Wiltshire’s heart-shaped memorial planting also honours this early hedgerow and its fruits
Long before the advent of the apple on our shores, the haw, or berry-like fruit of the hawthorn was prized for its aromatic sweet flavour when made into jellies, jams and syrups or to flavour brandy. The arrival of the apple offered a fresh and storable fruit crop and introduced cider as a cheap alternative to beer.
2,300 varieties of apple exist in Britain and yet 74% of the apples we buy are imported from overseas. By the year 2000 there were 22,000 hectares - only 85 square miles - of commercial orchards left in Britain.
Some 40,000 hectares were dug up between 1970 and 2000. House and road building need for land, combined with low profits from UK fruit farming, cheap imports, agricultural policies, and the demands by supermarkets and consumers for pristine products all year round have all played their part in the downfall of our home grown apples.
The spice of life
30 apple varieties are grown commercially in Britain today, mostly in Kent, East Anglia, Somerset, Wiltshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Many more, rarer varieties are kept going by enthusiastic gardeners, from Cornwall to northern Scotland, in community orchards and in the national fruit collection at Brogdale, Kent.
Origins of the apple
The ancestors of our cultivated apples came from Central Asia. They were probably brought to Europe by humans travelling along the animal migration routes more than 10,000 years ago. As the fruit moved west it was slowly improved by cultivation to select the best types.
The Romans probably brought the modern, grafted apple to Britain 2,000 years ago. The first large scale orchards were planted by Richard Harris at Teynham in Kent at the request of King Henry VIII, using apple trees imported from France.