The apple is probably the most popular fruit to be eaten in the UK. It has a long history and massive cultural significance. The apple probably arrived in Europe via the Middle East and its cultivation in orchards was known of in ancient Greece, while evidence it grew wild in Neolithic Britain. However it was the Romans who introduced sweeter and tastier varieties to England.
Apples in England
The occupation of Britain by the Romans was followed by Jute, Saxon and Danish invasion, and the abandonment of many early orchards. The Norman Conquest saw the introduction of a number of new varieties of apples such as the Costard. The cultivation of new varieties began and new orchards were developed on monastery grounds. By the Middle Ages the Costard could be found all over the country.
Apple production in England foundered somewhat during the period of the Wars of the Roses and the plague, until Henry VIII began a project to find and cultivate new varieties. Cultivation remained haphazard until the agricultural revolution of the 1700s, when the science of pollination arose great interest among nurserymen of the time. Apple cultivation reached a height of popularity in Victorian times, with the introduction of lots of new varieties and a focus on flavour. The famous Cox’s variety was introduced by 1850, and the Bramley by 1876.
Post war UK apples
After WW1 apple growing became a commercial concern, seeing the development of higher yielding production methods and pest and disease control. Post WW2, new root stocks resulted in lower height apple trees, changing the process of harvesting UK apples by removing the need for long ladders and making collection from the ground easier. A further benefit was greater yield thanks to better sunlight penetration.
EEC membership removed importation restrictions, increasing the competition faced by English apple growers and seeing a rise in popularity of the Golden and Red Delicious and Granny Smith varieties, which thrived in the warmer foreign climates. Lower yielding English versions were bred instead for flavour and were unable to compete commercially with cheap imports. The last quarter of the 20th century saw English apple production shrink dramatically.
Since then, growers in the UK have worked on the cultivation of apples that were previously imported and have had great success with the Braeburn and Gala among others. The British climate that produces a lower yield also cultivates the best flavour, and some 1,900 plus varieties of apple are now grown in the UK. UK production has risen and now accounts for nearly half of the total British apple market.