What's your old apple called?
THOUSANDS of years ago in China, where apples originated, a tree in the woods that produced large sweet apples would have been prized. However, as apples don't grow true from pips, when the tree died that was the end of that variety. Most apples grown from pips, called seedlings, will taste indifferent or sharp.
This changed when grafting was discovered, probably in China in the first millennium BC. Grafting allows a small shoot of a chosen variety to be skilfully inserted under the bark of another apple tree and these form a union. The new growth, from this union upwards, remains the chosen variety and so grafting allows a favoured tree to be preserved. The irregularity that one can see at the base of a young apple tree is a trace of the graft point.
The earliest named varieties in this country are mentioned from the 1200s onwards and included the red Ricardon, the large pale Pomewater, the knobbly Costard and the hard Blandurel that needed to mellow in storage before eating.
By the 1800s there were thousands of varieties and much confusion with the same variety having many different local names. So, in a major attempt to set things straight, the Hereford Pomona, published in 1877, described and illustrated many of the better ones in enough detail to allow them to be recognised.
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Some of these have now been lost because a variety is like a baton in a relay race being passed from old tree to young tree, but if nobody grafts it on and the old trees die then the variety disappears too.
However some rare types are sure to be surviving unrecognised and that old tree of yours may be a Frogmore Prolific, a Gloria Mundi or even a Handsome Norman.
So if you have an old apple tree and would like to research its variety then how might you go about it? There are books on the subject and some websites but one can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of varieties. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent has an identification service but, more locally, I may be able to help you name your apple if you contact me.
Article supplied by David Godden 01747-828150