Popular Varieties: Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Red Delicious
Store At: Optimum 30 - 32°C
Comes From: Varied, any temperate countries
Seasonality: Usually May to November fresh, all year round stored
Apples are members of the Malus genus (group); typically culinary and dessert apples belong to the Malus domestica genus. The large range of shapes and colours available is due to the fact that there are many crosses of three different groups of the Malus genus, resulting in a huge variation.
The colour of apples varies from dark red, through bright red, orange, yellow and green. Patterning of colour also varies; some apples are a uniform colour, whilst many are streaky, patchy or russetted. Colour variations are not due solely to variety, but also because of location and growing conditions. Taste also varies greatly between varieties, from crispy and sweet to bitter, acidic, dry, or bland; different apples are recommended for different purposes depending upon the taste and texture.
All apples have some common characteristics; a core containing several pips, the remains of a flower at one end, and a hollow in the stalk end. The stalk should be kept in as long as possible; it improves the storage of the fruit. The pips are safe to eat, but only in small quantities since they contain trace amounts of cyanide, a metabolic poison.
It is believed that the Malus genus mainly originated in Eastern Europe and Asia. Some Malus species are native to North America, but they were never commonplace. Apples have been harvested as a food crop for thousands of years, since before the time of the Romans. They were improved through selective breeding since then to this day by early farmers as a gradual process.
Apples were first brought to Britain by the early Romans, but by the Dark Ages their popularity had declined greatly, with only one orchard being mentioned in the Domesday Book (a census of the country at the time). By the late 1600’s, over 100 varieties had been cultivated, rising to nearly 700 by the mid 1800’s. Unfortunately due to the influence of supermarkets, this figure has dropped sharply in modern times.
Apples were first taken to America by colonists in the 1600’s, with the first apple orchard supposedly planted on the Governor’s Island in Boston Harbour in 1625. Starting in New England, they moved across the States with pioneers and missionaries in the 18th and 19th Century. In the 1900’s, an intensive farming industry surrounding apples was setup in Washington State and lasts to this day; many of the Red Delicious, Empire and McIntosh apples imported to the UK are of the “Washington” brand, which is now at the centre of a multi-billion dollar fruit industry.
Well this is a bit of a no-brainer! Apples are primarily used for dessert purposes, typically eating out of hand. They also can be used in salads, tarts, jellies and pies, or juices. Certain apples are more suited to cooking than others; they are typically larger, more acidic and less sweet when raw. The higher acidic content means when cooked they don’t lose as much of their structure, and don’t just turn to mush. Specialist varieties used for cooking include Bramley’s varieties and Norfolk Beauty, although acidic dessert apples such as Braeburn and Granny Smith also cook well.
Apple wood is scented, especially when burnt, and is typically used for fire wood, pot pourri, and smoking foods (especially ham!). Apple wood is also used for mallet heads and golf clubs.
Another popular use for apples is in the making of cider, and also vinegar.
Finally, let’s not forget apples for entertainment value; swings and climbing ropes can be strung from the sturdier trees!
Apple trees are somewhat picky to grow well; they will grow in many conditions, but to fruit well a number of conditions have to be met. Ideal planting locations are moist well drained soil; they will not do well on waterlogged soil, and they dislike frosty areas. Some apples are self-fertile and will fruit when grown on their own, but many are known as diploid or triploid varieties; diploid varieties need one other variety to fruit alongside and triploid need another two, due to genetic characteristics of the varieties.
Further complicating things is the matter of rootstocks: known named varieties are usually bound onto different rootstocks by a process called grafting, which in layman’s terms involves taking a branch off one tree and binding it onto the root of another. Different rootstocks exist, and the rootstock a tree is grafted to determines its growth characteristics. In particular, the rootstock determines the size a tree will grow to. Rootstocks are known by a numbering system, ranging from M (very large, ideally for orchards) to M27 (very dwarfing rootstocks suitable for containers). The M26 rootstock is the most suitable for small gardens, with the trees typically growing to 3m x 3m (9ft x 9ft).
Apple trees can be pruned and trained in a variety of different ways; they can be left to their own devices, and will fruit for years this way. An espalier tree is grown with the branches running in opposite directions from the trunk, in one plane. An increasingly common way of growing them is one single trunk, seen often in patio varieties. Also important is thinning of the fruit; removing crowded fruit helps by improving the size and quality of the remaining fruit.
