Thursday, 5 February 2009

Bramley Apples: The Lowdown

This post's for Petoskystone, a welcome regular who asked why Bramleys are the only British apple she'd heard about when I published February's diary a few days ago. As it's also National Bramley Week, now seemed a good time to respond.

What I didn't make clear earlier is that Bramley is a cooking apple and yes, it's pretty well the only apple available for these purposes, making up 95% of sales. There are plenty of other varieties, but they're mainly grown for private consumption. In terms of overall varieties (cooking, dessert and cider), the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale has over 2,000 of them, so Bramleys aren't the only British apple by a long chalk. Sadly most of them aren't for sale in the shops - a quick check locally on Monday revealed Bramley's, Cox's, Egremont Russets and Braeburn are on sale: there were other varieties available (NB including Washington Red Delicious, Petoskystone as well as Royal Gala, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths, Pink Lady and Fuji), but they were all imports.

Why are Bramleys so popular? I haven't got to the bottom of that one fully as there are plenty of other excellent cookers around. It's a sharp fruit, full of flavour and cooks down to a pulp, so is good in many of our cooked apple dishes. It also crops and stores well, which means it's pretty much available year round. The Bramley apple industry is now worth £50m per year, involving commercial growers across Kent, East Anglia and the West Midlands.

Its history's also interesting and has had a hand in its success: pips planted in 1809 in Southwell near Nottingham grew into a handsome tree bearing fruit by 1823. In 1846, a local butcher Matthew Bramley bought the cottage plus garden housing the tree and 10 years later a local nurseryman asked if he could taking cuttings from the tree. Bramley said he could but insisted the apple should bear his name – thus Bramley's Seedling was born.

The cuttings were nurtured until 1862, when the first trees were sold to Upton Hall, a local stately home. Fruits of the grafted apple were first exhibited before the Royal Horticultural Society's fruit committee in 1876 and nine years later Bramley's Seedling received a first class certificate at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of Apples in Manchester. So a combination of early patronage and exhibiting at a time when interest in apples was at its height in England set the apple up on the road to success. In the early 1900s many Bramley trees were planted and their fruit was a useful food source during WWI. The original tree however blew down in 1900, survived somehow and still bears fruit to this day. Cuttings are being taken from this tree and are marketed as 'original' Bramley's Seedlings.

There's a strong marketing body who'll be co-ordinating the bicentennial celebrations. This link showcases lots of recipes using the Bramley apple as a main ingredient. I'll be using the pictured apples in the latest version of my windfall cake :)

12 comments:

  1. We have a lovely Bramley tree in our garden which produces prolific amounts of scrummy fruit - but I never knew the full history of it before now, so thanks for that.
    We are looking around to find a different cooker variety to plant as well - any ideas?

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  2. In addition to the reasons by Bramley's are considered the best cooking apple is because they breakdown easily into a pulp. Other cookers the slices retain their shape - which is better for some dishes like open tarts. British pudding cookery usually uses a puree of fruit so Bramley's are preferred. Even when backed in their skins the fruit inside is soft and easy to eat.

    Best wishes Sylvia

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  3. Crumbs Nutty Gnome, that's a good question. I don't grow any cooking apples apart from the dual purpose James Grieve, so am probably not best placed to advise you. However, Adam at Talaton Plants who supplied me with my trees gives excellent advice and service and also has a great website where you can research lots of different varieties. Most of them are sold out, but there's loads of information and you may like the look of what's left or be prepared to wait until the autumn.

    Sylvia - that's great additional information, thank you :)

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  4. Thanks VP - I've just been to look at the Talaton Plants site and I am positively drooling at the choice - aaah, and they have damsons!!!

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  5. I remember Bramleys from when we lived in England and owned a greengrocers store. There is nothing like it in the world.

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  6. Hi Nutty Gnome - glad you like the site - it's fruit heaven over there!

    Crafty Gardener - where in England did you live? I'd love to hear more about your greengrocers store.

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  7. thanks for the post:) bramley's sound like an excellant baking apple indeed. too bad we don't get any stateside........i have a tendency to use granny smith's for eating & baking as i prefer more texture in my desserts! i bet bramley's would make an excellant applesauce, though. it's pretty cool that the 'original' tree is still furnishing seedlings.

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  8. blenheim orange is another wonderful old cooking variety...

    and I tasted a Striped Beefing last year - wow!! one of the most delicious apples I've ever eaten.

    But I've still got a soft spot for a Bramley. They're a pain to grow (need too much space, tricky to prune, tend to be biennial and need too many pollinators) but you can forgive them everything when they're cooked up in a crumble. Mmmmmm.....

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  9. I love to smell apples cooking. It spreads a warm feeling throughout the house. We usually get our apples in the fall here in NC.

    I make an apple pie that you cook in a brown paper bag;) You got to use real butter or it won't taste as good. I usually use a Granny Smith for my pies. It's too tart to eat but makes a great pie---with loads of sugar of course.

    I enjoyed your article and will look for these apples.

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  10. Why are we having a National Bramley week in February?? It was a great year last year wasn't it? I still have quite a few left in storage. Bramleys really do have the most apply apple flavour when cooked, most others just don't compare.

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  11. Petoskystone - glad you liked the post. It was nice to thank you for your contribution to this blog.

    CG - I think Blenheim Orange is probably the other 5% of sales - a lovely apple. I've been pondering getting a Norfolk Beefing, though the Striped Beefing looks good too, but I'm also tempted by Hoary Morning etc etc. Thanks for adding Barmaley's shortcomings - I'm constantly surprised with that last that it's done so well. But then, as Sylvia says, it's perfect for apple pie, baked apples, apple snow, apple charlottte...

    FGG - I like the tartness of granny smiths to eat, but they don;t grow that well in this country and I do like to grow and buy British. I'm intrigued by your apple pie recipe...

    Matron - I've no idea! And yes it was a fantastic year for apples - yum :)

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  12. Oh Lord, why isn't there a spellchecker on comments...

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