Granny Smith Apples are Named After a Real Granny Smith

granny-smith-applesToday I found out that Granny Smith apples are named after a real Granny Smith.

Maria Ann Sherwood was born into a farming family in England in 1799. Because of her parents’ work, she became interested in agriculture and began working on the farm as well. When she was just nineteen years old she married a man named Thomas Smith, who was also a farm labourer, and the pair managed a farm in Beckley for the next nineteen years, beginning a family of their own.

In 1838, government officials were recruiting people from agricultural backgrounds who possessed the skills desperately needed for farms in Australia. Along with several other families from the area, the Smiths boarded the Lady Nugent and arrived in Sydney on November 27, 1838. Upon their arrival, Thomas was given a job by Mr. Smart of Kissing Point, later to become Ryde, and earned £5 per year as a farm labourer.

Like most people in the area, the Smiths honed their skills as orchardists. Fruit abounded in the district. Between 1855 and 1856, the Smiths bought their own lot of land and began their own orchard. Maria Ann Smith enjoyed raising her own seedling apples, just as many of her neighbours specialized in other varieties of fruits. There are several different accounts about her discovery of her namesake apple, but the most likely one comes from an article in Farmer and Settler from 1924.

Herbert Rumsey, who published the article, was also an orchardist in the area and interviewed two other farmers who knew Granny Smith. They said that in 1868, Maria Ann Smith, then 69 years old, found the seedling growing by a creek on her property. She believed that the seedling had grown from French crab apples (it is now believed that the apple is a cross between the Malus sylvestris, or European Wild Apple, and the M. domestica, or domestic apple). Granny Smith began to cultivate this new apple tree. Yet another local, Edward Gallard, developed a large crop of them from cuttings from the first tree and continued to do so annually until his death in 1914.

The apples became widely popular in Australia and New Zealand. Displayed at the Castle Hill Agricultural and Horticultural Show in 1891, “Smith’s seedling” won the prize for best cooking-apple. In 1895, Granny Smith Apples were being produced at the Government Experimental Station in Bathurst, New South Wales on a large scale. Soon after, they were included on the list of fruits suitable for export put out by the Department of Agriculture. The apples were introduced to Great Britain in 1935. This particular apple is a relatively recent addition to the United States, where it was introduced in 1972 by Grady Auvil of the Auvil Fruit Company.

Unfortunately, Granny Smith herself never saw her apples gain commercial recognition. She died in 1870, just two years after discovering the apple seedling on her property. The apples were sustained and propagated by local orchardists until they became well-known, but it is Granny Smith who will be remembered as the woman who discovered one of the most well-known green apples.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Granny Smith Apple trees, like most apple trees, cannot pollinate themselves and must be grown in close proximity to a different apple tree in order to produce fruit. Because of this, if you were to take the seeds from a Granny Smith apple you bought at the grocery store and plant them, the tree that would result would in most cases not bear Granny Smith apples, but a different type of apple, with these hybrids more often than not being unpalatable. Similarly, most apple trees do not reproduce “true to type.” To maintain the different types of apple, cuttings from the trees are grafted onto rootstocks, rather than growing from seed. This vegetative propagation is the most practical way to ensure that the apples that result are genetically identical to the parent tree.
  • In August of 2010 an Italian-led research consortium was able to decode the apple’s genome. This decoding led to many discoveries that showed the amazing ability of the apple tree to survive over time. They showed that apples have been around for over 50 million years, and around that time their genome nearly doubled from 9 to the current 17. Approximately 3000-4000 years ago people domesticated the tree and began cultivating them from a wild progenitor (original ancestor) Malus Sieversii. This particular species is still widespread in China and Kazakhstan, however is in danger of becoming extinct. Archeological evidence has also shown humans have been eating apples since at least 6500 B.C.
  • The genetic variability of apples has also given them the largest number of genes of any plant genome studied, approximately 57,000. For comparison sake, the human genome has about 30,000 genes! They also found that apples have 992 genes solely responsible for disease resistance.
  • There are seemingly limitless varieties of apples that could come from any one apple producing operation. There are currently 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, and 7,500 grown throughout the world.
  • Granny Smith’s great-granddaughter, Edna Spurway, lived to be 101 and attributed her long life to “lots of apples.”
  • Granny Smith apples contain a higher concentration of antioxidants than most other apples. A medium-sized Granny Smith also contains 20% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin C and contains high levels of Vitamin A and dietary fibre.
  • A Granny Smith Festival is held every year in Ryde, New South Wales to celebrate Smith’s life and legacy. Around 80,000 people attend the festival every year, enjoying fireworks, a parade, carnival rides, and other entertainment.
  • Because of their high acidity, Granny Smith apples are able to hold their shape better when they are cooked, which is why they are favoured for baking into pies.
  • Granny Smith apple trees are one of the fastest growing apple trees and can live for over fifty years if given the proper care.
  • Granny Smith Apples are probably the most well-known green apples, but several other varieties of apples with green skin exist, including Golden Delicious and Ginger Gold ( both of which are a yellow-green), and Mutsu or Crispin apples, which were developed in Japan in 1948.
  • Granny Smith Apples tend to keep their white colour longer than other apples once cut. However, to keep them white even longer, here’s a trick: rubbing apple slices with lemon juice will keep the apple slices looking white for several hours, rather than turning brown. When an apple is cut open, it releases a chemical called polyphenol oxidase which reacts with the oxygen in the air, resulting in the brown colour. The ascorbic acid found in lemon juice stops this reaction from happening because the oxygen will react with the acid first.
  • The recommended storage for Granny Smiths is to keep them in the fridge at as cold of a temperature as possible. Apples don’t freeze until they reach about 28.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
[Apple Image via Shutterstock] Expand for References
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