The real Granny Smith
THE name ‘Granny Smith’ is recognised throughout the world. But many people don’t realise that ‘Granny’ was a real person who has become one of Australia’s most famous colonial pioneers.
Maria Ann Smith is buried in the graveyard of St Anne’s Anglican Church, at Top Ryde in Sydney. This church now sits close to the corner of busy Victoria and Ryde Roads, but when ‘Granny’ Smith was alive its prominent position afforded it a splendid view over rolling farmland, orchards and fields down to the Parramatta River below, and west towards the Blue Mountains. Thomas and Maria Ann Smith’s farm was a few kilometres from St Anne’s.
The Smiths, with their five children, arrived from England in 1839 and settled in what is now the Sydney suburb of Eastwood, barely inhabited at the time and known as ‘the Dark Country’.
By 1856 the Smiths had ten hectares of good farming land, which they used to grow fresh produce for the Sydney market: apples, pears and other fruit, vegetables, milk and eggs. Mrs Smith made fruit pies, for which she developed an enviable reputation. All of this produce had to be transported to Sydney by either horse and cart along rutted and often muddy tracks, or by boat down the Parramatta River, where wharves had first to be reached along similar rough roads.
At first, Thomas would take their produce to the Sydney Markets. But, according to their grandson Benjamin Spurway, his grandfather would often arrive home from Sydney with little money left to show for their hard work. So Mrs Smith began to take their goods to the Sydney Markets herself. This must have taken all day, a tremendous burden on an already busy mother and farmer.
It is said that one day a wholesaler at the markets gave her a box of apples from Tasmania with which to weave her pie-making magic. She took these home and, like most housewives of the time, threw the peels and seeds out of the kitchen window onto a compost heap in the garden below. Some months later, she found a small apple seedling, known as a ‘pippin’, growing in the compost. She tended it carefully to see what it might bear.
Apples never grow true to type from seed and most pippins bear fruit good only for cider or animal forage. But the special thing about apples is that every pippin offers the remote possibility of growing some entirely new, special and delicious apple. And what Mrs Smith found when her little tree bore fruit were beautiful green apples with a magnificent crunch, refreshing tartness and superb keeping qualities. The ‘Granny Smith’ apples cooked well and were also good for eating. The apple’s reputation quickly spread. With refrigerated transport still only in its infancy, the apple’s beautiful colour, delicious flavour, texture and ability to hold well and maintain its crunch on long voyages quickly brought it export success.
Maria Ann Smith gave birth to nine children, of whom only six survived to adulthood. Knowing through experience the difficulties of motherhood, Maria had earned a reputation for her competence and willingness to help her community. In her sixties, she had become affectionately known to all as “Granny”.
Granny Smith died in 1870, aged 69, before the commercial success of the apple that bears her name. Soon after World War I, Granny Smith apples were exported from Australia throughout the world. They are now grown commercially in South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, the United States and France. A vast spread from the seeds of an accidental pippin, nurtured by a resourceful woman, the Granny Smith has become a firm favourite everywhere apples are grown.