Chris Beardshaw uncovers the British contribution to the history of our most iconic fruit and sees how 20th century British scientists helped create the modern mass-market apple.
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This is the story of a love affair between a nation and a fruit.
-You've got a job to beat Coxes.
-Do you? Why?
I like a Pink Lady a lot better.
A Golden Delicious. That's a Golden Delicious.
'In Britain we crunch our way through 50 billion apples a year,
'but our relationship with the apple goes beyond mere appetite.'
'I want to find out what drove Victorian horticulturalists
'to lead the world,
'creating apples in every shape, size and colour,
'their characters as varied as we are.'
How many gallons of cider will I earn for tipping all these in here?
Ever heard of working for kind?
'I want to uncover the ingenious and painstaking work
'of British scientists.'
It's amazing. The remnants of the research are still down here.
How did they help create the mass-market apple we know today,
and why did that leave our varieties in the shade?
The apple once shaped our landscape.
I want to find out how we have shaped the apple.
'This is virtually the dividing line between two great counties,
'Herefordshire off to the west, Worcestershire off to the east.
It's a rolling, folded landscape
of woodlands, orchards and pasture.
This is home. It's where I grew up.
As a boy I roamed the fields, climbed the trees,
and scrumped in the orchards.
It's a place that, in a way, has shaped who I am.
I'm a product of this landscape.
But more than that, this is a landscape in which apples belong,
and each one has a story to tell,
whether it's been engineered by gardeners
or whether it's one of those little accidents of nature.
For centuries, the apple has captivated us.
It's a tricky fruit to cultivate,
because the apple is promiscuous by design.
Left to its own devices,
its offspring are as unpredictable as ours.
Imagine the frustration of those early horticulturalists
thousands of years ago, stumbling across an apple.
It was the perfect fast food,
and yet, when they sowed the seed,
what came up wasn't the same.
In fact, it was just as likely to be sour and inedible
as it was to taste good.
The mother tree gives birth to thousands of pips
contained within the fruit, and every single pip
is genetically different. And just like children,
most grow up to be ordinary.
But once in a while, an apple with the most delicious taste
and texture is born.
When you sow the pips, you don't get the original form.
If you sow a Bramley seed, you won't get a Bramley.
If you sow a Braeburn, it won't be a Braeburn that grows,
or a Cox or a Worcester, or any of them for that matter.
Apples require pollinators.
The pollen from one plant needs to be transferred across
into the flower of another, and that crossing of pollen
brings with it the most wonderful genetic exchange.
Apples generally have 34 chromosomes,
and that means that you get 17 characteristics from one parent
and 17 sets of characteristics from the other.
That's part of the excitement of growing them.
'And this presented man with a real puzzle -
'how to persuade nature to reproduce exactly the same apple tree
'and fruit over and over again.
'The solution we came up with was grafting,
'a method of cloning the original tree.'
The practice of grafting is thought to go back around 5,000 years,
and to this day, every apple tree in commercial cultivation
is grafted in exactly the same way.
The principle behind grafting is delightfully straightforward,
and in fact hasn't changed
since the Romans played around with gluing one plant on top of another.
Not apples, but, in their case, probably grapes.
And they realised that plants were able to fuse together
for the very simple reason that, on any plant,
there is a layer of growth
immediately underneath the bark.
That area of green is the cambium layer.
That's where the cell division and cell expansion is taking place.
It's essentially the life of the plant,
and if you can put two of those cambium layers together,
then, the plants are fused and become one.
First you need a rootstock. This is a wild form
which has been cultivated for particular characteristics.
It will essentially become the driving force behind the plant.
It will govern how much nutrient is taken up.
It's like the engine of a car.
The principle is to cut the head off the rootstock...
..and then to take your scion.
This is the particular variety of apple that you're after.
It's taken from the parent plant,
and it means that the genetic material contained within that scion
is exactly the same as the parent's,
so any characteristics the parent had
in terms of the flavour of the fruit,
the ripeness of the fruit, the colour of the skin,
are all contained within that piece of wood.
And what we do is literally put that on top of there,
and the two are then bound up with tape,
and the rootstock fuses with the scion.
And in fact, the genetic material of the rootstock
remains in the rootstock. The genetic material of the scion
remains in the scion. But what we end up with
is a scion which is totally governed by the energy of the rootstock,
and that's what gives us the particular vigour and height
of the tree.
With the discovery of grafting, we could clone our favourite trees
again and again.
'One of Britain's most prosperous and time-honoured apples
'was planted 200 years ago in a back garden in Nottinghamshire.
'Its clones have generated a £50 million industry.'
"The Bramley apple tree was grown from a pip by a young lady,
Mary Anne Brailsford, between 1809 and 1815."
