Apples have been cultivated for centuries. No one really knows when or where they were first grown for food, but it is thought it may have been in Turkey.
Today there are probably around 7,500 different varieties of apple in cultivation throughout the world. Some have come and gone, others have survived for centuries.
As apples have become a major commercial crop qualities such as heavy cropping, resistance to bruising, long season of use and visual quality of fruit have influenced the choice of variety grown. Some would say at the expense of individuality and flavour, hence the interest in heritage varieties. They may not produce the heavy crops of the ubiquitous Gala and Golden Delicious, but they offer unique flavour and aroma.
In any case, is heavy cropping of importance to the gardener? We have eight trees which, in a good year produce a lot of fruit, far more than we can eat. Some do not keep for long; when there is a glut of apples giving them away can be a challenge. So having fewer apples of types that are not readily available in the shops is a big advantage. It is also rather special growing something that has been treasured in gardens for decades, or even centuries. Here’s my pick of 10 great varieties.
Beauty of Bath
I suppose ‘Beauty of Bath’ is a variety that I’ve always been aware of; the name is memorable. It is one of the earliest apples to ripen but does not store well. Best eaten fresh from the tree it is soft, juicy and sweet with a distinctive flavour. Grown commercially in the 19th century its name is often misapplied to any early apple.
Maybe from Devon, maybe France, but certainly around in the late 1600s. A heavy cropping variety with flattened doughnut-like fruits of crimson red over yellow-green. Creamy-white flesh, often flushed red. Crisp, juicy, sweet and aromatic. Sometimes mistaken for Worcester Pearmain.
Certainly not the most attractive apple, D’arcy Spice was introduced as Baddow Pippin in 1848, but was found in Essex, UK well before that in 1785. Fairly small oblong fruits are green, flushed red with irregular russeting. Firm, juicy and very aromatic.
As the name suggests this is a keeper, becoming more mellow by mid-winter. Rounded apples are deep green heavily flushed red. Sweet yellow flesh, crisp and juicy. First recorded in the late 19th century but probably grown long before that.
Found in a garden in Cornwall, UK and introduced in 1813. Rich in flavour it was an important variety in the 19th century, but rarely crops well. It is a tip-bearer, so needs different pruning from most spur-bearing apples. Clove scented flowers develop into irregular fruits of yellow-green flushed red-pink with some russeting. Dry in texture with sweet, rich and aromatic flesh. The flavour is best when the fruit is picked as late as possible.
Assumed to have originated in France this is the first apple ever used to make the legendary Tarte Tatin. It crops well for a heritage variety, but likes a warm, sheltered situation. The fruits are flattened in shape, yellow-green flushed orange-red with some russeting. Firm and slightly juicy with a delicious flavour which develops as it ripens. Not at its best if picked early.
Despite the French name this variety originated in the Netherlands in the early 18th century. Golden yellow, freckled, almost cylindrical fruits. Fresh yellow-white flesh, crisp and juicy with a bright pineapple flavour when ripe. Popular in Northern Europe this is a great variety for small gardens.
A variety that originated in the US in the early 1800s. Broadly conical fruits with a distinctly purple-blue bloom; attractive and different. Mild, sweet and aromatic in flavour, if rather soft and dry. The fruits can be stored, but tend to shrivel despite retaining their flavour.
A variety originating from Newtown, Long Island, New York, first recorded in 1759. It was made famous by Thomas Jefferson who grew it in his orchard. Irregular green fruits with some russeting and sometimes spotted. Cream-white, juicy flesh. Firm in texture and rich in flavour.
A classic, first popular with the Victorians and enjoying a revival. Nutty flavour and dry, firm textured flesh with a light copper russet skin. This is a sophisticated apple that stores well and has a real autumnal character. Great to eat with hard cheese.
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