The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TICKET - Aoife McEl­wain

HOW DO YOU LIKE THEM AP­PLES? From be­ing as­so­ci­ated with for­bid­den fruits in the Gar­den of Eden to poi­soned ap­ples in fairy tales to be­ing the first word most English speak­ers learn to say from the al­pha­bet, ap­ples are defini­tively ubiq­ui­tous. Yet, many of us, my­self in­cluded, could be ac­cused of tak­ing this fruit for granted by think­ing of them in terms of red or green. Scratch the sur­face of a bar­rel of ap­ples and there is a lot more to them than just Pink Ladies and Granny Smiths.

David Llewellyn is cur­rently right in the mid­dle of his har­vest at his or­chard in Lusk, North County Dublin (llewellyn­sor­ “It’s main ap­plepick­ing time for most of the va­ri­eties,” he tells me over the phone on a re­cent au­tumn evening. Since 1999, he’s been grow­ing a core group of about a dozen va­ri­eties of ap­ples as well as a num­ber of her­itage va­ri­eties on his beau­ti­ful, mod­estly sized or­chard, less than a 40-minute drive from Dublin’s city cen­tre. He chose his va­ri­eties, a mix­ture of Ir­ish and UK her­itage, such as the Kerry Pip­pin and the Nor­folk Royal Rus­set, be­cause they weren’t in any of the shops, as well as for their flavour and har­di­ness.


Cider brewer Mark Jenk­in­son named his award-win­ning Cock­agee Cider af­ter an old Ir­ish cider ap­ple, thought to be ex­tinct. The name gives an in­sight into Jenk­in­son’s in­ter­est in the his­tory of ap­ples on our is­land. “The ear­li­est ev­i­dence of ap­ples be­ing eaten in Ire­land were 5,000-year-old pips of wild Ir­ish crab ap­ple, found at an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tion in County Meath,” Jenk­in­son ex­plains in an ar­ti­cle on a brief his­tory of Ir­ish ap­ples on Cider Ire­

“Most peo­ple would be very sur­prised to hear that 200 years ago we had way more ap­ples grow­ing in this coun­try than we do to­day,” says grower David Llewellyn.

“When you look at old ord­nance sur­vey maps, you can see where the old or­chards were all over the coun­try, from east coast to west coast, north to south. Most of that has dis­ap­peared.”

Jenk­in­son agrees that, in the 20th cen­tury par­tic­u­larly, Ire­land lost a lot of its ap­ple her­itage. An im­por­tant event that changed the course of Ir­ish ap­ple grow­ing was in 1937, when the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment en­cour­aged farm­ers with State-funded grants to re­move their Ir­ish trees and re­place them with mod­ern va­ri­eties de­vel­oped in the UK and else­where. “It was a pro­gres­sive thing at the time,” Jenk­in­son says. “The mo­ti­va­tion was to help farm­ers grow com­mer­cial vi­able va­ri­eties. Ir­ish ap­ples can taste de­li­cious but some of them look like pota­toes.” Apart from aes­thet­ics, the mod­ern va­ri­eties were hardier and more disease-re­sis­tant, so it made sense at the time to pro­tect the farm­ers by helping them to grow tougher va­ri­eties of ap­ples.

Her­itage va­ri­eties

As you’re prob­a­bly aware, it can be tricky to find Ir­ish-grown ap­ples, let alone her­itage Ir­ish va­ri­eties, out­side of spe­cial­ist food stores and farm­ers’ mar­kets. Our su­per­mar­kets are in­stead pop­u­lated with im­ported Pink Ladies and other trendy ap­ples from around the world. Llewellyn talks about how the glob­alised food chain means that multi­na­tional su­per­mar­kets want to work with fewer sup­pli­ers who can keep up with larger de­mands for par­tic­u­lar ap­ples, rather than deal­ing with lots of smaller, lo­cal grow­ers.

Some of the ma­jor ap­ples, such as the Pink Lady, are ac­tu­ally patented brands that re­quire a li­cence to grow. So, even if we had the cli­mate in Ire­land to grow this pop­u­lar va­ri­ety, the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Food, Western Aus­tralia, who own the plant breed­ers’ rights in mul­ti­ple coun­tries, might not give us per­mis­sion to do so.

Over the past few decades, there has been a push-back against this type of po­ma­ceous mo­nop­oly with or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Ir­ish Seed Savers’ As­so­ci­a­tion work­ing to pro­tect, re­build and con­serve Ir­ish bio­di­ver­sity. One of the ma­jor achieve­ments of the As­so­ci­a­tion, who ear­lier this week were awarded an Ir­ish Food Writ­ers’ Guild Com­mu­nity Food Award, was to cre­ate the Na­tive Ap­ple Col­lec­tion con­tain­ing more than 140 va­ri­eties of ap­ples, thus pre­serv­ing the seeds for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

The Or­ganic Cen­tre in Ross­in­ver, Co Leitrim, has a 15-year-old or­chard which is home to more than 50 va­ri­eties of ap­ples of Ir­ish and UK her­itage.

“Most of our ini­tial stock was ac­quired from the Ir­ish Seed Savers’ As­so­ci­a­tion,” ex­plains Hans Wieland of The Or­ganic Cen­tre, who were highly com­mended in the Ir­ish Food Writ­ers’ Guild Com­mu­nity Food Awards.


One of the va­ri­eties they grow in their or­chard is Lady’s Fin­ger of Of­faly, an ob­long-shaped ap­ple that is a mix­ture of red, yel­low, orange an green in colour. “It’s dry, crisp and sweet, un­like any other ap­ple. It’s unique,” says Wieland. The Or­ganic Cen­tre sell ap­ples and ap­ple juice di­rectly from their shop, as well as from out­lets in Sligo. They’re host­ing a Fruit Grow­ing Work­shop on Satur­day, Novem­ber 5th, for those of you who are in­ter­ested in find­ing out more about the Cen­tre and their ap­ples.

David Llewellyn sells his Ir­ish ap­ples ev­ery Satur­day in the Tem­ple Bar Food Mar­ket in Dublin, and in Dún Laoghaire Mar­ket ev­ery Sun­day. Else­where, you’ll find mar­vel­lous ap­ples and juices grown and pressed by the Traas Fam­ily at

The Ap­ple Farm in Cahir, Co Tip­per­ary. Julie and Rod Calder-Potts of High­bank Or­chards in Kilkenny are well-known for their de­li­cious ap­ple syrups, ciders and juices. This au­tumn, why not make Ir­ish-grown ap­ples the ap­ple of your eye?

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