"It's thought it came from an apple grown on a tree
at the bottom of her garden. One seedling produced very fine apples
in 1837, when the new occupier was Mr Matthew Bramley."
-HE KNOCKS AT DOOR
-Hi! How are you?
-What a terrible day!
Well, I've seen better days for looking at apple trees.
'The Bramley tree's proud custodian
'is 90-year-old Nancy Harrison.'
-So you were born in this house.
-Mm. The tree was in the...
In the next-door neighbour's garden. So you bought the house next door.
-To get the tree.
-Yes. I paid £500 for that!
What was it about that particular tree
that really captured your imagination?
We've always loved it, really. We've never climbed it or anything.
Nobody's been allowed to damage the Bramley at all,
you know, except the cats. SHE CHUCKLES
And it's such a distinctive fruit
in terms of how it tastes and how it behaves when it's cooked.
The flavour from the Bramley, you know, freshly stewed Bramley,
it's really unbelievably nice.
And I've eaten it with custard,
sausages, a steamed pudding,
bacon, beans and apple sauce, and it goes marvellously with anything.
It's a garden typical of the cottages of this period,
long and narrow.
Look at that!
Isn't that amazing?
It's like walking into an enchanted woodland.
You can see where the original has fallen.
The original was planted here,
and has obviously been blown...
And a piece would originally have been up here,
and would have branched away,
and it says something for the resilience and the enthusiasm
of the Bramley to grow again,
that it's rooted... Where the boughs kissed the ground
it's gone away again. It's so vigorous. It's got so much energy
that even being blown down by the wind won't prevent it.
Certainly won't hold it back. You hear people talking
about living history, and this really is living history.
It's like standing next to a cathedral.
This is a cathedral of horticulture.
the fruit census of that year
tells us that there were over two million Bramleys,
all taken from this one tree.
Every single Bramley you've ever eaten,
every single Bramley tree that has ever been planted,
has come from this one.
Everybody loves the tree.
It's a stout old thing, isn't it, and puts up with all weathers.
If there was someone in history the Bramley might represent,
who do you think it would be?
Winston Churchill. SHE LAUGHS
I think you're absolutely right. I was going to say Queen Victoria,
but I think Winston Churchill is even better.
Yes. Because he could cope with everything, couldn't he?
It's a wonderful old thing. I think it will live forever.
Like the Bramley, the Cox,
Britain's best-loved dessert apple,
was a gift from nature's lottery.
Cox's Orange Pippin was grown from a pip
by horticultural hobbyist Richard Cox in the 1820s.
It produced apples world renowned
for their intense and aromatic flavour.
Sadly, the original Cox tree was blown down in a gale in 1911,
but our appetite for its clones lives on.
'The Cox and Bramley may be our best-loved English apples,
'but since nature is constantly throwing up new varieties at will,
'there really can be hidden treasures in our hedgerows.
'On the A4260, apple lover Andy Howard
'believes he's found a real gem,
'and he's called it the Deddington Pippin.'
I'd forgotten how heavy this ladder is!
It was here. This one here, yes.
It seems an old tree, by the thicknesses of the branches.
It's growing right up, trying to chase the light,
because it's in quite a shady position here,
and most of the fruit, you can see, is just above us in the canopy,
because that's the most sunny part. There's a lot of deadwood.
It is a Pippin tree, but it's got very good qualities.
Someone, probably, in an early motor car
had been driving along here, threw a pip out,
and 70 years later this is what we got.
It's got really key characteristics. It's a really good storing apple.
It stays on the tree till January and will store into February, March.
-It's a lovely, sweet, juicy apple.
-It's all going to be in the tasting.
Yeah. That is true, so get the ladder out and see what we can do.
It's like Blue Peter. You always come prepared.
This is the fun bit. Take this off first.
That's it. Now you just have to put the legs up.
-And you want to try and, er...
-It's not locked in, that one.
-Just lean it back a little bit. That's it.
Yeah. And you just literally want to get the thing underneath it
and just try and twist it as best as you can.
You can't say this isn't an action shot.
I need to be about four feet taller.
-Oh, there we go!
You scored! You win the goldfish.
-The flavour's a bit of a Cox...
It does have the flavour of a Cox,
but it does need a couple more months to ripen up.
But that's one of the key things.
Well done. Excellent.
Nice red one there, Chris. There you go.
Oh, wow! Great catch, that one!
Mmm! Yummy! Real flavour to it.
-It is a real beauty.
-It is a real beautiful tree.
The remarkable thing is that thousands of people go whizzing past this spot
every day, firstly without realising how special the apple is,
how diverse the hedgerow is...
It's amazing what comes to light.
That's what's so special. That's why I get so excited about these fruits,
that they're existing without us.
They don't need gardeners' help.
