Americans may say “as American as apple pie”, but it was the Brits who taught them how to make it, and some might argue that there’s nothing more British than an apple from the British countryside — even though apples are no more native to Britain than they are to North America.In fact, many British foodies have noted and complained that even at the height of apple season in Britain, almost half the apples on the shelves now come from other countries. Some estimates put the figure as high as two-thirds.
80% of the apple trees grown today in the English-speaking world may be on rootstock that originated in East Malling, England.
Apples developed at East Malling include: Bountiful, Charlotte, Falstaff, Fiesta (aka Red Pippin), Jupiter, Meridian, Park Farm Pippin, Redsleeves and Saturn.
In 1969, the record “An Apple a Day” (featuring various UK psychedelic pop artists) was released by the Apple Music Publishing company. A psychedelic cult classic now, it sadly disappeared almost as fast as it appeared, despite the inclusion of a cheery colour brochure supplied by the British Apple & Pear Development Council lionizing the virtues of anything to do with British apples.
1894 — Woburn Experimental Fruit Farm is established by the Duke of Bedford and a man named Spencer Pickering;
1903 — National Fruit and Cider Institute fruit research station was established at Long Ashton, Bristol;
1912 — National Fruit and Cider Institute was renamed to Long Ashton Research Station and made part of the University of Bristol;
1913 — The East Malling Research Station was established at East Malling, Kent. Its full name was “East Malling and Wye College Fruit Experimental Station”;
1986 — Apple research at Long Ashton was transferred to East Malling. The Long Ashton land was sold to a private company.
Literature & Lore
Just a few years before the Victoria Era began, British horticulturists were bemoaning the confusion caused by there being so many varieties of apples:
“The varieties of the apple are so many, and they are so rapidly multiplied, that it would be impossible for us to present any account of them either useful or interesting. One of the best things horticulturists could do would be to direct attention to the names of the best sorts, for the list of varieties available is embarrassingly long.
In the words of the RHS catalogue: “our list is far more extensive than useful (1200 varieties) …but no significant reduction can be made until a public declaration of the sorts which are undeserving of further cultivation”. Indeed, the process of experimentation is at present adding daily to their number.
It has been asserted that many fine old varieties of apple are now going into decay. Perhaps some of them are being too widely grown, instead of being confined to the localities where they do best. In some places, the old types are healthy enough. There are many theories but fewer answers.”
— Mudie, Robert. “A Description and History of Vegetable Substances used in The Arts and Domestic Economy”. London: M.A. Nattali. 1829.
The 1883 British National Apple Congress showed the British apple growers’ desire to organize and categorize the apple world:
“PREFACE. THE National Apple Congress of 1883 owes its origin and existence to the extraordinary crop and most general fruiting of all kinds of apples in this country which are on record. They were of such an exceptional and remarkable character as to attract the notice and command the special attention of all those interested in the cultivation of this, the most important of our national fruits. With a view to taking advantage of the opportunities thus afforded for the correction of any mistakes in the names, etc., of the great and important collection of Apples in the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gardens — which for many years had not afforded adequate materials for a comparison — it was thought desirable to secure examples from as many districts as possible, for the purpose of such a comparison and verification. This idea, being embodied as a suggestion, was generally approved, and on being submitted to the meeting of the Fruit Committee, on September 11th, was substantially adopted, and the following circular was issued:
NATIONAL APPLE CONGRESS, 1883. “Royal Horticultural Society’s Gardens, Chiswick.” AT a Meeting of Fruit Growers, held at South Kensington, in conjunction with the Fruit Committee of the Royal Horticultural Society, on the 11th September, it was decided to hold a conference on Apples, in the Great Conservatory of the Society at Chiswick, from the 4th to 18th October next.
The unusually abundant crop of this year affords a favourable opportunity for examining the numerous varieties cultivated throughout the country, to correct their nomenclature, and to compare their merits. For this purpose, the Council of the Royal Horticultural Society have given the use of their Great Conservatory; and the collection of Apples grown in the Garden, which contains many typical varieties, will be available for comparison.
This Conference will not take the form of an ordinary exhibition, as there will be no competition and no prizes; the sole object being to seize so favourable an opportunity of gaining information, and making the meeting instructive and educational.”
— Barron, Archibald F. (c.1835 to 1903). British Apples: Report of the Committee of the National Apple Congress, held in the Royal Horticultural Gardens, Chiswick, October 5th to 25th, 1883. London: Macmillan and Co. 1884.
“Apples and pears” is London cockney for “stairs.”
Copping, Jasper. Favour English apples over glossier foreign rivals, say experts. London: Daily Telegraph. 3 July 2011.