Orchard Anecdotes

The trouble with the stories of apple provenance and in particular their references in literature is that most of the reference works cite previous works as their source. Any mistake, inaccuracy or just made up tale therefore has the potential to be perpetuated down the years and taken as truth.

Robert Hogg’s works in the mid and late 1800’s are the source of a vast number of references for varietal names, yet we know little about Hogg’s research methods or the samples on which he based his descriptions and stories. The following tales offer interesting historical insights into the naming of fruit varieties (including examples of how names can be claimed by more than one area and more than one tale) and some of the niche markets developed for fruit produce.

Scotch Bridget – an apple, a barmaid and a Tenbury Tale
The apple Scotch Bridget, according to most references, originates from the Scottish borders in about 1851. Yet there persists in the Teme Valley a rather different story, claiming its origins in Tenbury Wells. It was believed in the 1920’s and 30’s that the variety had originated from a seedling in the garden of the Swan Hotel in Tenbury Wells and that it had been named after a Scottish barmaid by the name of Bridget who worked at the hotel at the time. The date of the apple’s discovery and naming seem unclear but it was in Hogg’s book of 1851 and was extensively grown in Worcestershire in the early 1900’s so it would have to have been some decades before that.

David Spilsbury of Eastham claims his father always believed it to  be a Teme Valley apple until he visited Lancashire in the 1950’s and found orchards of it growing up near Blackpool and was truly surprised at finding it in cultivation in another county. There are also accounts of it being grown over the channel in France and Germany but again tying up the dates in sequence seems difficult. Its spread into other counties and even countries is easily possible, as once established a named and reputable variety would quickly spread through the nursery trade, but who had it first and where it actually originated is unclear.

As an apple its appeal was undoubtedly its keeping qualities. It is a very dry apple with a low juice content and good specimens will keep through winter until April and May, so prior to refrigerated storage and supermarket distribution it would have been a valuable keeping apple through the long winter months.

It is interesting none the less how this type of story springs up. The truth may never be known but it’s rather appealing that a girl from up north, a long way from home, could have had an apple named in her honour by the folk of Tenbury Wells. Alternatively it may have been an already established variety, possibly from Scotland, when a comment in a Tenbury pub to a girl called Bridget to the effect of ‘did they call this apple after you?’ was misheard and perpetuated as a local story…who knows?

The Princess Pippin – a royal visit and what’s in a name
Many Apple varieties have several names or synonyms and can be known by different names in different districts or counties. In Tenbury Wells there is a story with Royal associations surrounding an apple that went on to be known as the Princess Pippin.

In 1832 the young Princess (later Queen) Victoria visited the town and during her stay was presented with a basket of apples of a type known locally as Stanardines. She duly took them with her and was reputedly so impressed that a message came back instructing that they be known from then on as the Princess Pippin. It was subsequently grown on a significant scale in the area for decades afterwards and known by that name.

The origin of the original seemingly odd name Stanardine is unclear, however it appears to be a local name for a far more widespread apple. Following detailed examination by the Teme Valley Apple Group we are convinced that what is known as the Stanardine or Princess Pippin in Tenbury is the same apple known elsewhere as King of The Pippins and Shropshire Pippin.

This story is validated by a 1932 article in the Tenbury Paper marking 100 years since Victoria’s visit and citing the Hereford Times write up of it a century earlier. As an apple it was still found on an extensive scale until the 1950’s growing in the Teme Valley and it is a good mid-season eating apple. There are a few locals who still claim the Princess Pippin / Stanardine to be two different apples, but anatomically it seems the same and it is always worth remembering that soil type, altitude, levels of sunshine and general growing position can alter the taste and appearance of the same variety.

The Mincemeat Man – a tale of a real niche market
There is a story of farmers in the Teme Valley growing the apple Codlington Bittersweet for the mincemeat market, bought up once a year by a particular buyer and shipped off direct to the factory. This variety is actually a cider apple but its firm chunky flesh would hold together when cooked. According to David Spilsbury Newton Wonder could also be used for mincemeat as it has similar properties of holding together during the cooking process.