They don't need tending and nurturing and loving care
and hours of pruning. They're happy doing their own thing.
This is nature selecting, breeding a new variety,
and this is nature saying, "Look, here is a great new variety."
"It ticks all the right boxes. If you can find me, here I am."
So now and again you get somebody who comes along and finds it.
If anyone else is out there and they do find a new apple tree,
research it and see if it's worth saving,
because you could have the next new Cox's or Bramley's.
It does rekindle our old hunter-gatherer spirit, doesn't it?
We are all nomads really.
We like to wander round and find our food.
-We've got it on tap, basically.
-What are you doing to preserve this,
to make sure that it doesn't fall out of cultivation?
I'm now taking graft wood. Every year I get on the ladder
and take some graft wood from the end of the tree.
I get maybe 10, 15 Deddington Pippins off there.
So this isn't the only one now.
There's quite a few baby ones growing up, which I'm very proud of.
-So the future's secure for it?
-At the moment, which is great.
'And while nature has thrown up some wonderful varieties of apple,
'it's human nature to want to improve on it,
'to try and influence the flavour and texture of the apple produced.'
And it was the British who first discovered how to do it.
'It was all thanks to some ferocious Victorian one-upmanship.
'The gardens of the great stately homes were more than showpieces.
'They were expected to provide a magnificent array
'of the very best fruit for the table,
'to delight and surprise.'
Head gardeners set about bending the apple to their will.
The art of manipulating trees is really extraordinary.
When you consider some of the massive orchard trees
that a seed from this may well have grown into,
as soon as you graft onto a very dwarf rootstock,
a one that is mean in the amount of information and energy
it sends through into the graft wood, this is what happens.
You can produce the most diminutive little specimen.
The man who changed the course of the apple's future
was Thomas Andrew Knight,
later president of the Royal Horticultural Society.
He believed he could engineer an improved apple.
To do it, he played the part of the bee,
impregnating the flower of one variety
with the selected pollen from another.
'After decades of patient trial and error,
'the first hybrid apples were born.
'What followed was a breeding frenzy,
'head gardeners of every stately home
'producing new and wondrous breeds
'to dazzle and grace the tables of their masters.'
What's always surprised me is the pressure those gardeners were under.
In the Victorian period, it was cut-and-thrust stuff.
I mean, you could lose your job for the merest mistake.
Well, that was the main motivator. It was the fear factor.
And it's why head gardeners were always looking
to be able to deliver something new, a novelty, to the table.
It was unique in the sense that it was the only time
that a servant was able to speak to his master as an equal,
and probably sometimes the master had to acknowledge
that the servant knew more than him, and if you wanted to keep him,
then, you rewarded him.
But it was also professional pride, to grow things
and put them on the table out of season.
We can grow quality apples in this country. We got the climate for it,
and the interest was there, and it's just happened
that we got an apple for all tastes, all occasions and all seasons.
When you can do something well, it encourages you to develop it.
Is that why we fell in love with it, do you think?
Is that what's behind the British obsession with the apple
and why we hold it so dear -
the fact that it was very generous in the way that it grew,
and that it was relatively easy to get the crosses,
so there was great variety in the types?
Is that what held our attention?
It caught the imagination of lots of nurserymen,
and I think that's what drove them on.
And when you look at... I mean, is it two a half thousand recorded apples
in this country altogether? And we grow a small, small quantity of that,
120 of them. It's this versatility.
I think that's the one thing that really, you know,
makes us want to grow it and grow more of them.
I just think, though, if you look back in time,
probably the longest fruit in cultivation has been the apple,
going back thousands of years.
In some ways it's travelled with man
as man has developed, and he's developed the apple.
There is a relationship between the two,
and I just think it's a unique relationship in many ways.
The real discovery for me has been Laxton's Epicure.
It's the best apple ever.
It must have been the one that Eve tempted Adam with.
There's something about it.
At the hands of the Victorian gardeners,
we once grew more varieties of apple than anywhere else in the world.
They were so plentiful, you could have eaten a different one
every day for more than six years.
Gardens like this are the result of not just the Victorians' obsession
with perfecting the apple, but also tremendous advances
in technology, in cultivation,
growing, training and breeding.
It's really important to remember, however,
that the fruits that came out of gardens like this
were only really available to the privileged few.
The masses were devoid of apples.
They celebrated them in a different way.
The working man's apple was small, bitter, and shaken off trees.
You couldn't eat them, but you could drink them.
Cider was like water. Farm workers were paid with it.
Babies were even christened in it.
'Ciderland, as the West Country was known,
'was once an Eden of Kingston Black and Fox Whelp,
Pig's Snout, Sheep's Nose, Slack-My-Girdle,
Hangy Down and Yarlington Mill -
apples that dry the mouth if you eat them,
but precious for their juice.
