A quick look at what is being offered by the major supermarkets right now shows about 14 different types of eating apples and just one cooker, the ubiquitous Bramley. Among the eaters, the same half-dozen varieties predominate – Royal Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Jazz, Pink Lady and Braeburn. Most of these, given that our season is only about to start, are imported too, clocking up significant air miles.
According to the National Fruit Collection (www.nationalfruitcollection.org) there are over 2,000 different types of apple, and they have living examples of them all at their grounds near Faversham in Kent. In recent years there has been an increased interest in heritage apples and the recording, preservation and propagation of old apple trees across the country. This is to be applauded as it maintains a vigorous, diverse gene pool and offers the opportunity to provide an apple to match the most particular palate. Sadly many cultivars have been lost, almost imperceptibly, as they are often extremely localised to a particular area, farm or orchard. The National Fruit Collection has attempted to record all the varieties and they will even identify your apple for you.
Our Vintage Words to the Wise title The Cottage Farm dates from 1912 and celebrates the smallholding of author F.E. Green month-by-month through the year. In September he describes the apples coming into season and what a selection he had in his small orchard – Beauty of Bath, Bismarck, Cox's Orange Pippin, King of the Pippins, Lady Sudeley, Lane's Prince Albert, Pott's Seedling, Wellington and Worcester Pearmain. Most of us will recognize the Cox and can expect to see that in the shops and hopefully supermarkets soon, but the others are less familiar. Four of the nine are cooking apples, providing a healthy alternative to the Bramley.
Most of these cultivars date from the first half of the nineteenth century and they are all represented in the National Collection.
National Apple Day is towards the end of October and there will be many events around the country in orchards, on farms, at apple growers and cider-makers. It is worth finding out if there is an event near you and celebrating our diversity of apples. They say variety is the spice of life so, having explored this rich heritage of British apples, why not badger your local supermarket or greengrocer to provide some alternatives to the standardized, imported varieties? It will help preserve some of these older cultivars for the future, support smallholders and farmers – and tickle your taste buds too!
Our friend Jeremy Hobson has kindly reviewed our Poultry-keeping title for Your Chickens magazine and he has tweeted about The Cottage Farm too, for which we are most grateful. Jeremy has been around poultry and livestock all his life. Throughout the years, he has created a career and lifestyle whereby he has been fortunate enough to be able to indulge in all his chosen hobbies and pastimes and has, since 1976, when his first article was published, written regularly for many country-orientated newspapers and magazines. His published book titles number over 30 and range from chicken-keeping to chutney-making – and from running a smallholding to running a shoot. Nowadays, a professional freelance writer and author (a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists) Jeremy spends a third of his year in Hampshire and two-thirds in rural France.
I strongly recommend Jeremy’s book Success with Chickens as the ideal modern guide to keeping chickens. Buy this alongside our Poultry-keeping book and you will be supplied with chicken wisdom past and present. Visit our ‘Self-sufficiency and Keeping Chickens’ board on Pinterest for some lovely vintage illustrations of apples, some photographs of the most beautiful chickens and some charming illustrations from our Poultry-keeping title.
Coming soon – a blog post on cider-making and a recipe for Dorset Apple Cake.