Varieties of Apples and Pears to Grow at Home
There are many thousands of different varieties and every time someone sows a pip successfully yet another new one is produced, which almost certainly is inferior to those existing. So we are the fortunate heirs to generations of breeding, and can take our choice. But it is not easy, because there are wide differences in the way in which varieties respond to soils, or to good treatment, or to indifferent care, and, of course to climate. Even in the British Isles there is a sharp gradient in rainfall from west to east, in temperature from north to south, while specially favoured pockets can be found in most parts.
Most important is the wide difference in personal taste. Some people like firm, crisp, sharp dessert apples, while others prefer a softer, sweeter, bland flavour and texture. But the gardener has one great advantage over the commercial grower in that he can produce what he likes without worrying about tough skins capable of standing up to rough handling in markets; nor is he concerned with pretty eye-catching skin colours which are attractive to buyers acting on impulse but who may be disappointed when it comes to eating the fruit. Some of the best flavoured apples have rough exteriors.
Years ago the Royal Horticultural Society organized a tasting competition. Slices of peeled fruits were offered to the palates of a group of distinguished judges who had no means of knowing which variety was which. The one selected as the best flavoured was the little-known Ashmead’s Kernel, a variety which crops lightly and has an outside which belies the splendid flavour of the flesh. It is never to be found in greengrocers’ shops, but there is nothing to stop you growing it in your garden.
The distinction between dessert and culinary varieties is, roughly, that the first group can be eaten raw, when ripe, because the starches have been largely turned to sugars. Cooking apples are by contrast high in acids and are much too sharp to be eaten raw by discerning people, although small boys have been known to devour them with relish. Quality, in terms of flavour, is much more subtle. In dessert apples the development of elusive aromatics which impinge on the nasal passages when the teeth bite into the fruit, plus sugars and a high acid content make for the really well-flavoured apple, such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, Ashmead’s Kernel, D’Arcy Spice, Ribston Pippin and that apple you ate all those years ago, the name of which you have forgotten but the memory of which remains.
Of cooking varieties, Bramley’s Seedling alone retains its firm texture and fine flavour when cooked, while Howgatc Wonder and others become soggy messes in the pan. It is worth remembering that Cox’s Orange, with its unique combination of sugars and acids, not only eats superbly but also cooks splendidly; Wellington makes excellent mincemeat; Monarch, I am told, is first class for dumplings, and Newton Wonder not only cooks well but, after Christmas, can be eaten raw.
Recommended varieties listed in order of ripening:
Lane’s Prince Albert
King Edward VII
Orange Pippin Sunset
Kidd’s Orange Red
Of the dessert varieties ten should be singled out:
1. Discovery is one of the finds of the last century, pomologically speaking, and we can dispense with earlier varieties in favour of waiting for Discovery, in mid-August. It is the first of the apples with any real claims to flavour. It crops heavily, has a bright red and yellow-skin and, surprisingly, keeps quite well once picked. It is rather slow coming into bearing, dropping its fruitlets in tantalizing fashion in its early years, but is well worth waiting for patiently.
2. James Grieve is a gardener’s delight. It can be cooked satisfactorily in August and eaten with pleasure in September. It crops without fail every year, frost or no frost, and deserves a medal for good nature. There is no better general purpose pollinating variety than Grieve.
3. Laxton’s Fortune is not an easy apple to grow but is one of the few well-flavoured early to mid-season apples.
4. 4. Lord Lambourne, like Grieve, is eminently reliable and yet possesses both good flavour and good temper, as well as keeping nicely into November.
5. Cox is an apple of superb quality. Like all really high quality beings it is difficult. It is prone to mildew, scab and canker and liable to frost damage; but it responds to loving care. In the right hands it crops magnificently and keeps long enough to provide great pleasure at Christmas. However, if previous attempts to grow Cox in your area have failed, plump instead for Sunset, which is a sort of poor man’s Cox.
6. Ashmead’s Kernel is one for the epicure. If you have any doubts about its cropping, or can’t get it, or are short of space, then stick to Cox, or Sunset.
7. Golden Delicious is very easy to grow, is completely reliable, and possesses an acceptable flavour.
8. Laxton’s Superb is included with some misgivings, because it has a tendency to overcrop one year and rest from labour the next. But proper fruit thinning and feeding can overcome this habit of biennial bearing, and its heavy cropping and keeping quality gain it a place.
9. Idared is included because it can be kept until May but the flavour is not especially distinctive.
10. Of cooking apples, Bramley’s Seedling is much the best, and is particularly suitable for freezing. It makes a bigger tree than our other selections, even on MQ, and is susceptible to frost damage. An alternative well worth considering for frosty sites is the little grown but reliable King Edward vn.
New varieties are constantly on offer, but very few are improvements on existing ones. The Research Stations, however, are engaged in scientific breeding, testing and selecting and East Mailing has raised a new-Cox type seedling called Suntan, which so far shows promise.
As with rootstocks, improved EMLA strains (clones) of most of the varieties recommended will be available to the amateur as time goes on.