Nigel Deacon

Nigel Deacon, Sutton Elms Publications, Leicestershire

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Apples are produced commercially in most temperate countries. The eating apples available in supermarkets tend to be rather similar, which is not surprising when one realizes that with the exceptions of Discovery and Braeburn, they are descended from the same 'ancestor' varieties: Cox, Jonathan, MacIntosh, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and James Grieve.

In recent years there has been a lot of research into the possibility of developing a popular red-fleshed apple. There are breeding attempts being made in South Africa, France, New Zealand, Japan, and other countries.

When redfleshed apples are mentioned, it is appropriate to look at the work of Niels Hansen and Albert Etter, who developed the two main strains.

Hansen was for most of his career director of the South Dakota Experimental Station at Brookings, North America. He made many trips abroad collecting cold-hardy fruit varieties, using them in his breeding work.

In 1897, Hansen was on a botanical trip to Russia. He encountered an unusual apple species which had recently been discovered growing wild in the mountains of Turkestan. It was a large-fruited crab, with an intense pigmentation which gave a deep reddish-purple to the apple skin, flesh, seeds, blossoms, juvenile foliage and wood. It was given the name Malus Niedzwetzkyana, after its discoverer, the Russian botanist Niedzwetzky.

Hansen imported scionwood of the variety and grafted some trees. He found that the fruit was of little use as a dessert apple, being too astringent and sour; it was barely edible and only of use in cooking. It was possible, however, to cross it with better-tasting apple varieties and the offspring, he found, were usually much improved, many of them having a less fierce flavour but also inheriting the intense red pigmentation in every part of the plant.

One of his objectives was to create a family of eating and cooking apples by crossing Niedzwetzkyana with established varieties; he also created a number of red-blossomed ornamental crabs, which are not discussed here. He introduced several red-fleshed apples, the best-known of which is 'Almata'. Most of them were red-skinned, very early flowering and fruiting, and rather tart. None of them would keep; they were best when eaten fully ripe straight off the tree.

Photographs of Almata are shown in figure 1.

the diversity of redfleshed apples: the Hansen type
figure 1. Almata: apple showing pigmentation in blossom, leaves, skin and flesh

Around 1900, Albert Etter, a self-taught fruit breeder, planted an experimental apple orchard in north-west California. He grafted trees of hundreds of varieties using scionwood obtained from the nearby University. One of the apples in the University plot caught his attention. It was small and yellow and not a particularly good eating apple, but it had pink flesh; a Turkish apple known in America as 'Surprise'.

Grown in his own orchard, which had a mild microclimate, he found that flavour improved and the flesh colour became darker. He foresaw that it might form the basis of a new class of pink-fleshed apple suitable for the most expensive restaurants, and so he began the process of crossing 'Surprise' with an enormous range of apple varieties; both dessert apples and crabs.

After many years of apple breeding, growing thousands of seedlings, Etter eventually produced about thirty high-quality redfleshed descendants of 'Surprise' with an amazing range of appearances and properties. There was a wide variation of intensity of flesh colour; pink to rose pink, beetroot-red to marbled crimson. The skins varied from almost transparent to nearly solid red, with lots of yellow, green and striped apples in between. Sizes ranged from small to very large, and the apples showed a wide variety of fruiting times and ripening dates. Blossom colours were often eye-catching, but they were mainly pink and white rather than solid pink or crimson.

The only commercial release made by Etter was Pink Pearl; a late-ripening apple with a greenish-yellow skin and pink flesh. He did not regard it as his best, but it was the closest to a mainstream apple. It flowers very early and produces fruit of good dessert quality, sometimes storing until after Christmas.

The Hansen apples are all fairly similar to Niedzwetzkyana in appearance.They are red-skinned and show deep red pigmentation in the apple skin, flesh, blossom, scionwood and seeds, but they are less astringent and acidic than their parent. Almata and Scarlet Surprise (a similar apple developed by a follower of Hansen) are of good dessert quality but only when fully ripe and used direct from the tree; the fruit will not keep. Hansen's apples tend to be regarded as tart varieties suitable only for cooking or making apple sauce and cider, which is more or less true. They are also very tolerant of cold climates. Etter's apples show only average cold-hardiness.

The other main distinction is in fruit quality. Many of Etter's selections are rich-flavoured dessert fruit, unlike Hansen's varieties, which have more striking colours and which can be used as ornamentals. The Etter apples are also better for storing; the early-season Pink Pearmain will keep for a fortnight, mid-season Grenadine for a month and the late-season Christmas Pink, ripening in November, will keep for 6-8 weeks.

