information available about this apple, Taylor writes in "The Apples of England" (1936) "A dessert apple suggestive of Blenheim flavour, February." click for image
Blenheim OrangeVery famous apple raised at Blenheim palace, Woodstock, near Oxford. Big tree, big apple with a distinctive Reinette style flavour, nutty aromatic non-Cox flavour which as well as being tasty raw is good cooked. It is a triploid so needs a pollinator, and like opther triploids (Bramley, Suntan) tends to make an outsize tree. Season November to January, first known around 1740. Bears heavier crops on bigger, older trees, takes a long time to come into cropping. Not a tree for the small garden, there is a very old apple tree at the bottom of our back garden which we believe to be a Blenheim. We rarely get any edible fruit from is as it is far too tall to prune or spray, needs picking with a ladder due to height and is a light cropper so the birds and pests get most of the fruits. We maintain this tree for beauty and shade rather than fruit. Orleans Reinette is said to have much of the flavour of Blenheim or maybe taste even better and is a sensible alternative. A good tree to include in a collection for a grand garden or community orchard, but not a good choice for the ordinary garden as it grows massive. click for image
of the PippinsIntroduced by Mr Kirke, a nurseryman in Brompton,
in the early 1800s, an alternative older name for this apple was Golden
Winter Pearmain. This is another of our minority apples, one of a batch
we planted one or two of in 2002, so we are still waiting for our first
taste. Rosanne Sanders says " sweet crisp and juicy with a very rich and
vinous rather nutty flavour, a distinctive and lovely apple". Said to be
suitable for the West Country. Several of my old books suggest that this
is an apple that used to be widely grown in the past and had a high reputation,
and like so many others fell victim to the 'rationalisation' of the fruit
industry which led to fewer larger orchards with fewer varieties. We are
looking forward to tasting the first of these from our young trees.
Peasgood's NonesuchMassive cooking apple. yellow-green background with broken red stripes, the largest apple I have come across, individual fruits weighing up to a pound (that's about half a kilo). There is a lovely photo in Graham Bush's book "Tree fruit growing" of his son eating "a pound of Peasgood's Nonesuch", the apple is nearly as big as the boy's head. We planted 2 last year but haven't had the chance to taste any yet. Raised in Lincolnshire by Mrs Peasgood from a seed of the Catshead Codlin in 1858 (another ancient apple which is probably now extinct) said to be a heavy cropper and excellent flavour, very good for baking. click for image.
Bramley's Seedlingyou all know this as the most popular (some think the only) cooking apple. Raised by Betty Brailsford in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, in 1809 from unknown origin. Big tree, big apple, big crops most years although several other popular cookers are more reliable. If, like us, you thin them and cut back excess leafy growth in summer, they will develop a red cheek which looks nice regardless of any improvement in flavour. There is a red 'sport' of Bramley although I've never seen it. A great apple but I have a few quibbles about it. For a start, people think its the only apple to cook which is totally wrong and this monopoly squeezes out other worthy apples. Next, it grows to a very large size which is OK if you can give it 20 feet diameter but a lot of people can't, so they end up cutting it back hard, which is a REALLY bad idea as it is a tip bearer! We have around 50 trees of this excellent apple as our customers are so keen on it, but it is not the best cooker for a small garden. In fact, definitely DON'T plant a Bramley unless you can give it plenty of space. If you want an acid cooker but have little