Ian Clayton: Pele and an apple a day

Pele - for Ian Clayton column
Pele - for Ian Clayton column
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I bought a bag of Gala apples from the supermarket. They cost 80p for six, which seemed like a good price.

When I got them home, I emptied them into our fruit bowl and glanced at the cellophane bag they came in, it told me that the apples were from Brazil.

I wondered how many acres of rainforest were cleared to make way for the industrial sized orchard, where these apples were harvested, before being shipped on a plane, transferred to a lorry, sorted at a warehouse near a motorway and then placed on a supermarket shelf in Pontefract before being brought home in a carrier to find there way to my kitchen table.

Now I have nothing against Brazil, this country has given us many great things. I adore the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, the breathy singing of Astrud Gilberto, especially on the song ‘Girl from Ipanema’ and I’m well aware that in Loscoe near Normanton, they even had a coal mine named after the famous Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro. The football team that Brazil sent to the World Cup in 1970 contained some of my earliest boyhood heroes: Rivelino, Jairzinho, Tostao and of course Pele, but apples from Brazil? This does seem faintly ridiculous; especially to send them to a country that has over 1,000 varieties of its own apples!

Apples have been cultivated in Britain since before Roman times and were being eaten for a few thousand years before that. Some scholars at Oxford researched the origin of the humble apple and discovered that their DNA originated in the mountainous wooded region called Tien Sien on the borders of Kyrgystan and China. The British climate was particularly suited to their cultivation and for generations, childhood was complete when you ‘scrumped’ apples from local farm orchards or ‘bobbed’ for them in washing up bowls full of water on Halloween night.

Our apples have lovely names, all with stories attached. Whenever do you see a ‘Knobby Russet’ on the supermarket shelves, or a ‘Beauty of Bath’ or a ‘Nutmeg Pippin’?

Then there’s the ‘Bloody Ploughman’ a Scottish variety said to be named after the ploughman who was executed after stealing a bagful. His wife threw the bag onto a manure pile and many years later a tree grew with a vivid red flesh. Then there’s the ‘Reverend Wilkes’ a cooking variety, prized by chefs as the greatest apple pie making apple of all.

We can even make very local connections to apples. One of the rarest of apples is the ‘Sharlston Pippin’ which grew in the area around that village, so rare did it become that it was saved only when a gardener at Cannon Hall, near Barnsley gave some cuttings to a friend. A farmer friend of mine has some Sharlston Pippins in his orchard near Garforth. It’s a lovely plain looking little apple with a pale skin mottled with rusty spots. I cut one in half and shared it with our Eddie a couple of autumns ago. I think sharing an apple with someone is a lovely thing to do. But sharing a very rare variety with my lad made it all the more special.

And did you know that Pontefract has a connection to possibly the most famous of Yorkshire apples? The ‘Ribston Pippin’ first grown near Knaresborough in the early 1700s from some pips brought over from Rouen in France was first listed as a variety by the orchard keeper William Perfect of Pontefract as long ago as 1769. The Ribston is said to contain more than six times the amount of vitamin C as a normal Golden Delicious.

Now, we all know that saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” there might be some truth in it as well, because research as shown that apples might help in warding off certain types of colon and prostate cancer. And incidentally that saying, you might like to know, originated in Wales in the 19th century.

I’ve decided I will in future avoid Brazilian apples. I can’t see my local supermarket stocking the ‘Peasgood Nonesuch’ or ‘The Flower of Kent’ in the near future, but think on, before you scoff.

If it hadn’t been for the latter of those two, Sir Isaac Newton might not have discovered the theory of gravity and then where would we be?