Everyone knows the old saying about eating an apple a day, but this is just the tiniest tip of the mountain of apple facts and folklore. This wealth of information could perhaps be attributed to the fruit's long association with humans, so long that it might just be the oldest cultivated tree. Ancestral roots are believed to be embedded in montane regions of western Asia, with the centre of genetic diversity of the genus Malus occurring in Turkey. Throughout millennia of cultivation some 7500 different cultivars have been bred for a variety of strengths: storing, eating, juicing, cider- making and cooking. Interestingly the development of the all-important dwarfing rootstocks are believed to originate somewhere in the regions of present day Kazakhstan, discovered apparently by none other than Alexander the Great sometime around 300BC.
Photo 1: Apple 'Livermere Favourite'
Last week I had the pleasure of working with the Wisley Fruit and Vegetable team for a day to help out with the annual apple harvest. RHS Garden Wisley boasts an impressive orchard of apples, not much smaller than some commercial orchards I have worked on in New Zealand. The main difference to a commercial orchard being the enormous variety that is grown - not 6 but more like 700 different cultivars! Bearing this in mind, imagine the choreographed dance that goes on every year to get each cultivar picked at the right time.
Photo 2: Happy apple pickers at Wisley
Photo 3: More happy apple pickers here at Wisley
Meanwhile gluts just seem to get more glutty at this time of year. It's that final crescendo of fruitfulness, but fortunately the fruits of our labour are not going to waste. First, the good trees - the ones that taste nice, look nice, perform well - these get stripped of what is known as a show layer. These apples get put aside for display, some venturing as far afield as Germany. After these come the consumables, the ones that can be sold, or stored and then sold for eating or cooking, obviously depending on the variety. Meanwhile, apples which are scarred from their experience of life on the tree take a different path and have their juices extracted to make Wisley apple juice and cider. Named varieties of Wisley Apples are available for purchase from the fruit cart outside the plant centre, while cider, juices and delectable apple treats can be bought at the Wisley shop and cafes throughout the gardens.
Photo 4: 'Hoary Morning' apples sorted for showing and cider-making
Be careful though, of to whom you throw an apple and be careful of catching an apple thrown at you:
I throw the apple at you, and if you are willing to love me, take it and share your girlhood with me; but if your thoughts are what I pray they are not, even then take it, and consider how short-lived is beauty. - Plato, Epigram VII
According to Greek myth apples were considered sacred to the goddess of love (Aphrodite) and throwing an apple to someone was a declaration of love, even a proposal of marriage, and catching one akin to agreement. Subsequent nuptials were blessed with the throwing of apples (apparently popular before rice came on the scene) and on the wedding night a woman was said to be assured abundance and fertility by the simple act of eating an apple before bed!
For advice on growing apples check out the RHS website: