Cornwall Fruit Focus 1 – Opportunities for top fruit; Cornish apples – Philip McMillan Browse

Cornish apples – What I mean by this is apples derived from Cornwall rather than bred. Orchards were expanding 250 years ago in the mid 17th century. Most apples from up-country (but not all) do not succeed in Cornwall as the wet and warm climate encourages mildew, canker and scab. Farmers sowed seeds and then transplanted them in the hedgerow and you can still see large numbers growing in the hedges. If they were good they were lifted and planted in the farmer’s orchard and then their neighbours would want to grow them. Cornish varieties have been selected for resistance to canker, scab or mildew. Orchard trees will also be subject to salt laden gales, during the growing season, often with an additional burden of sand, which will damage leaves physically. Local varieties therefore inevitably became (by default) selected for resistance or tolerance of these effects.


Over the last 250 years apple growing in the far South West has given rise to a considerable spectrum of locally adapted, endemic varieties of proven merit. These are not well known outside the confines of the province and their survival is in the hands of a few enthusiasts. Even now, however and despite a recent resurgence of interest, these varieties are still ‘endangered’ – as old orchards continue to decline in numbers and deteriorate in condition.


Opportunities for marketing

There is a double bonus of fruit ‘Grown in Cornwall’ and of ‘Cornish Provenance’. You have an opportunity to exploit their Cornish name and attributes. There is a range of local varieties that fills the spectrum of uses – for eating, cooking, cider, juice dual purpose uses and even for pickling.

The profitable orcharding of these varieties could thus provide the basis for an industry which would:-


a) diversify farm production and benefit the local economy,

b) Provide a potential for income generation on land, which is nowadays outside conventional agricultural use,

c) Achieve the restoration of a declining landscape feature,

d) Ensure the survival of an important gene pool and the local names, which accompany them,

e) Provide a genuine local product to add to the existing range of locally exploited foodstuffs and

f) Encourage and enhance the recovery of an appreciation, by the public, of a diversity of forgotten flavours.


Why are they worth championing?

Because of their isolation they have a wide spectrum of flavours and texture – compared to the 20-30 varieties that you commonly find in supermarkets. Cornish apples are a niche market and would carry a premium depending on scale of production.


The best of the Cornish varieties

Any of the good apples tended to be spread around the county and wider – because they deserved to be championed. Some have spread over the county and have been championed the classic example is Cornish Gilliflower, a late maturing variety, highly aromatic and at its best on Christmas day. The quality of its flavour can be judged by the fact that the RHS fruit committee gauge flavour of apples using Cornish Gilliflower as a base for comparison. In 1840 Charles Hawkins from Trewithen championed it and took it up to London. Why is it not in widespread commercial production? Well because it is a tip bearer (producing fruit at the tips of the branches) and doesn’t fit into modern methods of constraining trees by pruning that suit most commercial varieties that are spur bearing.


Among the best are: –

There is, nowadays, a recognized and considerable range of suitable varieties (+/-30?) of sufficient merit – which have been identified and collected. These have a potential to be used to develop the basis for a wide range of product.

The potential markets for apples are inevitably diverse and it will be prudent to identify direction from the various options: –


Apples for sale, fresh and in season, for Dessert purposes.

From Early through Second Early to Early Main crop varieties – for sale as fresh fruit locally to appeal to the tourist as well as locals – targeting farm gate sales, local fruiterers and hotel and B&B. Most of these varieties have a short season and need to be eaten within days of picking if the flavour and texture is to be at its best. They do not keep and effectively can only be cool stored in the short term. They therefore require seasonal marketing. The Main crop varieties can usually be stored (and may indeed need to be stored to develop full flavour etc.) and potentially can be expected to be marketed more conventionally.

e.g. Ben’s Red (2E), Cornish Aromatic (M), Cornish Gilliflower (LM), Cornish Pine (M), (Cornish) Mother (M), Pascoe’s Pippin (2E), Queenie (2E), Red Roller (2E), Scilly Pearl (1E), Spiced Pippin (2E), Strawberry Pippin (1E), Sweet Merlin (EM) and White Quarantine (M).


The Culinary Varieties all have distinctive flavours and as well as being suitable for direct sale as ‘cooking apples’ they have a considerable potential for use in value-added products. Such products can then be marketed under a suitable ‘Cornish’ banner – using the varietal name as well as the site provenance. They all have the capacity to be stored in some degree. There are varieties, which have proven uses for particular product – applesauce, apple puree, apple jelly and apple pies and pastries etc.

e.g. Blackamoor Red, Colloggett Pippin, Duke of Cornwall, Hocking’s Green, King Byerd, Late Victoria and Magnum Bonum.


