Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Bramley Apple Pie Week

I've just found out that this is National Bramley Apple Pie Week. As far as I know the Bramley apple is more or less exclusively a British obsession, although a friend who lives in Adelaide, South Australia has been able to source a few locally. Originally called Bramley's Seedling, this apple began life as a pip planted in Southwell, near Nottingham by a little girl called Mary Anne Brailsford, two hundred years ago. It got its name not from Mary Anne but from Matthew Bramley, the local butcher who later bought the house and garden, complete with its unique apple tree.

My grandfather, who we all called Fafa, had several apple trees in his garden in West Sussex, his varieties were Cox's Orange Pippin, Worcester Pearmain, Egremont Russet and of course Bramley's Seedling. As children we would help him harvest the apples. We were all enthusiastic tree climbers but were not allowed to climb Fafa's precious apple trees, harvesting had to be done from ladders. The apples were stored in his huge garage, which as far as I know never housed a car. He had hand-built, wooden racks to store the apples in cool dry conditions and the Bramleys would keep for many months. Granny would bottle them with cloves, stew them, convert them into apple crumble, apple fool and of course apple pie.

Now I have three apple trees of my own. None are as large as Fafa's standard sized trees, my garden is smaller than his, but I do have a Bramley, on a dwarfing rootstock. It has never grown above seven feet tall (Fafa's was 20 feet plus and they can get even bigger), but it's a sturdy little tree with a number of spreading branches

Above all, the Bramley is a disease resistant tree and it is tough. Mine spent the first seven years of its life in a sheltered, walled garden in Buckinghamshire. Now it lives half way up the Pennines in a North facing garden in the Grimescar Valley on the edge of Huddersfield. We move house in the 1990's and brought two of our favourite trees up with us. My lovely little Victoria Plum didn't survive the move, but the Bramley did.  Now it thrives in our heavy clay soil and is currently covered in 40 or 50 healthy apples which, in the October rain are still growing and ripening.

We have found that in these more Northern climes our Bramleys really don't sweeten enough to be worth harvesting before November. The Bramley apple is known for its acidity, which renders it edible only when cooked and sweetened and ours remain a challenge to the stomach if picked too early.

So Bramley Apple Pie week this may be, but I won't be celebrating for another month. You don't expect me to actually buy Bramley's, do you?

Comments now welcome...

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