Wednesday 2 October 2019

Favourite apples

In this post I am wading into potentially controversial territory—best apple varieties. Everyone’s top ten list will inevitably be different. There are some factors to consider when choosing apple trees to plant: growth habit, local climate, soil to some extent, appearance. But perhaps over-riding these is the eating experience: taste, flavour, crunchiness, juiciness. This is highly subjective and influenced by individual preferences. But also by the timeliness of picking the apple (early in its season or later on) and the interval between picking and eating. For example, if you prefer a slightly more tart flavour then picking early might be preferred. Also, some apples are at their best eaten as soon after picking as possible and don’t store well.

It has to be said that for many people their experience of apple varieties is limited because supermarkets stock only a very limited range, often imported varieties. This is where smallholders and gardeners with enough space have the advantage. They often go in for planting lots of trees and will seek out different varieties, many of which the supermarkets ignore. 

There is another factor to consider here. There are nearly 2000 UK apple varieties. An individual can only become familiar with a fraction of these. Luckily, establishments like Brogdale, home to the National Fruit Collection, bears the larger weight of responsibility for maintaining our heritage varieties
(www. ).

Having provided all these qualifications, here’s my list (not in rank order).
1. Cox’s Orange Pippin — Perhaps the most famous dessert apple. It has a distinctive flavour, juicy and with a good crunch. Supermarket ones, I think, are stored too long to get them at their best. Not so easy to grow, preferring a heavy soil.
2. Ashmead’s Kernel — Crispy and strong flavour. I prefer them picked early when they are still a little tart.
3. Sparten — Crispy, juicy and sweet. They also have an attractive red skin which makes them look like the apple the wicked queen offers to Snow White. Sometimes they can be on the smaller side if the tree is cropping very heavily.
4. Blenheim Orange — The apple tree we had in our garden when growing up produced largish apples. They were juicy, crunchy and tart (if not sour). As children we enjoyed them immensely and never found another apple to match. That is until I came across Blenheim Orange. This is regarded as dual purpose, good for cooking and as a dessert. It also stores very well and we often have supplies to draw upon until the following March. I wonder if this was the one we had in our garden.
5. Egremont Russet — Not everyone likes the denser flesh of russet apples but I do. It is dense and has a noticeably aromatic flavour.
6. Darcy Spice — With russet tendencies, this is an apple with hardish flesh but still juicy. It originates from Tolleshunt Darcy near Maldon in Essex.
7. Discovery — Another Essex apple. Known for being one of the first to crop, like many earlies it doesn't store well so eat them as they come.
8. Bramley — The famous cooker with a famous history. The original tree from a chance seedling is still standing (just) in Southwell, Nottingham-shire. They should be light green with red blush stripes rather than the uniform shiny green that the shops often sell.
9. Laxton’s Superb — A bit like a Cox. It is a later cropper which adds to its positive attributes.
10. James Grieve — A reputation for not storing well. This apple is outstanding early season, eaten straight off the tree.

Ask me next month and this list might be different as yours might be too.

Darcy Spice Photo: from the Web site of the admirable
Lathcoats Farm orchard and farm shop, Galleywood
Chelmsford who grow and sell a wide variety of apples and more 


  1. I like Discovery [but I was born in Essex!] I don't think I've ever had a Darcy Spice. I do like to cook with Bramleys. We had a James Grieve in our garden back in London. I really loved that tree - we had good crops every year - eating them fresh at the beginning, then later on putting down pies and puds in the freezer. When we moved here, the OAP next door had a Discovery tree. He couldn't manage the picking, so we did it for him in return for a share of the crop [and I made him pies and crumbles for his freezer too] Sadly the new occupants cut down the tree almost as soon as they moved in! Bob likes Coxes - but we agree that those from our friend's tree are far better than supermarket ones! If I ever get to choose, I would plant a James Grieve! Apples are much more predicatble than pears, don't you think?

  2. Yes, pears I do find unpredictable and not always reliable croppers. I don't think you can go wrong with James Grieve.

  3. Hardly an apple on the trees this year -poorest crop since the dreaded year of 2012 when we were at the smallholding and didn't have a single bramley.
    Had some "childrens small apples" from supermarket last week - foul - enough to put children off for life I should think.
    I'm no good with names - we always forgot what we'd planted!

    1. Apart from Laxton's Fortune, all the other trees have cropped very poorly for us too. None for juicing which a big loss. When we moved here we took a lot of samples to Ely Apple Festival where they have some enthusiastic experts who were able to identify the for us.

  4. What an interesting post about these delicious sounding old varieties. Most are almost impossible to find, even in the "apple" state of Washington, here in the Northwest. I have a dwarf Sparten tree planted over 20 years ago in our Seattle city garden. It produces many hundreds of small red apples that are quite tasty --if you eat around the worm! I've heard that thinning the fruit in early summer leads to fewer, bigger apples. Somehow, I never get around to it.

    Anyway, I have not commented before, but as a fellow long-time blogger, wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog and descriptions of country life. I actually lived in Suffolk in the late 1970's-- my daughter was born in Ispwich.

  5. I appreciate your comment Sue and happy to provide a link back to Suffolk. Thank you.