Dual-purpose varieties can be used in either market place.

e.g. Breadfruit, Improved Keswick, Manaccan Primrose, Snell’s Glass Apple and Tregonna King


All the varieties, cited above (and indeed others), can be assessed for their flavour for Juice production and blending.


The Pickling of apples is a peculiarly Cornish tradition and specific varieties were grown for this purpose.

e.g. Chacewater Longstem, Cornish Longstem and Sweet Larks


Cider production has been a rural and peculiarly local tradition in the British Isles for several centuries and in this respect Cornwall has been no exception. There is, still extant, a considerable range of local varieties, which can be selected from – according to the type of cider, proposed. The varieties used and hence the flavours and strengths of the product tend to be very local. Interestingly many Cornish varieties of cider apple are of large size.


(Many ‘up-country’ varieties tolerate local conditions and have become established in Cornish Orchards – becoming part of the expected palette. The following are widely encountered: – Allington Pippin, Beauty of Bath, Blenheim Orange, Bramley Seedling, Charles Ross, Gascoyne’s Red, Gladstone, Golden Noble, Lady Sudeley, Laxton’s Epicure, Laxton’s Fortune, Lord Derby, Newton Wonder, Red Astrachan, Stirling Castle and White Transparent.)


Editor’s notes. Newton Wonder (the RHS mentions they are heavy croppers with a strong tendency to biennial cropping) and American Mother as commonly encountered in Cornwall. They grow and yielding well and having open frames and they don’t require spraying. Hogg’s Pomona in 1888 recognized American Mother and Cornish Mother as being different. In fact Cornish Mother arrived in Cornwall before David Douglas imported (American) Mother. You could speculate that a rural Cornish lad brought back an apple tree as a present from America!

In addition processors still like Bramley’s seedling apples, which grow well in Cornwall (the RHS mentions a tendency toward biennial cropping). Philip suggested there are Cornish origin culinary apples that could be substituted for Newton Wonder and Bramley’s seedling that would give you the double whammy of origin of production and name.

For those interested in modern national varieties to try, I would recommend looking at Frank Matthews list of varieties suitable for Organic Conditions, as these are likely to be particularly disease resistant.


Time scale for planting an orchard and getting a return.

If you are contemplating future apple production – you are talking about a long-term project between the initiation of the proposal and the production of an economic level of cropping. Unlike strawberries where you will be in production next year. Any profitable outcome will require a reasonably long lead-time to a full cropping. This time scale will need to allow for the initiation of a propagation program and the time required for the establishment and maintenance of the trees in the orchard until cropping begins. This scenario does not sit kindly with today’s insistence on immediate results.


Effectively there is a two-year production phase for the propagation of maiden material for orchard planting. A traditional Cornish orchard then requires, at least, a further minimum of four years, after planting, before the trees have reached their required size and shape. It is only in succeeding years that any significant level of crop production can be achieved.


Steps required to start from scratch now; – 8-10 years until full-scale production.

Propagation phase (2 years) from December 2014.

Sourcing your trees – bespoke bud wood for grafting autumn/winter 14/15.

Budded maidens in 2015 planted in 2015.


Decisions on intensity of production and rootstocks

The reason Cornish varieties are not on a dwarf rootstock is that they are less vigorous and more prone to disease.



1, Standards M25 / M111 (Planted at 7.3-10 meter spacing 24 – 32ft). M111 is slightly smaller than M25 but may have advantages in wetter sites. Standard rootstocks are recommended for sites with livestock. (About 50-60 trees per acre). Cornish Orchards are traditionally based on the development of ‘standard’ trees (i.e. trees with a 1.2-1.8 meter (4 to 6ft) clear stem) and planted at a spacing of 7.3-10 meter spacing (24 – 32ft) apart in a grass sward. These large (ish) vigorous trees (which are subjected to few pruning cuts) also show reduced susceptibility to disease by being subjected to minimum stress levels.

2, For smaller bush trees MM106 (planted at about 3-6 meter spacing) or M116, which is meant to be very good, but are more difficult to find.

Bush and standard trees have been recommended for ease of management in Cornwall’s wet and windy conditions.