space, consider Annie Elizabeth, Peasgood's Nonesuch, Reverend Wilkes, Lane's Prince Albert or Grenadier-if you must have Bramley, try it on the ultra dwarf rootstock MM 27. And remember that the French, who cook with apples more and better than we do, never use acid cookers like Bramley but prefer tasty aromatic dessert apples like Reinettes or Cox, which cook very well and are also good in salads, which Bramley is not. Having said that, Bramley is an outstanding apple if you have enough room for it. Very good for sauce and chutney as the flesh melts to a froth when cooked.click for image
Adam's PearmainRaised by Mr Robert Adams in 1826, not sure where, either Hertfordshire or Norfolk (if anyone knows for sure, contact me). A very conical shaped fruit with a high degree of pest and disease resistance, worth keeping alive if only for its genetic resistance to apple scab. Good vinous/aromatic flavour and a long keeper. Tends to make very long gangly extension shoots, requiring fairly hard pruning to an upright facing bud in the winter to avoid an excessively dropping habit which will otherwise develop. This apple is highly recommended if you intend to grow without any pesticides as it has better natural disease resistance than most apples. click for image
Court Pendu PlatThis has the distinction of being thought the oldest apple grown in England. The further back in time you go, the less sure we can be, but several authorities say it was introduced by the Romans and it was extensively cultivated by the Elizabethans who called it "the wise apple" as it flowers so late it misses the frost. A small apple, regular if not heavy cropper, late keeper with a good aromatic flavour. Slightly flattened shape, orange red colour with yellow stripes. This apple was crossed with Cox to give Suntan, which is an incredibly good apple. The fact of such a successful cross between a very old apple and a newer one proves that we CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE THE OLD GENETIC MATERIAL. This is a particularly good apple to grow in frosty areas since it blossoms to late. It also tastes very good. click for image
Suntan Irritating name but heavy cropping, long keeping apple with a WOW! flavour of tropical fruits and concentrated sunshine. The first time we tasted this apple I ate 5 or 6 non stop until my guts were bursting, it tasted that good. Pineapples, mangos and melons were noticeable among the rich mix of exotic fruit flavours in this delightful fruit. The flavour more like an over-the-top Aussie Shiraz-Cabernet red wine than the dull stuff sold as apples these days-seriously, you have to try it. It was grown at the famous East Malling research station, Kent, in 1955 (same year I was grown) by Dr Alston from a cross between Cox's Orange Pippin and the ancient variety Court Pendu Plat (see above). It is a triploid so needs a pollinator, but is a regular and heavy cropper which flowers late so misses the frost (taking after Court Pendu in this respect) and has a fantastic flavour. Possibly the most underrated apple in England, today (9th July 2004) Julia and I shared the last apple from the 2003 season-it was a Suntan and it was STILL CRUNCHY and full of flavour. We are increasing the number of trees of this sort that we grow. I think this apple should be renamed Bunyard's Pippin and grown EVERYWHERE. It can make quite a big tree but unlike Bramley you can dwarf it by summer pruning. click for image
GillyflowerAn apple we just had to grow because of the intriguing
name. A late apple, November to March, it was found growing in a cottage
garden in Truro, Cornwall, around 1800. It was brought to London by Sir
Christopher Hawkins in 1813 and was awarded a silver medal by the Horticultural
Society. Light to moderate cropper, it is a tip bearer so cannot be cut
back too hard or grown in a restricted form. Said to have a very good sweet
rich flavour. no image available yet.
