There’s a misconception that “heritage apple varieties” is a euphemism for poor apple varieties. It’s true that heritage apple varieties are now difficult to find, but that’s sometimes for the wrong reasons.
Don’t get me wrong; two hundred years ago there were a lot of pretty poor heritage apple varieties about, and most have disappeared unmourned. It might be interesting to stumble across one, but you couldn’t recommend growing it. These apple trees could be unhealthy, yields irregular and their fruit indifferent. That’s why the Victorians were so typically diligent in improving the cultivars available; many of the apple trees we sell date back to that time. They’re cracking trees with gorgeous fruit, often particularly good for the region where they were raised.
So why, I hear you ask, are they not better known or more widely available? These apple trees are not better known because you can’t buy their fruit. Where could you taste a St Edmund’s Pippin or a William Crump to understand why you just HAVE to grow one? Because they’re not better known they’re not more widely grown. Between them our suppliers – most of the remaining quality British fruit tree nurseries – sometimes only graft 10 trees of our best heritage apple varieties annually. No-one knows this rich and tasty part of our heritage exists.
You can’t buy heritage apple varieties because the food industry has moved on – or rather, changed. 21st century retailers are not looking for taste or local appropriateness (you’re having a laugh!). They need apples with thick skin which won’t get bruised while transporting them over long distances. They need apples which don’t look ugly and which taste sweet. They need heavy cropping trees and reliable yields. They need apples which store for long periods before they hit the supermarket shelves. Very long periods. Put these requirements together and you have a limited list of cultivars. It’s improbable that any of them actually taste any good and a miracle that any are heritage apple varieties. These days, the only way you will get to taste our most exquisite apples is to grow them yourself.