Roger Wilkins' cider plant is like stepping back in time.
His family have been milling for generations.
How many gallons of cider would I earn for tipping all these in here?
Ever heard of working for kind?
That's not the spirit, Roger.
Grandfather learned me a lot on what I know, like.
He learnt me how to make cider and blend it.
I were brought up to... I've drunk cider since I was four or five,
and brought up on it. Weaned on it.
-Go get it, Dad!
-Push it down!
Roger grows 15 different varieties of cider apple in his orchard,
and each one has a unique taste.
These are Chisel Jersey, and they've come straight from the ground
to the press.
I'm about to taste this. Won't you just help me?
Come on, then.
-Alchol free, that. Pure apple juice.
-Couldn't get more fresh, could it?
Try that. It's different to what you buy in the shop.
That is packed, isn't it? That is delicious.
That's why you fall in love with apple juice, isn't it?
So when you're looking for whether
it's going to make a sweet or a dry cider,
do you experience layers of flavour in the same way as you would
-tasting a wine, for instance?
-Yeah. What I made this morning
were virtually... A lot more bittersweets in it.
There and now, just tasting that juice,
there's some bittersharps in with that, as well.
-I can tell the difference, like.
-So you have sweet,
bittersweet, sharp and then bittersharp?
-So four different categories?
In terms of the number of varieties you put in,
do you mix it together, or do you have...
I mix it as we're making it, as a rule.
Different sorts, I just mix it with bittersweets, bittersharps.
I taste every pressing we put up,
and I can tell roughly what that cider's going to be like
by tasting the apple juice. I don't test nothing. I'm happy with that.
-Do you think I'll get a job tipping apples?
-There you are!
-You wouldn't live on the money!
-I'm very cheap.
Having spent the day pressing juice which will go into cider
to fill these great big barrels,
there's a real sense of a cycle,
the orchard that springs into life in the early part of the year
and fills the landscape full of colour
and activity from insects and wildlife,
and then the fruits fill, during those summer months,
harvested or gathered from the ground,
and then preserved as cider.
It's a beautifully simple system.
But also coming here, coming and having a look at the cider,
and thinking about the subtlety of the taste
that Roger is looking for, from each of the different varieties,
and he knows which variety is going to inject which flavour,
to create the perfect cider.
And that's when I really appreciate how important it is
to preserve variety.
In the 20th century, Britain was entering a new era of mass market.
Already popular varieties like the Cox
seemed like obvious candidates for large-scale commercial production.
But there was a problem. Our Cox trees turned out to be temperamental
and prone to disease. Often the apples were just too poor to sell.
The apple's fortunes had almost stagnated.
It had been bred and reared
by talented but largely amateur gardeners,
and what it needed was a massive impetus
to allow it to compete on a commercial level worldwide.
And that impetus came in the shape of some dedicated scientists
in the Garden of England.
Deep in the heart of Kent lies East Malling Research Station,
to this day a powerhouse of scientific research
at the heart of the industry.
Set up in 1913 with money from growers
and the Board of Agriculture, it promised to tackle the problems
blighting the orchards.
With Ronald Hatton, a world-distinguished horticulturist,
at the helm, scientists began scrutinising every last detail
of the apple.
They dug elaborate observation tunnels,
determined to measure and record every aspect of the apple tree.
Hatton's approach was meticulous, going to extraordinary lengths
to reveal its secrets.
It's one of the more unusual places to come and work, isn't it?
'Dr Jim Quinlan, retired head of pomology,
'is opening up the root tunnel for the first time in 15 years.'
It's amazing that all the remnants of the research are still down here.
Yes. It's some years since it was used.
So behind each of these screens would have been a tree outside
-that you could observe.
-That's right, with a glass panel.
Plenty of cobwebs.
You can just about make out the way the roots are coming down the glass.
There. HE CHUCKLES
That root there is starting to come down,
and then you get all of the little subsidiaries coming off it.
And you can almost make out the root hairs,
-just giving you that little sheen.
It's fascinating to see the marks on the glass,
recording the growth, presumably.
It looks like the daily growth of a particular root.
So what was the process here?
What specifically was being investigated?
Well, I think it was to some extent unknown
until they started looking at the roots,
but obviously looking at the growth of roots throughout the year,
and what happened to the root during the course of the seasons,
so you could look at the browning of the root,
the insects, fauna...
You'd see them eating away at some of the cortex of the root.
Observing how the roots develop during the whole of the season...
Had anything like this been done before?
Had any exploration been carried out?
Yes, but nothing like as ambitious as this.
What was driving that almost obsessive quest
-to find out about the plants?
-Well, earlier work.
