Get a taste of SA’s old apple varieties

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apple varieties
The Wijnappel returned to local soil on 17 April 2019.

Tru-Cape’s Heritage Orchard is only open once a year and offers visitors an opportunity to get to know the old apple varieties that formed the base of our apple history. This year’s open day on 21 February was extra special as it was the first time in aeons that visitors could see the very first apple picked in South Africa. Tru-Cape’s Heritage Orchard is located on the farm Oak Valley near Elgin in the Western Cape.

The Wijnappel was first picked in the company’s garden in Cape Town 359 years ago on 17 April 1662. The company gardens were planted to supply fresh produce to the ships on their way around the Cape and was the first formalised garden in the country. It is believed that the Dutch brought apple trees to South Africa that were planted in barrels and transported per ship. The Wijnappel apple was used to make apple wine.

Brian Berkman, Tru-Cape’s quality assurance manager, Henk Griessel, Tru-Cape’s quality assurance manager, and Buks Nel, new variety expert at Tru-Cape.

Plaas Media’s Hugo Lochner attended the open day and discussed the Wijnappel growing on local soil again with Buks Nel, new variety expert at Tru-Cape. Watch the video below to learn more.

Other old South African apple varieties

Planted alongside the Wijnappel apple are 26 other apple varieties that are no longer in commercial production. There is only one pear variety in the garden. According to Nel it is essential to preserve old varieties before they go extinct or are lost as part of our agricultural history.

apple varieties
The Wemmershoek apple cultivar of 1925 compared with the new Big Bucks cultivar.

Nel says it is also important to look at how far we have come in apple breeding by comparing the qualities of old and new apple varieties. Nel adds that they are still looking for some varieties and will keep searching until they find them.

He introduced us to two more old apple varieties that are significant to south African apple history, namely the Kroon or Kroontjie, and the Wemmershoek apples. According to Nel, the Kroon apple was first described by Francois Valetijn, a Dutch minister, naturalist and author in 1723. Although the apple never became extremely popular, it is rich in history. Watch the video below to learn more.

The Wemmershoek apple is one of South Aftica’s true seedlings and was found where the Wemmershoek Dam is today on the Wemmershoek River near Franschhoek and Paarl. What is only a dam today was once a large fruit production area. In 1925, the Wemmershoek apple was the leading apple in the country. Johannes Hauman discovered this apple as a seedling. The apple is characterised as small, red, and tasty apple with a long shelf life. – Ursula Human, AgriOrbit