You may remember that we had a delightful surprise at the end of Granny Smith Natural Food Market’s first summer of trading when we received a generous haul of heirloom apples from Orange. In 2003 our store was reviewed in The Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Good Living’ guide. The review was seen by Borry and Gaye Gartrell, heirloom fruit orchardists and winemakers, who farm some magnificent country on the slopes of Mount Canobolas near Orange in central western NSW. My experience of community-supported agriculture, mentioned in the article, encouraged them to bring me some of their fabulous apple varieties. Everyone raved about the beautiful, developed flavours of the fruit. Like most fruits and vegetables, true heirloom varieties rarely make it to market. With more than 170 varieties of apples growing at an altitude of 1000 metres, Borry knows them all. Some are perfect for apple sauce, some for drying, some for eating fresh, some for cider. Some are super-early, ripening in January, and some – like Granny Smiths – can still be on the trees when the first snow falls on Mount Canobolas in May.
I’ve been intending to go up there each year to get some more of this amazing fruit but, being busy, it never happened. That is, until late March 2011, when I drove to Orange. Though the apple season was mostly behind us, the next-to-last of late season fruit was still on the trees, having grown slowly through the warmer months to become fully-flavoured. I helped Borry pick three late season varieties: Democrats, Roman Beauties and King Davids.
A few weeks later I returned for the last of the Cox’s Orange Pippins – the world’s finest dessert apple, Lord Lambourne, Lady of the Snows, the superb Carrington, and Buncombe. By this time – late in March – some of the Borrodell apples had developed a honey core: golden and juicy through the centre, like honey comb, the hallmark of intense flavour development in fruit still on the tree.
Lord Lambourne is described on authoritative website orangepippin.com as one of the earliest of the season’s English-style dessert apples. Carrington ‘Early’ is described by a Tasmanian orchardist as a ‘Christmas apple’, small, red and with bland white flesh. This is not how I would rate the Carrington picked from Borry’s orchard this autumn past. Beautifully crisp much after Christmas, it was superb. Buncombe – also known in North America as Red Winter Permain or Red Fall Pippin – is thought to have been raised in North Carolina in the 1800s. It is described as a high quality dessert apple.
We’ve been very pleased at Granny Smith’s to enjoy a wonderful response from customers to our stocking – albeit for a short season – these heritage apples from Orange. One customer ordered a case of Bramley’s Seedling. She was overjoyed to find that someone not too far from Sydney was growing this quintessential English cooking apple. The intense acidity of Bramley’s guarantees, when cooked, ‘the lightest and fluffiest of purees’, according to orangepippin.com. England remains the only place in the world where a distinction is made between ‘eaters’ and ‘cookers’ among varieties of apple. Bramley’s is undoubtedly the perfect ‘cooker’.