Some of the researchers here had been actually digging up trees
and very carefully labelling the exact position
of the root systems, so they're able to reconstruct the root system
once the tree is out of the ground.
This was a logical progression, then,
to actually look at the growing root.
It must have been a wonderful environment in which to work.
The atmosphere down here, the fact that it was so pioneering,
and that nature is revealing its secrets right in front of you
on a pane of glass here, and no-one had ever seen this.
-I mean, this is the equivalent of exploring outer space.
Scientists knew for mass production,
we had to have apple trees that were completely reliable,
consistent and hardy.
A major breakthrough came when they discovered that the secret lay
in the part of the tree that had been long ignored - the rootstock.
Ronald Hatton realised the way to overcome this problem
was to actually produce rootstocks
that would have a known level of invigoration.
In other words, you could predict what size the tree was going to be.
So he selected out 16 different types.
He propagated them vegetatively, so you got away from seedling variation
and produced Malling 1 to 16,
tested them, and found that there was a large range of vigour,
so that you could then decide which rootstock you're going to use
to produce a tree of the size you required.
Do you think that at any point anyone realised the significance
of what was being done here?
I think it became pretty obvious early on.
For example, the most widely grown rootstock now is M9,
Malling 9, which was produced here by Hatton,
a dwarf tree which is very productive,
the fruit a good size. A grower could then plant these,
as they do today, high-density plantings,
and be fairly sure that they can manage those trees
from the ground, in terms of pruning and harvesting the tree,
relative ease of application of pesticides.
That was a major advancement.
It seems strange that, in order to pioneer the range of rootstocks,
that nobody thought to patent those rootstocks,
because...well, you would have all been millionaires
-had that happened...
-What a pity...
-..because they've become worldwide.
..we couldn't have had a penny on each rootstock!
Now, of course, there is breeding in rootstocks,
and any rootstock which was produced in the last few years
can be patented and produce an income for the breeder,
but for majority of East Malling rootstocks, no, that's not the case.
East Malling's crowning glory, the M9,
was and is a roaring success.
'When word got out, demand surged,
'and rootstocks were made freely available to anyone who asked.'
By 1933, over a million had been released,
and the knowledge had been exported across the world.
What could have made East Malling's fortune in royalties
and given British growers a world edge
strengthened the roots of our competitors.
It's hard to imagine - in fact it's inconceivable -
that it would be possible to achieve such consistency in plants
without root-stock development, particularly, here, the M9.
The reason that it became so popular and such a ubiquitous rootstock
is because this small, rather modest section of root
provides the secret to not only uniform orchards
but also to a very consistent crop.
In fact, the scientists very quickly learned
that the roots not only drive the top growth, the scion of the plant,
and control its vigour, but more than that,
it's to do with the nutrient uptake, the water,
the way the roots penetrate the ground,
its survivability in many different conditions.
It's to do with the way in which the fruit is produced
on a regular level, season after season,
on very young plants - early cropping means early rewards -
and large, succulent fruits.
The M9 encapsulated all of those characteristics.
It was so successful, in fact,
that at one time the M9 and its derivatives
were said to be the roots of over 95 percent of all apples
grown in Europe.
There was no limit to the scale of imagination
in East Malling's experiments. Storage was another nut to crack.
They tackled this by building an entire ship's hold inside the lab.
There they discovered how to induce apples
into a state of suspended animation,
pushing the limits of shelf life.
By the 1940s, apples could arrive from the far reaches of the empire
as if just plucked from the tree,
and British consumers enjoyed apples all year round.
With encouragement, the British orchard too began to thrive.
Science breathed life into our orchards.
Growers invested in grading machines
and English Coxes and Worcesters fought to hold their own
in the mass market.
The scientists at East Malling made the biggest contribution
the industry had ever seen worldwide.
But in post-war Britain, there was a new phenomenon -
that of the supermarket, introducing a new set of consumer demands.
How could we possibly resist the temptation
of the exotic varieties like Jonathan and McIntosh
that swept in from North America?
The simple truth was that we in Britain had an industry
that was working towards quality and quantity,
but now the consumer turned round and said,
"You're growing the wrong varieties."
Scientists at East Malling went back to the drawing board,
confident that science could engineer an apple
for the new market. The main stud of the breeding programme
was our old favourite, the Cox.
They began a painstaking process,
extracting pollen from one tree
and dusting it onto the flowers of another,
making tens of thousands of crosses.
After decades of work, they unveiled the fruits of their labours.
This is Suntan, very much a Cox type.
Late flowering, large fruit, but quite acid.
It didn't make the impact that we thought it might.
Not an improvement over Cox in many respects.
-It's got many of the characteristics.
-It is, it is.
-Slightly more red, but...
-Certainly a Cox type.
