When we were children back home in Ireland in the 1940’s just after the war, fruit from foreign shores was almost unheard of. We had to make do with whatever was available in the hedgerows and fields such as blackberries, crab-apples, sloes etc.
Consequently, when we moved house to one with a large garden Mum began to plant all sorts of vegetables and some fruit bushes. We had no fruit trees and oddly enough it never occurred to Mum to purchase an apple or pear tree. Instead, each year we would sow apple pips (kernels/seeds), pear pips and any other types of pips we came across in matchboxes on the kitchen windowsill. In truth, one of my younger sisters planted some of my father’s birdseed in the garden – ‘to grow birds of course’.
Most of our pips germinated and grew to about two inches whilst we tenderly looked after them for weeks. Alas, they used to wither and die within a month or so. We tried again throughout the following years again without success. However, Mum was blessed with ‘green fingers’ and sure enough a couple of her seedlings thrived. She lovingly tended them throughout the winter and potted them on the following spring. One continued to thrive the following winter and was now about two feet tall. The planting-out ceremony took place on a beautiful late spring morning.
It continued to grow at a phenomenal rate and was soon about six feet tall. Mum put in a thick wooden stake and tied the sapling to it. Within four or five years the tree was firmly established and the first blossoms appeared. Mum continued to treat it like a young child and it responded with its first small pears that year.
Over the years the tree continued to produce hundreds of fine pears each year and I well remember that Mum would ‘sell’ them to the local children. They would put their pennies into a charity box that she kept for the local priest. She claimed, and rightly so, that it taught the children to realise the value of money. The stomach aches from eating too many pears came free of charge……..
One stormy night, I suppose the tree was now at least twenty years old, a tremendous cracking sound was heard from the garden and lo and behold, there it was – the tree was broken in half from about five feet from the ground. You would have thought that it had been cut through with a saw.
You see, when she had tied it up all those years earlier, she had used an old nylon stocking. As the tree continued to grow the stocking did not stretch and the tree actually grew around it. I can honestly say that the storm not only broke the tree, but it also broke Mum’s heart. She did in fact grow others but they were never the same.
Years later, I spoke to her about the tree and she told me that she had grown the pips after hearing of ‘Granny Smith and her famous apple tree’. Mum’s version was slightly different from the true story.
Maria Ann Smith who had been born in Kent, UK in 1799 immigrated to Australia. She was living in Eastwood, New South Wales just outside Sydney in 1868 when she propagated a seedling. Although the resulting apples turned out to be a marvellous specimen poor old Granny Smith died in 1870 without truly knowing the results of her labour.
The apple became one of the most widely grown fruit trees in Australia and New Zealand and soon its fame became known abroad. It was introduced into the UK in 1935 and in 1972 into the USA. It is commonly known as the ‘Granny Smith’ apple but sometimes, as in Canada, it is known as ‘Green Delicious’.
It has become known as a first class apple and versatile in many ways. It is a good ‘eater’, an excellent ‘cooker’ and because it does not brown quickly when peeled and sliced, it is excellent for salads.
For those who have a problem with their weight, it is known to help in suppressing the appetite (Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago).
It is a fine testament to Granny Smith that all trees bearing her name are descended from her original seedling.
Finally, I know where there is such a wonderful ‘wild’ tree in the forest on the golf course where I play and it is a well-kept secret. The only problem is that I prefer a Cox’s Orange Pippin myself.