Photographs of two of Etter's varieties are shown below: Pink Pearl in figure 2; Pink Pearmain in figure 3. Note the lack of pigment in the leaves.

the diversity of redfleshed apples: the Etter type
figure 2. Etter apple: Pink Pearl

the diversity of redfleshed apples: the Etter type
figure 3. Etter apple: Pink Pearmain

Etter and Hansen both died in 1950, but the pioneering work which they did in creating the two basic strains of redfleshed apple are well-known amongst fruit breeders. So, to recap, we have Etter-type (green leaves) and Hansen-type (red apples, blossoms, seeds and leaves).

There are many other redfleshed apples spread all over Europe and elsewhere. For example, Victorian orchards often contained apples known as Sops-in-Wine. These are highly scented, often with a pink interior when fully ripe, especially after storage. The name Sops-in-Wine seems to describe not a single variety but a large number of similar varieties; conical or flattened conical in shape, with a skin largely red and an interior which is pale pink. There is a variant with red wood, which is more deeply pigmented.

The English apple breeder Hugh Ermen bred Red Devil in 1972 by crossing 'Discovery' with 'Kent'. This is a good-flavoured apple with an interior scarlet flush which has become quite popular.

In mainland Europe old varieties are being rediscovered. An example is the Breunsdorf apple, rescued from a village in East Germany before the remaining trees disappeared under an open-cast coal mine. The Breunsdorfer is a large pale pink apple with a delicate, soft texture and a beautiful taste slightly reminiscent of peaches. It resembles Hansen's apples with its red leaves, blossom and wood, but has the Etter-type pale skin and superior flavour.

There are several noteworthy old varieties from America. Mott's Pink is an apple of the Etter type, though not developed by him; when ripe it has a luminous yellow skin and in some years the interior is coloured deep crimson; other years it is pale pink. It has an impressive flavour. Aerlie Redflesh, marketed as 'Hidden Rose', is another Etter-type apple; egg-shaped with a green mottled skin; it has good flavour, ripens late and stores well.

Hidden Rose, Mott's Pink and Breunsdorfer are shown in figure 4.

the diversity of redfleshed apples: the Etter type
figure 4. Three Etter-like apples - Aerlie Redflesh (Hidden Rose), Mott's Pink and Breunsdorfer

Webster Pinkmeat and Burford's Redflesh are also from America; they have reddish leaves and both can produce deeply pigmented fruit. The apples have good size but their flavours are harsh and they are best used to make cider or for cooking. Pendragon, a Cornish apple, shares their spectacular appearance and has a better (though similar) flavour.

Wisley Crab, Aldenham Purple and Maypole are primarily grown as ornamentals but they have apples which, in some years, are worth using. The flesh colour is very striking.

There are many other red-fleshed varieties around, and at some stage I intend to compile a list describing the ones I have grown.

Some of the apples vary enormously from year to year and from location to location. One surprise is that low evening and night-time temperatures are needed for full development of the red flesh colour. Only under these conditions will the pigment (anthocyanin) be synthesised in the fruit. Some of the varieties, especially the late-ripening ones, need a long growing season, which means they can never really produce fully-ripened fruit if grown too far north.

A number of other apples not usually classified as 'redfleshed' often show limited internal pigmentation. Again, warm days, cool evenings and full ripeness are needed if the colouration is to be seen. Varities affected include Hall's Pink, Merton Knave, Norfolk Rattlebox, Devonshire Quarrenden and Discovery, and to a lesser extent, Laxton's Fortune and Bess Pool.

There are four good red-fleshed apples which have been made available over the last decade: Redlove (Switzerland), Weirouge and Baya Marisa (Germany), and Rosette (England). These are slightly closer in taste to commercially grown apples but with hints of a 'not-quite-apple' flavour, a hint of strawberry, raspberry or redcurrant making them very unusual.

The first three all have red flowers, red skin and red leaves, and they superficially resemble the 'Hansen' apples; however Redlove and Baya Marisa are further removed from their Niedzwetzkyana ancestor and their improved flavours reflect this. Weirouge, a parent of Baya Marisa, is the oldest; slightly more acidic and susceptible to fireblight. Rosette, a recently-discovered sport, is the only one of the four known to be completely unrelated to Niedzwetzkyana.


My thanks go to Mel Wilson for advice and proofreading

Original text and pictures Nigel Deacon, Sutton Elms Publications.

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