The striping, slight orange texture,
-quite an open flower. Can I try it?
-It's very similar.
-Yes. Oh, yes.
So why was it not successful?
Why was it not adopted as a replacement
-or an alternative?
-Some problems over storage.
It wasn't the leap forward we were looking for
in terms of an improved Cox.
Here we are.
This is Falstaff.
Nice crop. Still hanging on for you.
It would have been disappointing if we'd got here and it had...
hadn't produced anything. It's very Pink Lady-like, isn't it?
This is a red selection of Falstaff.
Falstaff wasn't as highly coloured as this originally,
but it's a good, tasty variety.
-It's very sweet.
Very sweet. Very juicy. It's a very delicate flavour.
Very similar to Pink Lady in terms of the way it delivers its flavour.
-More character, I think.
-More depth, but not as much depth as a Cox.
-It doesn't assault the senses like a Cox does.
No. It doesn't have the acid level, no.
No. I'd go with that. Don't think it replaces the Cox, to be honest.
Alongside Suntan and Falstaff came a slew of others.
But if our Victorian predecessors had bred for novelty,
this was all about business - pest resistance, cropping, consistency.
What was the process involved in producing those new varieties?
How were the selections made, and how were those crosses made?
Well, you cross maybe two varieties,
probably producing 10,000 seedlings,
from which you've got to, um, select the best.
Initially you might screen them for resistance to mildew, for example.
That can be done in the greenhouse. You reduce the numbers down
to maybe 2,000, and it's a matter of screening out
various characters which you don't want,
until you finally come to maybe a hundred.
You plant these out in the orchard,
then you've got to see how they crop, how the tree grows.
Then you might select out one or two for further trialling.
So at least ten years, or probably longer,
before you come up with a final variety which you name.
With all of the knowledge on the different varieties,
on the character, and also having a very clear focus
on what was required, why was it elusive?
Why was this variety that would dominate the world
going to remain elusive?
Well, perhaps you could say that a mistake might have been made
in concentrating on Cox,
because Cox is not a world variety.
We should be looking more widely
at what was required in other countries,
but we were focussed very much on the requirements of the UK grower.
The fact that the best scientific brains at East Malling
in the '70s and '80s couldn't produce the new variety
to dominate the globe shouldn't really be seen as a failure.
They'd set themselves an almost impossible task.
In addition to all the issues of texture and taste,
colour and consistency, marketability,
they were looking for an apple that would be able to grow
in all the orchards around the world,
as far afield as New Zealand and America.
However, the frustrating thing for them must have been
that an apple which was found almost accidentally in America,
then adopted by the French,
and a fruit that was vacuous and almost over-inflated,
suddenly came into the fore.
This is what threatens their survival -
the avalanche of French Golden Delicious pouring into Britain
at a rate of more than quarter of a million tons a year.
The Golden Delicious had been discovered growing wild
in West Virginia back in the 1890s.
It turned out to be the perfect modern commercial apple -
dependable, hardy and cheap.
And it flourished in French orchards.
And do you know what the most galling thing was?
Because of the environmental conditions it required,
we couldn't grow it here.
FRENCH NATIONAL ANTHEM
ELECTRONIC VERSION OF "FRERE JACQUES"
In the 1970s, the French launched a government-backed campaign
to persuade us to eat it.
And we did.
THEY CRUNCH TO BEAT OF "FRERE JACQUES"
The French had struck gold.
By 1981, they had 240,000 acres of orchards,
four times what we had, and we were crunching our way
through more Golden Delicious than anything else.
'The bitter irony was that, in all likelihood,
'they were being grown on our old friend, the M9 rootstock.'
The reason that Golden Delicious became just so popular
is very simple. From a commercial perspective,
it's a very consistent crop. Every one of these apples
looks exactly the same, and that's true of just about every fruit
off the tree. It's also a very heavy cropper, very reliable.
It produces fruits year on year.
It also can be picked early, stored and transported very easily.
And from a consumer's perspective, it emerged at a time
when consumers were told that consistency
was all to do with quality.
And who could resist a bank of apples
that looked as handsome as that?
Why do you think people went crazy for them?
-Was it that they were available?
-It was the colour.
And they were cheap, the cheapest apple in the world.
A French Golden Delicious was working out about...
during the '80s, two pound for 40 pence.
-I like the Golden Delicious because of the kids.
-That's their favourite.
-They like the soft texture of it.
That's what you got, mate, innit? You got your butties,
you got your KitKat, and you got your apple.
'Golden Delicious is undoubtedly one of the most important apples
'of the 20th century, both as a commercial variety in its own right
'and as the parent of apples like Gala and Pink Lady.
'But it's not to everyone's taste.'
So, tell me, why aren't you buying something like Golden Delicious?
