And the mystery apple is…

…still a mystery. It is now just over nine weeks since I sent some samples of our mystery apple to Brogdale for identification. Today I was excited to receive the identification – apparently our apple is Barnack Beauty. As the name suggests, this variety hails from the village of Barnack, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, and appears to date back to 1840. The only problem is that, as far as I can tell, this cannot possibly be our apple.

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

On politely querying the identification and highlighting a few discrepancies, I was treated to a somewhat short response. The identification was made by Joan Morgan, who we met at the recent apple festival – at which, incidentally, another variety was presented that could not be identified. I put that down to it being a rather challenging task to make an on the spot identification. Having the time to examine properly the specimens and all of the characteristics of the fruit, I would hope for a more reliable result. Joan is one of the authors of The New Book of Apples – a book that is in my collection, and is certainly a fine modern text that covers a great many varieties. I was informed the identification was, therefore, from a credible source. Whilst I do not doubt that, a manual identification is, of course, as subject to error as any human process. In this case, though, I am somewhat at a loss as to how this could even have been suggested as a candidate.

The sample apples and foliage were sent to Brogdale at the end of August. On the accompanying paperwork I noted that the apples had been ripe for a couple of weeks and typically last through September; they have a reasonable season for a fairly early sort. Barnack Beauty – a new variety for me – is said to be ready for picking early to mid October and in use from December to March, which is confirmed in The New Book of Apples and various other sources. The latter point is something that we seem to have neglected somewhat, but in days past it was necessary to appreciate that the picking time is often not the best time to eat the fruit, and the knowledge of the optimum season of use for each variety was important for managing the fruit store and presenting each fruit at the height of its perfection. It is rather difficult to see how our mystery apple, most if not all of which are eaten by the end of September, could possibly be Barnack Beauty, which should not even be ready for picking at this stage.

There are other reasons to doubt the identification – the skin tones and shape are not quite right, and, based on images I could find online, the Barnack Beauty appears to lack the lipped cavity that is quite a distinct feature of our mystery apple. As I pointed out in the previous post on this matter, I have a tentative identification of my own – Kerry Pippin. Unlike so many of our old apples, which are either chance seedlings found in this country, or imported from France, and sometimes Belgium and other countries of mainland Europe, Kerry Pippin was, according to Robert Hogg, introduced from Kilkenny, Ireland. It appeared in England in the early 1800s and at some point seems to have proved reasonably popular.

Kerry Pippin seems to better fit the season of use, is a good match visually, exhibits the lipped cavity, and seems to match well the description of the eating characteristics. There are various online resources that can help in making an identification – one that I used here is Of course, my identification could be entirely incorrect – in theory, there are several thousand candidates, but in practice some few hundred varieties that have been fairly widely cultivated. It could also be a chance seedling, and therefore of no known variety, although I doubt it, simply because of where it is planted and its location next to another unknown sort – the variety that I took along to the apple festival.

It may well be that our mystery apple is not a Kerry Pippin – the chances are slim, perhaps, but it is something rather like it. I cannot, though, see how it could be Barnack Beauty. I am told that my comments will be passed on to Joan, but there may be another wait before I receive a response. After the disappointment of the apple festival, which I reviewed in a previous article, this is not what I expected from this identification service.

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