While we don’t know for how many years the Witte Wijn apple, the first-ever apple variety picked in the Cape in 1662, was lost, estimates by Tru-Cape Fruit’s marketing team suggest it may have been hundreds of years.
The Witte Wijn apple returned to The Company’s Garden in Cape Town on 17 April 2019. It was planted at Babylonstoren near Franschhoek and in the Tru-Cape Heritage Orchard at Oak Valley Estate in Grabouw the following year. Three small apples, each the size of a small marble, have formed on the Witte Wijn apple tree in the Tru-Cape Heritage Orchard.
“This is a very exciting moment in the history of apples in South Africa,” says Buks Nel, Tru-Cape’s new variety expert. Together with Tru-Cape’s quality assurance manager, Henk Griessel, Nel led the search to return the Witte Wijn apple to South Africa. They also authored two books on the history of apples: Apples in the Early Days at The Cape and their most recent book about new varieties, The Newcomers and Their Friends.
With the financial support of Hortgro, Tru-Cape imported the plant material from Holland and gifted trees to the City of Cape Town and Babylonstoren.
A rich history
Griessel described the three apples’ appearance in the same style in which the Dutch Governor of the Cape documented the picking of the first apple on 17 April 1662. “Diary Entry: 18/11/2020. Heavy drizzle in the morning and a strong south-easterly wind is blowing in from the land.
“Today, the first three Dutch apples were seen in the Tru-Cape Heritage nursery garden. They came from a little tree no more than seven feet high. This type of apple is known as a Wijn apple. Today, 360 years after the Wijn apple was first seen on South African soil, it bears fruit once again.”
The Tru-Cape Heritage Orchard
The Tru-Cape Heritage Orchard at Oak Valley Estate opens just once a year to the public so that fruit enthusiasts can see, touch and taste the earliest varieties and those no longer in commercial production. While the orchard visits are free of charge, bookings must be made via Quicket for either the morning or the afternoon.
“We hope that the Wijn apple will be ready to eat then too,” says Nel.
Griessel has the last word: “Like all Tru-Cape’s marketing efforts and activities that support a healthy lifestyle, this event is something the entire family can do together with plenty of fresh air around us.” – Press release, Tru-Cape