Thursday, March 09, 2006

The accidental apple.

Today, March 9th …

Maria “Granny” Smith died on this day in 1870 in Ryde NSW, never knowing that her name would be immortalised by an apple. The experts are still debating the botanical details, but it seems that the fruit discovered by Maria was an accidental hybrid between a domestic apple and a “French Crab” variety from Tasmania.

Perhaps Maria bought the Tasmanian apples at market and threw some rotten ones out, or perhaps it was the trimmings and peelings from a pie-making session that sprouted in the garden compost heap? Whatever the source, she found the tree growing on the family property in about 1868 and recognised the virtues of its crisp green fruit - it was tasty, versatile, and best of all, had excellent keeping quantities.

The French Crab had been known in Europe since the eighteenth century, and may well have been one of the varieties brought by the First Fleet - if it had not arrived via an early exploratory voyage, it being the habit of sailors to plant seeds whenever they reached landfall, for future provisioning of ships or shipwrecked mariners. By the mid nineteenth century over 70 varieties of apples were being grown in the colonies – far more types than we find in the supermarket today – a fact which needs explaining as well as grieving over.

The “Granny Smith” was winning prizes at local agricultural shows by the 1890’s. In 1895 the fruit advisor for the NSW Department of Agriculture gave it official approval as being suitable for export, and the first significant cultivation began at the Experimental Station in Bathurst the same year. By 1924 a local orchardist claimed it was “the most valuable of all apples grown in Australia”.

Strangely, for so popular a fruit, Phillip Muskett’s “Art of Living in Australia” (1893) contained only one apple recipe. Or should that be a rice pudding recipe?

3 Large Apples, 2 oz. Rice, 2 oz. Sugar, 1 tablespoonful Jam,1 Egg,1/2 pint Milk
Peel the apples and scoop out the core and fill in with jam; put into a pie-dish and bake till the apples are soft. While they are baking, boil the rice and milk together till the rice is soft and the milk absorbed. Beat in the egg and sugar, pour over the apples; brush over with milk, and bake till a nice colour. Serve either hot or cold.

Tomorrow: A cheering and strengthening sauce.

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