Amongst our collection of traditional apple varieties, St Edmund’s Pippin has done particularly well this year. It is an early to mid season russet that keeps for just a couple of weeks. During that period, it is a remarkably fine dessert apple. It takes its name from Bury St Edmunds, where it was raised by a Mr Harvey. The exact date appears not to be known, but it is reckoned to be shortly before 1875, in which year it was introduced and received a first class certificate from the RHS. That makes it one of the youngest of our varieties, but it is doubtless one of the finest. Rather more recently, in 1993, it was awarded an AGM, so a good indicator of its generally reliable characteristics.
St Edmund’s Pippin is generally ripe a week or two from now, but everything seems rather early this year thanks to the mild winter and spring. Our Ribston Pippin, another of my favourites, which should ripen shortly after, has also been picked and eaten already. Unlike St Edmund’s Pippin, the Ribston Pippin is said to be best after a few weeks in storage, but I like them straight from the tree and have so far lacked the patience, or will power, to wait for them.
To my mind, St Edmund’s Pippin is a fine looking apple. I doubt that it would sit well amongst the bright, shiny things of the supermarket, but those bland offerings hold little interest for me. It is generally of medium size. As it bears well, some thinning may be needed to bring the fruit to perfection, the fruit tending to be on the small side if not thinned, but achieving a medium large form if well thinned. The fruits are broadly round, with some tending to conical and others a little flat. Some may be markedly lop sided, with a swelling to one side of the basin. The moderately short stalk leaves the fruit fairly tight to the stems.
The skin is a pale green to yellow in base colour, covered to a large extent with a light golden brown russetting. Many have a small amount of dull orange brown flushing, and those well exposed to the sun can be netted with a deeper and extensive crimson brown. The overall effect is especially attractive for a russet.
Russets might not be popular among supermarket sorts, but apple enthusiasts are well aware of the delights that they can offer. They are often highly flavoured; some tend to nutty flavours whilst others are particularly aromatic, sometimes described as having a hint of pear drops about them. In this regard, St Edmund’s Pippin does not disappoint. The flesh is cream to pale yellow in colour, fine grained, and crisp but not hard. It is succulent, but perhaps not the most juicy of apples. I found it to have just the right amount of juice, but have read that it can become dry if stored. On tasting, an initial burst of sweetness is followed by indescribable rich aromatics, with almost tropical notes, balanced with lime like acidity. A refreshing finish, typical of good apples ripening at this time, and the almost addictive flavour mean that the fruits do not last long here. For such fine flavours one might ordinarily turn to some of the later ripening sorts, but St Edmund’s Pippin is a truly superb variety. Robert Hogg concurs, writing in his Fruit Manual of 1885 that this “excellent early dessert apple” is “tender, very juicy, with a rich aromatic flavour”.
St Edmund’s Pippin is a reliable grower and a good cropper. It has resistance to scab, mildew, and canker. In this dry season where a few other sorts have suffered from bitter pit, St Edmund’s Pippin has produced a full crop of entirely healthy fruit. It is partially self fertile, and according to some authorities a partial tip bearer. I did, of course, check before planting as a cordon, but found it listed by the nursery from which I bought it as spur bearing. A tip bearing sort is not suited to cultivation in restricted forms as the summer pruning regime would remove the fruiting wood. A partial tip bearer may bear a reduced crop under such pruning. Our St Edmund’s Pippin is growing as a cordon, whereas had I known beforehand, I would most likely have reserved it for the orchard instead. Fortunately, I need not have been concerned – we have found that it produces spurs freely and bears a good crop as an oblique cordon even under a strict pruning regime.
Overall then, St Edmund’s Pippin is a superior dessert apple, the equal of the later season sorts that one usually looks to for the finest flavours. Its season of use is not so long, but while it is in its perfection it must surely be one of the finest fruits available. Where one only has space for one or two apples, the short season of use may suggest selecting from the late season varieties that can be stored and used over a longer term, but where space allows, St Edmund’s Pippin must be highly recommended.