Mystery apple

The mystery apple tree

We have several gnarly old apple trees in the garden, outside of the kitchen garden and the orchard, none of which is in good condition. Two are readily identified as the classic cooking apple, Bramley’s Seedling, but two others are dessert sorts of unknown varieties. One in particular regularly provides a good crop of very tasty apples of an old fashioned sort. These are so delicious that I am keen to find out what the variety might be. Today, I posted three samples of the fruit and a length of stem and foliage to Brogdale Collections for identification. If it can be positively identified, and if it is a variety of some interest, I may well consider planting a new specimen in the forthcoming orchard. I do not want to graft from this tree, as it is rather diseased and I am not happy with the new growth.

Standing at approximately 16 feet to the extremity of the new growth, which is minimal, the tree is clearly of some age, but not of noteworthy girth. It is not a particularly healthy specimen, and has been pruned harshly and poorly in the past. The tree appears to be at least partially spur bearing, although the oldest growth bears poorly. It is now rather derelict but still produces a reasonable crop each year. It appears to be suffering from canker and other problems. I have considered the possibility of rejuvenation with judicious pruning but, ultimately, felt it was not likely to result in a good tree due to the poor state.

Fruit and foliage showing the signs of disease
Fruit and foliage showing the signs of disease

The apples are small by modern standards, but I rather like this trait. The shape varies somewhat; typically rounded, but some a little squat and some a little elongated with a hint of pearmain shape to them. The skin is generally an acid green with some flushing and crimson streaks on the sun side, although the skin can yellow somewhat in particularly ripe samples and on some of the fallers. There is a little russeting on many, but this is far from consistent. If it were not for the widespread signs of disease, the fruit would be, to my mind, a fine looking traditional apple.

It is a crisp apple, somewhat on the hard side. The flavour is what I would consider to be a good representative of the classic English apple of the older sort, when more robust flavours were favoured. The flesh is neither overly juicy, nor unduly dry. It has a strong apple flavour, and is quite aromatic, especially by modern standards. Depending, of course, on the state of ripeness, it tends to have an agreeable acid, and does not become overly sweet.

The fruit has been ripening over the last week or two, with more than half of the crop still developing and hanging on the tree. This is, therefore, quite an early apple, which perhaps explains the refreshing acidity. The apples do tend to fall readily, and I cannot really say how well they keep as I have not attempted to store them. It is the later sorts, though, that tend to keep well. The fruits are often in rather poor condition, suffering frequently from scab, possibly some bitter pit, and canker. The condition varies from some cosmetic damage to the skin, which is common, to large corky patches and rot.

Overall, the quality of the fruit might be considered poor, and it is hard to find unblemished samples, yet I find the flavour and texture to be most excellent, and – naturally, this is entirely subjective – rather superior to, say, a Cox’s Orange Pippin. Hence, I would like to find out what variety it is – I will be surprised, somewhat disappointed, and not a little embarrassed if it turns out to be a relatively modern sort. On the other hand, I will be even more surprised, but rather delighted, if it turns out to be a Kerry Pippin, an old variety of Irish origin that became quite popular in England in the 19th century; this is the closest match that I have found so far, although it seems unlikely. Whatever it happens to be, it will be interesting to see if the variety is particularly susceptible to disease, or whether this old tree has merely succumbed over time and with some neglect.

Brogdale, Kent, is home to the National Fruit Collection, containing over 4000 varieties of orchard fruits and nuts, and especially a great many apples and pears. With the tragic loss of so many of our traditional orchards, this collection is so important to preserve our fruit growing heritage, which is otherwise being so carelessly discarded in favour of imported products of, to my mind, grossly inferior qualities and in favour of modern cultivars that may offer advantages to commercial growers and supermarkets but are mere shadows of those great varieties of yesteryear. Brogdale Collections offers, for a small fee, a fruit identification service. By sending three exemplars of the ripe fruit, along with a representative length of stem and foliage, they will seek to make a positive identification of the exact variety. They say to allow eight weeks for identification, so it may be a while before I can post the findings. I will be eagerly and impatiently awaiting the results.

Carefully selected apple samples ready to be sent to Brogdale for identification
Carefully selected apple samples ready to be sent to Brogdale for identification

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