Our Apple for February: Ashmead's Kernel
'What an apple, what suavity of aroma. Its initial Madeira-like mellowness of flavour overlies a deeper honeyed nuttiness, crisply sweet, not sugar-sweet, but the succulence of a well-devilled marrow bone. Surely no apple of greater distinction or more perfect balance can ever have been raised anywhere on earth.'
Who wouldn't be keen to try Ashmead's Kernel after hearing art critic and pomologist P. Morton Shand's description, broadcast in 1944 on one of the BBC's earliest gardening programmes? Ashmead's Kernel is a true connoisseur's apple, and after several months in careful storage is at the peak of its perfection in February.
It's one of our oldest apples - so old, it was taken to America by the Pilgrim Fathers and can still be found growing on both sides of the Atlantic. Known by many names over the years, 'Ashmead' comes from a Dr Ashmead who grew it in his Gloucester garden in 1700, 'Kernel' from the belief it was discovered as a chance seedling rather than deliberately bred. Despite its unique flavour and excellent keeping qualities, Ashmead's Kernel is now rarely grown. Its downfall was its 'exquisite homeliness' - the small, dull, lumpy, mis-shapen fruit is about as far from the image of Snow White's glossy red and green apple as it is possible to get.
We have so far discovered only one Ashmead's Kernel growing in Waterfurlong and several of us are keen to plant more, despite the variety's reputation for trickiness. It takes three or four years to fruit, erratic flowering leads to sporadic cropping and the flavour is said to be hugely affected by weather conditions - some years nondescript, others sublime. An irresistible challenge!
Copyright © Karen Meadows 2019
Photograph kind courtesy of Alan Buckingham © via Photoshelter