If you are planning to grow apples, you must be aware that as the most commonly grown fruit tree in much of the world, many pests and diseases have developed around them. However, apple trees are remarkably vigorous, and can overcome many diseases. Codling moth causes serious damage to fruit by making holes in the centre of the fruit, but they are easily prevented by simple traps that can be hung in the tree. Scab is another disease where the skin of the fruit and the leaves become badly scabbed, although many varieties are now scab resistant through selective breeding. And let’s not forget those pesky birds, squirrels and wasps!
Some apples are best eaten straight off the tree, whilst others are best stored in the dark, where if kept well, can last up to six months. Modern commercial cultivation techniques include storage of apples in controlled atmosphere environments (where the quantities of gases in the air are carefully controlled), and apples can last longer, although they may not be so fresh when they’re eventually eaten. The fruit must be free of bruises, holes and rot when stored, and should not be stored near pears, onions, garlic or potatoes.
Apples should not be grown near potatoes; they increase the chances of blight striking the potatoes.
- Apples Factsheet
- Newcrop Factsheet
- Brogdale Horticultural Trust
During its history, over 10,000 varieties of apple have been cultivated, but many lost through the ages, dropping to about 5,000 named varieties now. This is evident in any supermarket; you’ll typically find Gala, Braeburn, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Bramley and Cox’s, but rarely more than a few other varieties. Commercially over 100 varieties are grown, but only 10 make up around 80% of production. Some other popular varieties include Fuji, McIntosh, Jonagold, Empire, and lets’ not forget some traditional English varieties such as Spartan.
Another native New Zealand apple, Braeburn is probably descended from a cross between Lady Hamilton and Granny Smith, but since it was found as a chance seedling it's unsure. A firm, crisp apple with an edgy sweetness, the colour can vary from orange to red over a yellow background. Usually harvested from September to October, they are usually available October to July.
Originally developed in Japan from a cross of Red Delicious and Ralls Janet, Fuji was first introduced to America in the 1980s, but now the USA produces more Fuji apples than Japan. A variety of extreme flavour, Fuji is a large, reddish-pink, super-sweet apple excellent for dessert or standalone eating purposes, but also useful for baking since it holds its texture well. Fuji's are harvested in October, and store well, so they are typically available for many months after.
Developed in New Zealand by crossing Cox's Orange Pippin and Golden Delicious, this variety is now prolific all over the world. gala apples are crisp, sweet and aromatic; medium to small in size, they have a distinctive red and yellow striped colour, although this can vary greatly. They are primarily used for snacking or salads, but make a good applesauce also. Harvesting typically starts mid August and ends early September. Some of the finest Gala apples come from the Val di Non area of Italy.
This is a very common, good quality yellow apple, first introduced in America in 1914. In many supermarkets you will see bright green Golden Delicious, but as the name suggests, the skin colour should be golden, almost rosy when fully ripe. They are good for all purposes, especially dessert and cooking since the flesh stays whiter longer than many apples.
Thought of as a traditional English apple, Granny Smiths actually originated in Australia, and are believed to be descended from French crabapples cultivated by French immigrants to Australia. A fully green apple, Granny Smith are very tart, crisp and very juicy. Good for all purposes, but especially eating out of hand, Granny Smith holds its texture well when baked, and are typically available all year round.
Developed in a New York breeding program in 1968 as a cross between Golden Delicious and Johnathan cultivars, Jonagold takes on characteristics of both. The tangy flavour of the Golden Delicious was preserved, whilst taking the red colouring of the Johnathan. Good for eating out of hand, in salads or pies, they are available from September through to April.
This is a green apple that typically turns yellow when ripe, although it is usually harvested when still green, to use in apple sauce.
This variety comprises many strains, including Rogers McIntosh, Blackmac, Geneva, Macspur and Spur McIntosh, further muddying the waters of varieties! It is typically a bright red, very round apple, although the colour is dependent upon location and climate.
This is one of the most popular and widely planted cultivars in America, first introduced in 1874. It is conical in shape with five very prominent lobes at the bottom (apex) of the fruit. The prominence of these lobes depends upon the growing conditions. The colouring differs from solid red to striped, depending upon the strain, of which there are over 150, including Starking, Richared, Royal Red, Red King, Red Prince, Top Red, Redspur, Wellspur, Starkcrimson, and Red Chief. The fruit is sweet and has a mild flavour, and is typically used as a dessert apple rather than for any other purpose. The parentage of Red Delicious is still unknown; it was found as a chance seedling, and was originally known as Hawkeye.
Many strains of this fruit exist, including Gallia Beauty, Law, and Red Rome; a great deal of colour difference exists between the strains, which are typically red. Unfortunately, Rome Beauty is susceptible to several diseases, including apple scan, powdery mildew and cedar apple rust.