Bramley’s Seedling cooking apples are an English phenomenon – their apple pies make living in England worthwhile.

I took this picture of my Bramley’s Seedling apple tree just before I went off on holiday a few weeks ago feeling hopeful that my first attempt at growing an espalier fruit tree would succeed as, in its second year in my garden, it was showing serious signs of producing a proper crop of cooking apples. Espalier trees, in case you don’t know, are pruned so that they send their branches out sideways restricting their height and they are thus ideal for my small town garden in Lewes in Southern England and ideal too, for someone who is mildly obsessive about pruning.

When I got back home from the remarkably hotter climates of Sicily and America, I was a bit depressed by the boringly dull and gloomy English July and began to wonder why I bothered staying here. Temperate climates never quite reach the glamourously hot temperatures of our holiday destinations and I felt more than a little bored huddled up in my study looking out at clouds and rain. It was the sight of my Bramley’s Seedling tree that cheered me up. The fruit had grown considerably and was beginning to show that delightfully shy blush on its cheek that marks the beginning of its slow ripening process. The apples will not be fully ripe until sometime in October, or even November after mellowing in England’s hopefully gentle August sun and golden and very temperate Autumn. It was this thought that reconciled me to this country’s highly variable climate.

There is a good chance, if you don’t live in the UK, that you will be unfamiliar with this very English phenomenon, the big, bitter tasting cooking apple that, when cooked, goes all fluffy and makes the most perfect of apple pies. Apparently it is hardly grown anywhere else  – some in Canada, I am told and maybe in some parts of the USA. The English climate is ideal for them here even if it is not always ideal for this sun-loving but fair-skinned Englishman.

The first Bramley’s Seedling tree grew from pips planted early in the 19th Century by someone called Mary Ann Brailsford who, far from being a horticulturist, was just a young child playing in her garden in the village of Southwell in Nottinghamshire. That was in 1809.The tree thrived in that garden and when the cottage was bought by a local butcher, Matthew Bramley in 1846, Mary Ann Brailsford disappeared from view leaving Mr Bramley to have his name immortalised. In 1856, a local nurseryman, Henry Merryweather asked if he could take cuttings from the tree seeing the quality of its apples. Bramley agreed but only if the apples should bear his name. Poor Mary Ann Brailsford, it is too late now to call Bramleys, Brailsfords.

I have been watching mine with growing enthusiasm from the time they were mere fruitlets…I hope Mary Ann got as much pleasure form her’s.

If you are wondering what all the fuss is about, take a look at this picture of an apple pie made from Bramley’s Seedling apples. I hope to produce something like this in the Autumn – wish me luck. The pie will be dedicated to Miss Mary Ann Brailsford. If you are not from the UK you may also wonder what the yellow sauce is – if you haven’t experienced custard especially with apple pie, then you haven’t lived.

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