Ashmead's KernelI have a mate by the name of Martyn Ashmead and I was privileged to supply him with a specimen of this tree for his back garden. He was glad to know that a quality apple bore his name, but even happier with the flavour. Ashmead's Kernel, I have heard, is the apple which most often wins blind tasting awards for the best flavoured English apple of all, beating Cox. It is a russet which was raised in Gloucestershire by Dr Ashmead around 1700 (amazing how many of our very best apples are from around 1680-1800. Did we stop trying after then, or have we lost some of the more genetically promising stock?). This is Julia's favourite apple, we originally planted just 5, mainly for her, not thinking it would be commercially viable, but we found it grew better for us than we had been led to expect from the books and our customers went mad for it, so we have grafted over a row of Spartan in Cobbet's to this variety (see page on grafting). I remember one day at Winchester farmers market when an elderly gentleman came up to our stall and his eyes lit up. "Got any Ashmead's Kernel?" he enquired, and I'm glad to say I was able to say " Yes!". After tasting some he bought all we had and was obviously very happy. One of our mission goals is to "reconnect people with the apples of the garden of their youth." and I think in this case we may have succeeded. A first class long keeping highly flavoured English apple. click for image
Winter King (Winston)We are really pleased with this apple. Originally w planted just 5 experimentally but found our customers were practically desperate for it so grew another 33, a whole row in the latest planting. There was no way to buy 33 trees of this rare type and no time to bud them on, so I planted out a long row of larger MM106 rootstocks from our nursery, sawed them off at 6 inches above the ground, and cleft grafted Winter King on to them all. I am proud to say all took, that was the winter of 1999/2000 and today they are carrying a crop of around 30 apples per tree. It is an extremely fertile apple to the extent that you must thin it every year or you will get about a thousand marble to golf ball sized fruits per tree. It is a very late keeping variety which is well flavoured, extremely crunchy and will keep in natural cool storage until May. One of my "If I could only grow 5" apples because of the combination of good flavour and very long keeping. It was originally called Winter King, then the name was changed to Winston to honour Winston Churchill, but we prefer the original name, no disrespect intended to the great WW2 leader but its just a better name for a long keeping apple that brightens up the winter with its excellent keeping qualities and great texture and flavour. A really "crunchy" apple, if you like Granny Smith you will like this only it has more flavour. click for image
Sturmer PippinProbably our longest keeping apple, said to be a January to April apple, we have eaten it in June and although the skin looked a bit funny and the texture was chewy rather than crunchy, it was well worth eating. An apple like this is probably not suitable for a one apple tree garden as it is so hard and acidic until it has matured in storage for a couple of months. It should be left in the tree until November before picking, but obviously pick it if it starts to drop. This one comes from Suffolk, raised in the village of Sturmer by a nurseyman Mr Dillistone in the early 1800s, it was presented to the Horticultural Society in 1827 and judged a first class late winter apple. It prefers a drier climate and we find it somewhat prone to scab her, it is very fertile and we always have to thin it to get a decent size. It keeps longer and develops best flavour after a long hot summer. An observation on very hard apples like this and Winter King, I have my feelings about when an apple is ripe but we find that giving customers a free tasting as we always do at our sales, many people prefer apples long before I think they are at their best-its a texture thing. We sometimes sell out of these apples well before they are in my view properly ripe since some people like them that way. click for image
QueenVery late keeping extremely crunchy apple. Little information
available from my books, first recorded in 1888, origin Worcestershire.
We have one specimen only so just for exhibition and genetic stock. A good
flavoured very crunchy late keeping apple. click
CIDER APPLESof the proper West Country sort are quite different from dessert or cooking apples due to their bitterness. The 'West Country' here refers to a crescent stretching from Hereford and Gloucester down along the Welsh borders through Somerset into Devon. There is no doubt that the best cider apples come from here, although there is equally no doubt that the genetic material came over from France with the Normans and subsequently, check it out (see Normandy). Bitter is perhaps a nasty sounding word but in the context of cider apples means containing tannins, complex flavour compounds which interact with the other elements of the cider (fruitiness, acid, alcohol, yeast etc.) to give a certain mouth feel and aroma which distinguishes true cider from the wishy washy stuff which is heavily advertised and is made from imported Chinese apple juice concentrate, glucose, water, a dash of apple juice (to satisfy the trade descriptions act) and flavouring and carbonation. even this is better than the foul filth sold as "white cider", the skid row alcoholic's favourite, which as far as I am concerned is dilute industrial alcohol with synthetic apple flavouring. Real cider can be wonderful, and in these carbon conscious days should arguable be preferred to beer as so much less energy is consumed in it's production.
Real cider apples are generally inedible as raw fruit due to their mouth peeling astringency, but fermented, give a drink which like a good grape wine, contains the right balance of alcohol, fruit, acid, tannin and flavour compounds which may be an aquired taste but once you are used to it is far more satisfying than the beverages made from Chinese apple juice concentrate, glucose, water and a bit of apple juice which are usually sold under the name of cider. Real cider is made from 100% apple juice, fermented. The very best vintage cider is made from a blend of different cider apples, but it is possible to make good cider including juice from dessert and cooking apples as well as true west country cider varieties as long as the overall balance is right. As with wine making, some grapes, like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, can make very fine wines, whereas grapes like Ugni Blanc or Gamay usually make so-so wines, although in a good year or with special treatment (e.g. oak barrels) may turn out better. And you can make a good enough drink by blending the merely OK with the excellent, See the Cider section and links (especially Andrew Lea's Wittenham Hill cider portal) for more on this.
