If you had a go at Macro Monday yesterday you may have guessed that the photo was an apple and some of you got it right: It was a ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ apple, usually simply called ‘Bramley’.
It is some achievement that an apple, raised by accident 200 years ago, is so famous and widespread that it can be recognised by a close up of the blossom end of the fruit.
This particular fruit was growing in the garden here in SE Ireland but it gets a mention now because I went to Richhill in Armagh to visit the Apple Festival on Oct 31 and ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ is the most important apple in the area.
Despite the importance of the Armagh ‘Bramley’, the apple is not of Northern Irish origin at all. Instead, it is from Nottinghamshire in England. The seeds of the Armagh apple industry, and the apple, were sown in 1809 in Southwell by Mary Anne Brailsford but it was not until the house and garden were later bought by Matthew Bramley that its journey of dominating the British kitchen began. It was introduced in 1837 and even then it took till 1856 before its potential was recognised by the nurseryman Henry Merryweather. It was named after the then owner of the original tree, a condition of his allowing the tree to be propagated. It was brought to Northern Ireland in 1884 and rapidly became the dominant apple in the Armagh area and by 1921 almost 3000 hectares were planted with the variety and since that time, though the area planted has been reduced, the annual production has remained at about 40 000 tonnes, much of which is used for processing.
Cooking apples in the UK are different to those in other parts of the world because here they are preferred if their flesh breaks down when cooked. For this ‘Bramley’s’ is a good choice and its white flesh and sharp taste are perfect for sauces and as a complement to savoury dishes. It is a large apple with a pronounced lopsided lump at the top of the fruits. The skin is waxy and greasy and green though it can develop a red flush on the sunny side of the fruits. It is a vigorous tree and partly tip-bearing which means it will not fruit well if regularly pruned in August so is not well suited to cordon growing. The flowers are flushed crimson in bud and very attractive but this variety is triploid which means it needs two other pollinators to crop well.
One problem with the ‘Bramley’s’ is that it suffers from bitter pit. This is caused by a lack of calcium which can be either because of low calcium levels in the soil or a lack of water in summer and it is most common on young trees that are growing vigorously. The problem may sometimes be seen on the fruits as pale, sometimes sunken spots on the skin but more often the apples look perfect until they are cut open and the flesh is peppered with brown spots. The apples are still edible but the cooked flesh will be discoloured with these specks. Often it is the largest, best looking fruits that will be discoloured inside.
The Richhill festival is now in its second year and takes place in the centre of the village. As well as apples to buy, there are cookery demonstrations, other local foods to try and a cider tent.
Of course the ‘Bramley’s’ are the star of the show.