Best of British
By 1989 Bramley’s share of the market had increased to 91 per cent but there had been a decline in the use of cooking apples in the home, together with competition from cheap apples from abroad – from France in particular. To counteract this, English growers initiated a promotional campaign (bramley apples.co.uk).
Adrian Barlow, CEO of the English Apple and Pear Association, says: “Today, we cannot export Bramleys as the variety is almost unknown outside the UK and will not fit processing machinery overseas. So, the Bramley is more or less exclusive to the UK; elsewhere eating apples are used for cooking. We are unique in having a single-purpose culinary apple. The Bramley will continue to dominate unless a variety with even better commercial qualities is developed.”
A problem for the industry is that apple consumption continues to decline, as consumers prefer snacks and chocolate. This is true of the total consumption of fruit and vegetables, which is little more than half the recommended five portions a day.
He is also an advocate of heritage varieties, buying them at farmers’ markets and apple days. “I love to bake with ‘Peasgood Nonsuch’ or ‘James Grieve’ or make apple fool with ‘Grenadier’. I encourage anyone to search out rarer varieties. Don’t worry about fancy cooking. Just bake and try them with a pot of cream, savouring the flavours until you find your favourite.”
Thankfully, many old varieties, including cookers, are safeguarded in heritage collections such as those at RHS Wisley, and the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, Kent, which lists more than 2,000 different apples – 1,500 dessert and 400 culinary, among others. Importantly, around 740 heritage varieties are currently listed by specialist nurseries, of which 183 are for cooking, and 16 of which hold the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). See a few listed above.
“We are noticing a modest upswing of interest in culinary apples,” says Matthew Thomas of the fruit tree grower Frank P Matthews. “Customers are interested in planting local varieties in their own gardens or in community orchards, and although Bramley is still the most popular, ‘Lord Derby’, ‘Grenadier’, ‘Scotch Dumpling’ and ‘Reverend W Wilkes’ all have their fans.”
So while Bramley might rule unchallenged, other players from our illustrious past endure for the appreciation of all.
Where to buy
Deacon’s Nursery, Isle of Wight (01983 840750; deaconsnurseryfruits.co.uk)
Keepers Nursery, Maidstone, Kent (01622 726465; keepers-nursery.co.uk)
Pomona Fruit, Walton-On-The-Naze, Essex (0845 676 0607; pomonafruits.co.uk)
Frank P. Matthew, Tenbury Wells, Worcs (01584 812800; frankpmatthews.com)
Rich pickings: many varieties of cooking apple were abundant before the coming of the Bramley, inset