There's a great big pile on that stall over there.
-Why aren't you tempted by those?
-They're insipid, they're French
and they're tasteless. What more can you say?
The plight of the British grower was made worse
when we joined the Common Market. Our farmers couldn't compete
with cheap imports like Golden Delicious, and overnight,
orchards became redundant. Growers began to grub them up.
And with the orchards went the diversity
of traditional English varieties.
The scale of destruction was vast.
A land-utilisation map from the 1930s
gives some graphic idea
of how much of Worcestershire would have been down to orchards.
Standing on the hill here, looking due west
across the heart of Worcestershire, the map shows
between 20 and 30 percent of the land
was down to orchard, shown here in pink
with purple spots. Look out there today,
and with the exception of a little clump of orchard trees
over there, seeing right across
towards Bredon Hill in the distance,
there's not a single sign of a large-scale orchard.
It gives you some idea of just how much of our orchard landscape
has gone. In fact, since 1950,
nationwide, it's estimated that 63 percent have been grubbed up.
And that's a shame.
It's such a distinctive style of looking after the landscape.
And it's the heart of communities like this,
which has just been ripped to pieces.
'Norfolk Dumpling, Black Jack, Sops-in-Wine,
'Beeley Pippin - ancient English varieties
'all but lost to the hedgerows.
'I had a favourite apple when I was a boy.
'I've no idea what it was, but I wonder if that tree survived.'
When we were kids we used to cycle over.
There'd be certain orchards that we'd always be drawn to,
the ones that had the best flavour. We knew exactly where to go.
There's one up here
I remember going to on a summer's afternoon,
and there was one tree where the fruits were oversized
with a rosy flesh and the most fantastic flavour.
It would just be great to be able to find what that was.
DOG GROWLS AND BARKS
-Hello. This is a very strange question.
When I was about this high, I used to go scrumping in your orchard.
-And there's one apple - it's this one down here...
Well, maybe it's still there,
because a lot of the trees have blown down.
There's very few left. But you're welcome to look.
-Do you mind if I have a wander round?
There aren't many trees left. A handful.
This would have been just a grand orchard.
Just fantastic. South-facing slope.
Water would have percolated through the ground,
the heavy clay soils. It would have been an absolute treat.
I remember it as being... In fact, it was so dense,
when we hopped over the gate just down there,
we felt safe enough to be able to pop in
and scrummage around without being seen from the house up there,
or in fact being seen from anywhere. That's how dense the canopy was.
'I want to do my bit to preserve the English apple -
'although, worryingly, it looks more like a Golden Delicious
'than I remember. I hope it doesn't taste like one.'
That's so juicy!
Very clear white flesh.
Just running with juice. Look. Amazing!
It tastes a little bit like a Gala or a Worcester.
It's got the real purity, very delicate flavour.
I wonder if this is it.
It would be amazing, wouldn't it?
'A simple DNA test will tell me what it is.'
An apple and a stalk,
a few leaves...
hopefully will help us to solve the mystery...
..of what this might be.
In Britain we consume 50 billion apples a year.
70 percent are imported, coming from all over the world.
'So where are the English apples?'
Tucked away in the corner!
You couldn't get much further out of the market.
Tucked away in the corner is a little kind of jewel,
a little pile of apples.
It's not the most glamorous-looking thing,
but it's the best-tasting apple here.
It's not just the French squeezing the English apple out of the market.
-Very good morning, Chris.
-How you doing?
-What have you got in here?
The southern hemisphere have finished with all their apples,
your Chile, South Africa, Argentina.
Your South American, South African apples have all finished now.
Moving into the northern hemisphere, the French apples have started.
What is top-spec apple? What makes an apple good for you to sell?
It's got to look the part. It's got to be, like, crunchy.
It's got to eat well. It's got to have no, like, little dinks,
or, like, you know... It's got to be 99.9 percent perfect.
The Grannies all polished and waxed, they look the business.
There's no doubt we love those buffed international beauties.
But recently there's been a real yearning to buy British.
'So although we now have far fewer growers,
'a new breed of super-orchard is taking root,
'right in the heart of Kent. This is Mansfield's.'
We farm just over 3,000 acres.
New trees we've planted over the last ten years is over a million,
all East Malling rootstock 9.
It is a very frustrating suggestion, I suppose,
that if East Malling hadn't been quite as happy
to give away their M9 rootstock to the rest of the world,
you'd have had a huge competitive advantage.
The rest of the world wouldn't have been able to compete.
The UK would have had a very strong lead,
but it's a shame, as you say, it wasn't patented,
because it would be worth a considerable amount of money.
Billions, I would have thought, because it's planted,
the M9 rootstock, in every country all over the world
that grows apples.
