Early January is an exciting time in Waterfurlong for it's when our long-awaited apple DNA test results arrive. This year has revealed another rarity - London Pippin - otherwise known as Five Crowned Pippin because of its distinctive ribbed shape. It's a truly ancient variety, originating from Norfolk or Essex, first recorded in 1580 and probably acquiring the prefix 'London' from its popularity in the capital's markets in bygone centuries.
This discovery reinforces the value of DNA testing where there is doubt about an old tree's provenance. Our apple expert, Denis Smith's, initial and tentative guess was Lord Burghley (an infrequently found local variety) but even after pruning neighbouring trees to create more light, our mystery specimen remained green whereas one of Lord Burghley's identifying features is its deep maroon flush.
Denis has never found another specimen of London Pippin in this part of the country and it didn't appear on the lists of old local nurseries. We'll probably never know where our tree was sourced, or why the gardener chose it - it's a perfectly acceptable dual-purpose apple but not a variety you'd hunt down for its flavour. Perhaps the reason lay in its habit of remaining on the tree late into December, when it can still be picked and eaten as a sharp little dessert apple - a valuable characteristic in the days before cold storage and mass importation, when the use of different varieties to extend the cropping season was a true art.
This year we've decided to devote the money we raise through our honesty box scheme to DNA testing as many of the more unusual Waterfurlong apples as we can afford, so who knows what surprises might emerge next winter ...
Learn more about London Pippin on our website.
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2018
Photograph Kind Courtesy of Keepers Nursery ©