Origin and History
Blenheim Orange is a late, dual-purpose culinary and dessert apple. The original seedling of unknown parentage was found growing against a boundary wall of Blenheim Park, Oxfordshire in 1740 by Mr Kempster, a local cobbler or tailor. Kempster transplanted it to his garden in nearby Woodstock where it attracted thousands of visitors. With the Duke of Marlborough’s approval, it was renamed and advertised in 1804 by the Worcestershire nurseryman, Biggs, as “the new Blenheim Orange”. In 1820 it received the Banksian Silver Medal and scions were sent to Canada, Europe and later, Australia. It was widely grown in the 19th Century and continued to be available in markets until the 1930s. It is now rarely seen for sale, but remains a valued variety in old gardens.
The famous Victorian pomologist, Robert Hogg, wrote:
"In a somewhat dilapidated corner of the decaying borough of ancient Woodstock, within ten yards of the wall of Blenheim Park, stands all that remains of the original stump of that beautiful and justly celebrated apple, the Blenheim Orange. It is now entirely dead, and rapidly falling to decay, being a mere shell about ten feet high, loose in the ground, and having a large hole in the centre; till within the last three years, it occasionally sent up long, thin, wiry twigs, but this last sign of vitality has ceased, and what remains will soon be the portion of the woodlouse and the worm. Old Grimmett, the basket-maker, against the corner of whose garden-wall the venerable relict is supported, has sat looking on it from his workshop window, and while he wove the pliant osier, has meditated, for more than fifty successive summers, on the mutability of all sublunary substances, on juice, and core, and vegetable, as well as animal, and flesh, and blood. He can remember the time when, fifty years ago, he was a boy, and the tree a fine, full-bearing stem, full of bud, and blossom, and fruit, and thousands thronged from all parts to gaze on its ruddy, ripening, orange burden; then gardeners came in the spring-tide to select the much-coveted scions, and to hear the tale of his horticultural child and sapling, from the lips of the son of the white-haired Kempster. But nearly a century has elapsed since Kempster fell, like a ripened fruit, and was gathered to his fathers. He lived in a narrow cottage garden in Old Woodstock, a plain, practical, labouring man; and in the midst of his bees and flowers around him, and in his 'glorious pride,' in the midst of his little garden, he realised Virgil's dream of the old Corycian : 'Et regum eqnabat opes animis.'"(1)
The medium-large fruits have a greenish-yellow skin with an orange flush, a few red stripes and russet patches and veins. The flesh is creamy-yellow with a distinctive sweet, nutty taste and crumbly texture.
Picking, storing and using
Blenheim Orange should be picked for cooking from late September. It holds its shape well and its larger fruits were traditionally used for Apple Charlotte. They become sweeter over time and can be eaten as a dessert apple from October to December, when they are delectable with cheese.
Growth, Flowering and Pollination
It makes a large, strong-limbed, vigorous tree whose exceptionally hard wood was traditionally used to make cogwheels for railways. It is a partial tip-bearer and should be pruned infrequently. Hogg noted 'The common complaint against the Blenheim Pippin is that the tree is a bad bearer. This is undoubtedly the case when it is young, being of a strong and vigorous habit of growth, and forming a large and very beautiful standard; but when it becomes a little aged, it bears regular and abundant crops.' (1)
Blenheim Orange is resistant against powdery mildew and bitter-pit but is often afflicted by scab and canker. It is a triploid variety and needs two pollinators, such as Charles Ross, Ellison's Orange or Peasgood's Nonsuch.
Blenheim Orange is believed to have more sub-strains than almost any other heritage apple variety. For example, there can be a great deal of difference in the amount of russeting from tree to tree.
Blenheim Orange is occasionally still referred to in the Woodstock area as Kempster's Pippin.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
(1) Dr Robert Hogg, The Gardeners Chronicle, 1862
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018