There was a steady flow of people along the stalls at ‘Apple Day’ organised by the community interest company ‘Apple Core’ at Markeaton Park yesterday. I took a stint in charge of their stall during the afternoon and was pleased to talk to people as they came past. There were local apples to buy, and fresh apple juice being made. Stalls sold everything from apple pie to soap, cider to snack bars. There were children’s activities too, like making apple bird feeders and jewellery from scrap.
Apple Days are being organised by more and more groups across the country as there is a revival in the appreciation of the humble apple.
There are thousands of varieties of apple, cultivated and cherished by people for generations. This diversity of apples had been obscured by the limited number of named varieties that are regularly sold by supermarkets. Indeed the need to identify specific apple varieties at the point of sale may even have discouraged people from selling their ‘local’ apple as its name may have been lost in the mists of time, or even never had one.
Yesterday, before going to join the apple day, I was helping pick apples from a row of trees whose varieties aren’t known, but called simply ‘the Reds’, ‘Number Ones’, ‘Number Twos’ and ‘Number Threes’. We knew what we were talking about, but the supermarket buyer would not be impressed!
In our case these were all eating apples. The Reds were the first – OK to eat at the end of August this year with amazing pink or even red flesh, now really past their best. The others all have white flesh, and are crisp and Cox-like when ripe. Proper ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’s’ aren’t at their best till nearly Christmas, but these ‘Number Ones’ are lovely now. Number Twos and Threes come later.
This knowledge of apple seasons is also being lost from communities. Shops present the apples as they come into season – which may be months after they have been picked. Without some knowledge of apple lore and apple varieties, how is the new owner of an old apple tree to know that this bland apple falling off the tree in October becomes an aromatic delight to eat in February?
In early autumn I also like to spot apple trees growing in hedgerows along our roads and railways. I imagine people throwing their apple cores (and more rarely pear cores) out of the window of their car, carriage or train – and some of the pips growing. In the days when hedges were cut by hand, hedgers would no doubt have left such trees to grow and those that produced worthwhile fruit would have been allowed to grow to maturity.
Apple breeders must have far more patience (and land) than gardeners cultivating new cabbages or carrots, as it takes several years before a new apple tree will fruit.
Maybe planting lots of pips in our hedgerows and letting the seedlings flourish is the way to go. The next world-beating apple, like ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ or ‘Discovery’ might be the pip hidden inside the next apple you eat. Where are you going plant it?!