Some claim that British apples are the best in the world, pointing to the fact that the temperate maritime climate of the UK means they ripen more slowly than in hotter countries. That implies that this summer’s heat might not have been to great, but the chair of growers’ association British Apples & Pears, Ali Capper, who farms on the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border, insists that the stress the trees have been under has made for a particularly fine crop.
Nonetheless, it’s been a challenging season for apple growers, with a triple whammy of drought, rising fuel costs and labor worries. Another issue has been the lack of rain. A high proportion of the crop is watered, but where there is no irrigation, growers have struggled.
Capper has stated that UK apple growers are really in need of support. From the late 1970s onward, traditional British varieties have been struggling. Thankfully, by the 1990s growers had fought back, with new ‘clean’ red-skinned varieties like Gala and Jazz. Innovation, says Capper, is the key to keeping buyers happy.
Britain’s bestselling apple, and widely grown here; the variety is a New Zealand cross between Kidd’s Orange Red and Golden Delicious. It’s sweet, bland and crisp, the Asti Spumante of apples. The best are said to have a whitish tinge to their pale-yellow background colour. Royal Gala tastes the same, but has a darker red hue.
A new apple bred in Kent, a cross between Gala, Falstaff and Pink Pearl, with an orangey skin and a pink-stained flesh. Sweet, firm and allegedly tasting like tropical fruit, it’s part of a drive to develop apples with surprising flavors like candy floss, cherries and Fruit Salad sweets.
A richly flavored and juicy variety that was discovered less than a mile from Stocks Farm, owned by Ali Capper and her husband Richard. They grow the apples for Tesco. It makes a good British alternative to Granny Smith in recipes.
A late-19th-century variety, bred by the Laxton Brothers near Bedford. The fruit is firm, sweet and aromatic; excellent for eating in slices with cheese. Look out for it in markets, and some branches of Marks & Spencer.
Cooking apples, with their coarse, acid flesh that collapses to an airy pulp when cooked, are a uniquely British treat. The market is dominated by Bramley, but look out for alternative varieties in gardens (where they may be unnamed) and farmers’ markets. Newton Wonder is less acidic than Bramley, so doesn’t need so much sugar.
Cox’s Orange Pippin
The king of British dessert apples, with a satisfyingly complex flavour that makes modern sweet-and-tart cultivars seem 2D. First fruiting in Buckinghamshire in 1825, ‘pippin’ indicates it was grown from seed rather than grafted, but by the late 19th century the word had come to mean ‘an excellent thing’ – as indeed it is.