Anyhow, these are the cider apples we grow.
Tremlett's Bitter This is the bitterest cider apple n common cultivation, believe me if you bite into one you will spit it out and ask for a drink of water to clean your mouth. It is useful for blending with milder varieties to balance them but is extremely bitter and I would not plant it on its own, except for blending. Strong biennial tendency, heavy crop in 'on' years, small red conical fruits. We had a debate about single variety cider made from this fruit on the yahoo group, one of the best cider makers does a single variety Tremlett's Bitter but Andrew Lea agrees with me that such a cider would be overwhelmingly bitter and that Tremlett's should be viewed as a strong condiment, like Tabasco, to "spice up" less tannic juice. I chose to plant this specifically to add to the juice from dessert apples that we didn't sell because of shape, size, blemish or going a bit over before we could sell them, to turn a dull cider into an OK cider. seems to work too. click for image
Sweet Alford/Le Bret Strongly annual bearing variety from Devon, very susceptible to apple scab but if scab is controlled bears very good crops of sweet, lightly tannic, fruit every year, which can be made into cider on its own or blended. In 2003 we used about 50% of this in a blend and got a wonderful sweet cider which dropped bright with a good residuall sweetness in the Normandy style. It was consumed with cries of delight by our friends at a birthday party. These guys normally drink real ale not cider but my goodness did they tuck into it until 5 gallons were gone. In 2004 I made some pure Sweet Alford cider to try, it was nice but not as good as the 2003 blend-again, 2003 was a drought year and this may have affected the flavour. I advise against planting this apple if you are totally against spraying since in a wet year if apple scab is about it can be devastated as this is a weak point of this variety. You could spray copper based fungicide which is allowed under organic rules, it's such a regular heavy cropper with real quality juice it must be worth a few puffs of pesticide.
Due to an error in a cider apple nursery some years back, a lot of apple trees sold as Sweet Alford turned out to be Le Bret, another Somerset variety which is very similar in appearance, habit and flavour to Sweet Alford. The error wasn't noticed for decades as the 2 apples are very similar (see my note on Spartan/St Edmunds above, that error we noticed quickly as the 2 apples couldn't be more different). We think almost certainly our Sweet Alfords are in fact Le Brets. It doesn't matter in practical terms, I include this story as it exemplifies the kind of mix ups which inevitably occur where you have thousands of varieties and a cottage industry. click for image
Crimson King Scott's supplied it as a substitute for another variety we had ordered which was out of stock. Its a bit like a Bramley-big spreading tree, quite large and acid fruit, slightly softer acid than Bramley and some tannin and more aromatic flavour compounds In our orchard it tends to drop early, it is said to crop better on older trees. I haven't grown it long enough to say how good it is in a blend-no use as a single variety as it's so sharp. Andrew Lea is keen on this apple as a sharp. Cider apples are categorised as bittersweet, bittersharp, sweet, or sharp, the sharpness referring to fruit acid. The word "acid" is off putting but fruit acid (malic, citric and ascorbic) are natural and healthy and if a cider does not have enough acid it will not only taste unbalanced but is more prone to several types of microbiological spoilage. You need acid in the blend, this apple can provide it. Bramley is an alternative, but Crimson King gives more flavour and body to a blend. Makes a large spreading tree, as with Bramley, give it enough space. NB September 2007-I have grafted over all 8 of my Crimson Kings to Dabinett and Harry Master's Jersey, last year it was covered in brown rot fungus-again-and although there was a half decent crop, none of it was useable, the fruits all rotted and fell off. I can only think that our microclimate does not suit it, th etrees either dide do fine. Anyhow, I will leave the above earlier description up, but I cannot reccomend anyone to plant this apple I have now eliminated from my own collection due to repeated crop failures.click for image
Yarlington Mill Very famous old cider fruit from the village of Yarlington n Somerset where Mr Harry Masters found it as a "gribble" or self-sown wild apple tree, growing (you guessed) out of the water mill. It was fairly biennial for the first couple of years after planting, but we have now had decent crops 3 years in a row as of September 2007. Biennielism is a disadvantage of many of the best cider varieties, the tendency is very strong in some, less so in others. Yarlington makes a big spreading tree with long whippy growths. The juice quality is excellent bittersweet and most years it is a good cropper. In 2002 years I blended juice from Yarlington Mill with Kingston Black to yield the best balanced and finest flavoured cider I have yet tasted. Of course we drank it all. Yarlington is said to be one of the varieties which will make good cider from its unblended juice. IMAGE
Harry Master's Jersey Raised in Somerset by the above Mr Masters, the Jersey epithet probably refers to "les iles Anglo-Normand" ie Channel islands. They don't grow much cider there now, but they do make cider brandy, I tasted it there on a trip a few years ago. Quite a few cider apples are called Jerseys, or Normans, and this probably refers to a shape rather than geographical origin, then again the nomenclature of apples is quite chaotic. Anyhow, this is a good reliable bittersweet variety which makes a small compact tree that crops ANNUALLY, unlike many of the best ciders which tend to miss a crop every other year unless meticulously managed. This or Dabinett are the cider trees to grow if you grow only one, although the best ciders are nearly always blended-there is room for dispute on this as some single variety sorts are very good. click for image
Dabinett Very similar to Harry Masters Jersey, I doubt if you could tell them apart. This is the most widely planted cider apple in England on account of it being a good regular annual cropper and yielding very high quality juice which can be blended or make a very nice cider on its own, as I can vouch as I have done so. Not a strong grower so use a big rootstock, but then I am growing it on light dry soil. All authorities agree it makes a small tree. Probably the best cider apple to grow when you consider orchard performance as well as juice quality. All those growers can't be wrong.click for image
Kingston Black Everyone agrees this makes the very best single variety cider, the Cox of the cider world, and like Cox is a light cropper and challenging to grow. A very dark red fruit, sometiomes almost black in colour. Tends to crop only every other year (biennial), prone to canker and scab, it produces bunches of small fruit with short stalks which are fiddly to thin out. I don't advise planting this as your only cider tree, but if you are planting an cider orchard of 6 or more trees it is worth it. There is no way I can describe how good the cider from this tastes ini a good year, you will just have to obtain some and drink it. Perfect balance of body, fruit, acid, tannin and alcohol. The best cider apple for flavour. Originated like most of the best cider apples, in Somerset. click for image
These are the apples we grow, I hope my descriptions of them are useful and entertaining. I may add some more later, as you can see from th eupdated comments I am reducing or eliminating a few that just don't work for us. There are of course many others I will probably never taste and about which I cannot comment. For all I know, there are hundreds of apples which perform and taste better than these ones, and even more which are already extinct or will be lost soon because not enough English gardeners realised these precious fruits needed saving and did something about it The global apple trade and the supermarkets certainly don't care about heritage apples as long as they can sell us hard crunchy apples with a long shelf life and uniform size and colour.
When I think about why I started this crazy and expensive adventure, I sometimes think it was largely so that I could find out what these wonderfully named apples were like, and the only way to find out was to plant my own rare varieties orchard! As with wine tasting and arts criticism, different observers will have varying opinions and the flavours vary from place to place and year to year. For this reason, I will continue to add links to as many similar and related apple oriented web sites as I can. Thanks to those of you who have posted me appreciative comments, I am merely a scribe, it is the apples themselves that are such admirable creatures.
Praise be to the Creator who made all things to be appreciated with gratitude and shared generously. Taste and see for yourself.