There are certainly enough variables in an apple to help come to a reasonably positive conclusion, but unfortunately the biggest variable is often where, and how the fruit has been grown. Size of fruit can vary enormously depending on soil, climate, age of tree, and perhaps most importantly, whether the tree is carrying a heavy or light crop. The colouring of the fruit is determined as much by weather conditions and the position of the fruit on the tree with regard to the sun. In addition, an apple may only achieve it's true varietal colouring when truly ripe, a condition which can sometimes be hard to judge.
There are one or two good books available to help with apple identification. We use Liz Copas 'A Somerset Pomona - The Cider Apples of Somerset', which lists most of the more common cider apple varieties. Of course it's of little use when trying to identify an apple not native to Somerset, and even this excellent publication features photographs which don't quite tally with known specimens we've pressed. It's those variables again!
Perhaps the best chance of getting a positive identification of an unknown variety of apple is at a local Apple Day event. They frequently feature one of these 'apple experts', indeed there will be Apple Identification at the Brocks Hill event we are attending this Sunday (11th Oct).
The fruit we've been pressing this year comes from an old orchard in Worcestershire. The orchards owner John can name many of the varieties, but even he doesn't know the identity of all the trees. Some were planted by his Grandfather over 100 years ago, indeed some of the perry pear trees are probably nearer 200 years old, so it's no surprise that some of the knowledge has become a little hazy. It doesn't help when a certain tree is known only by a unique 'local' name, though for me this does add colour to the whole story. One perry pear tree for example, is known by the name Bell Pear due to it's distinctively shaped fruit, but I can't find a reference to this variety anywhere. Luckily for us, we don't really need to know the identity of every apple which goes into our cider, so long as the taste is right, and in this we're guided by our tongues!
So here's a picture of the cider apples we've pressed so far this year. The fruits are quite distinctive, and we know for sure what most are, but there are one or two mystery apples. If you know what they might be, do let us know.
From top left to bottom right:
- Unknown early bittersweet - These apples had all fallen by early October, and our best guess on these waxy skinned, scabby green/yellow fruits is Bulmers Norman, which we've pressed before.
- Kingston Black - From a windswept smallish tree which rarely produces much. The skin is very dark red at the nose, and the flesh is hard, chewy and classically bittersharp. Wish we had a few more of these!
- Dabinett - Homegrown on our very young trees. Large apples for Dabinett
- Dabinett - Believe it or not, these are the same variety as above, but from a heavily cropping mature tree in the Worcestershire orchard.
- Unknown Sweet - Conical, scabby but attractive apple. This is a pure sweet, that is it has low acidity distinguishing it from a dessert apple.
- Harry Masters' Jersey - Homegrown, from a heavily cropping young tree. Harry Masters' is distinguished by a pinky/orange colouring.
- Yarlington Mill - Homegrown, and again very large for the variety due to a young tree carrying a small crop. These yarly's are deep red, with a pointed nose and distinctive ribbing.
- Unknown Bittersweet - Small, round and dullish green. These are mid season apples from a single tree in Johns orchard. Full bittersweet, Michelin? Who knows!
- Unknown Sharp - These had mostly all fallen at Johns orchard in Worcs. The skin is striped orangey red, and the apple is heavily ribbed. A very attractive fruit with a wonderful aromatic flavour which reminded me of the sharp cider variety Brown's Apple.