In so many ways, this is the dream orchard
the scientists at East Malling were working towards,
using our own M9 rootstocks
and the state-of-the-art storage technology they pioneered.
But there are some things that are distinctly un-British.
The varieties they grow most of are Gala and Braeburn, from New Zealand.
How do they choose what's worth picking and what's not?
We're looking for... Our optimum size on this Braeburn
is 65 to 80 millimetres. That's diameter size.
So that's what the customer wants. That's what the consumer wants.
That's what we need to grow.
And this is lots of one of my favourite apples
to grow also in the UK.
It tastes totally different to the Italian and the French Braeburn.
It is a dense apple. It's much, much better flavour.
It is the combination of the sugars and acidity
that make it better.
Today is the 15th of October.
This can come out of store the middle of next May
and come out exactly the same condition firmness-wise,
but develop the flavour.
How do you feel about the future of the English apple?
Is it secure, or should we be worried about where it's headed?
I think the future for UK apple production is looking rosy.
I think the UK could get up to 35 percent
and the public definitely want UK apples.
It's great to think of a resurgence in the British apple industry,
and yes, these are English apples,
though technically they're not English varieties.
This is Braeburn and Gala, from New Zealand originally,
although strangely they grow better in our climate
than they do back at home.
And if it's these varieties that have to be planted
in our orchards in order to make them commercially viable,
well, so be it.
But, you know, what I really crave
are the exquisite flavours and textures
of those much-loved Victorian varieties.
My favourite childhood apple is on the slab at East Malling
for an identity test.
The scientists are as rigorous and forward-thinking in their approach as ever.
They've extracted the DNA data of 2,000 apples
archived at the National Fruit Collection,
preserving genetic diversity for the future.
'I'm hoping my apple will produce a match.'
What we're going to do is filter these data
by each of the scores that we gave your apple,
and hopefully there'll be one other entry in the database
-that matches perfectly with yours.
OK. So at the first locus, your apple has a size of 96,
so we'll filter for 96.
At the second allele,
that locus for yours is 106,
so there's been a ten-nucleotide,
a ten ATCG mutation.
So we'll filter by that.
I'm nodding as though I understand all of this, obviously.
So now we've limited the dataset to only those apples
that contain these two alleles at the first locus.
And there's still a surprising amount.
-There's still a full screenful.
The probability of finding a unique apple
at a single locus is very, very low, but at 12 loci,
the probability increases, so there's a very high chance
that if we have your apple in the database,
we will have a single match with your apple.
So the next locus, filter by 88,
-and now you see...
-That's come down.
-There's only 20 now
which could be your apple.
So already we're on the right track to finding it.
Look at some of the names of those! There's some really unusual things.
Green Custard... Newton Wonder is in there as well.
Newton Wonder, yep. We've got Green Custard,
Nouvelle Europe. These are very old cultivars, a lot of these.
Duke of Gloucester, which is just down the road
from where the apple was grown. Brown Snout is interesting, too.
Yeah. They've got some wonderful names.
So now we'll filter by 113.
And there you go. Your unknown apple is Keswick Codlin.
Wow! That's extraordinary!
But the details, because according there,
its season... Harvesting from September to October.
I remember going at the end of my summer holidays,
which fits perfectly, because that apple
was then just coming into ripeness,
-which is why it tasted so refreshing and so sharp.
But the date is slightly odd. 1793! And it's from...
The Keswick Codlin. It's from Keswick,
so what is it doing growing in Gloucestershire?
It must have been a really well respected apple
to have travelled down from Keswick to the middle of Gloucestershire
that early on. That's incredible.
Well, I'm glad we could help you solve the mystery of your apple.
32 years of mystery solved by the click of a button. That's fantastic!
Can you open the gate for me?
'And a carefully grafted Keswick Codlin
'will be taking pride of place in my garden.'
-Look at those roots!
-I got some, Daddy.
-Oh, well done!
There's no doubt that the British contribution to the apple
is unparalleled. On one hand we have the diversity
of varieties, supplied largely by the Victorians,
and on the other it's about pure science and industry,
the scientists at East Malling, who catapulted the apple
into the 20th century - like it or not - making it what it is today.
-I think that apple tree is planted.
-I think it is planted.
The challenge for the future
is combining those two disparate elements.
If the Keswick Codlin, the Pitmaston,
the Worcester, all manner of heritage varieties, are to persist,
the responsibility for becoming custodians and guardians
rests largely with us.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Horticulturalist Chris Beardshaw uncovers the British contribution to the history of our most iconic fruit. He reveals the 'golden age', when the passion and dedication of Victorian gardeners gave us more varieties than anywhere else in the world. Chris also finds out how the remarkable ingenuity of a small group of 20th century British scientists helped create the modern mass-market apple.