Modern orcharding trend to smaller trees which are constrained (i.e. stressed) by working the varieties onto ‘dwarfing’ rootstocks and requiring many pruning cuts in their maintenance – is potentially counterproductive despite their local provenance. However on favoured sites a limited compromise could be acceptable. Management systems of husbandry would also need to be ‘sustainable’ in the modern context. Editor’s comment. There are a few orchards that buck the trend, there is at least one orchard based on M9 in a well-sheltered location with good well-cultivated soil – these are dwarf tree have to be staked and irrigated but can be planted closely. In the East of England they are commercially planted and produce huge yields quickly – but require a large investment in trees, wires and stakes and they do not have the same weather and disease pressures as in the west.

Orchard site

The key things to be aware about are the exposed nature of the land, trees can blow over, poor rootstocks and soil type. It is beneficial to plant wind breaks (such as Italian alder) when planning a new orchard on exposed sites and consider the prevailing wind conditions in relation to the direction of tree planting and when considering where to place a tree stake – if it is needed.

Trees will need to be protected with rabbit guards (rabbits will quickly ring bark apple trees particularly in winter), a stake a tie depending on site and appropriate livestock fencing. In some cases rabbit proof fencing can be used around a new orchard. Deer can also cause damage to trees. Mulch mats can be used around trees to reduce grass competition. Leave a little gap around the base of the tree to reduce vole activity. Alternatively herbicide strips can be created when the trees are dormant if trees are closely planted in rows. Trees require regular inspection to ensure that there is no vole damage to roots or within the tree guards.


After planting

Another 7 years for standards or semi standards to come into production.

This is for a sustainable rather than an intensive production system as an intensive system requires a lot of spraying and can require an investment of about £30,000 an acre (around £74,000 a ha).

Who will take the gamble that the market will be there in the future?

Well if you are considering Cornish apples you are considering a specialist niche market with a premium income – such as for farm shops.


Sourcing locally adapted apple trees

Based on Philip’s experience (of trees produced to order on bud wood provided by client) some of the best nurseries for Cornish apples include Thornhayes at Cullompton and F.P. Matthews (where you can get bud wood grafted).


Editor’s comment – Endsleigh Nursery at Milton Abbot also have an authenticated collection of Cornish trees. A full list of nurseries in the South West can be found on


Are there people who can identify local apple varieties? 

People who can identify Cornish apples with certainty are rare. Out of 120 varieties I can identify about 80 with confidence and about 30 of these have commercial potential for all the categories of use outlined (dessert/culinary etc.).

See Cornwall Council web link for details of some recommended varieties


Ensuring apple varieties are:-

A, True to type

There has been confusion of some varieties of Cornish apples over the years and in some cases orchard owners have lost their labels (Editor’s comment) There may be techniques other than visual identification of fruit and other characteristics. Trusted source of origin can be finger printed using molecular techniques. East Malling Research – has been finger printing the National collection at Brogdale – 600 pears and 2,500 apples.  The National Trust at Cothele have been working with other research organizations to have their apple collection DNA fingerprinted.

….. and virus free.

Some apples stocks are likely to be affected by viruses – virus testing can be carried out as a separate test. Virus infection can result in low yields of poorly formed fruit with cracked skin. From observation it appears that some stock of Cornish Gilliflower in circulation in the recent past may be virus infected.


Apples are the main thrust of this presentation but there are other tree fruits which have a potential – albeit at a more limited level and without the inherent advantage of significant local varieties. Most notably with a local connection are Cherries – effectively limited to the Tamar Valley but they are specifically local varieties; Plums – some local varieties particularly in the river valleys in Southern Cornwall.

Document edited by Andrew Ormerod



About cornucopiaalchemy

Dr. Andrew Ormerod has 14 years experience working as the Economic Botanist at the Eden Project - researching topical stories, artefacts, ethnobotanical inks, catering and retail links to exhibits. Previously I was involved with plant breeding and plant tissue culture working on a range of crops including winter cauliflowers, agricultural lupins, vining peas, wheat and barley and coconuts. I am now freelance and am interested in opportunities for lecturing; writing articles; consultancy linked to development of botanic gardens for crops based exhibits; supply chain work for unusual food or non-food crops with interesting stories about plants and people attached to them.
This entry was posted in Adding value, Cornwall Fruit Focus I, Growing Opportunities, Market opportunities, Niche produce, Orchard Heritage - history of orchards, Top Fruit. Bookmark the permalink.

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