The month of February was going to be a red letter day in the apple orchards of Elgin in South Africa’s Western Cape. There has been much talk in Elgin’s apple orchards of whether the Wijnappel, which was harvested at the Cape of Good Hope for the first time on 17 April 1662 would be harvested on the same date this year again – exactly as it was 359 years ago.
Those who visited the heritage orchard on the farm at Oak Valley recently have seen evidence of the small fruit on the single tree planted there. They have also learned, however, it is unlikely that the fruit will still be hanging on the tree when the historical harvest date comes around on 17 April this year.
There are now three of the trees planted at three different locations in the Cape, but none of these other trees are bearing fruit yet.
All hopes are now pinned on Oak Valley, where a heritage garden has been developed. It now seems as if seeing the Wijnappel for the first time in all its ripened glory may have to wait till next year.
“Our experience shows that when there are only three fruits on the tree at this stage of the season, it is likely that they will all fall off the tree by 17 April this year,” said industry expert Henk Griessel, who along with fellow apple expert, Buks Nel, researched the early history of apple growing at the Cape.
“We do have wind this time of the year and there is no guarantee that these fruits will last the remaining days to the harvest,” Griessel explained.
In fact, there could also be some debate whether this apple variety is indeed the ‘Witte Wijnappel’ as all currently believe.
Those in the historical garden recently noted that the small fruit was developing a blush. So in the end it could be the ‘Roode Wijnappel’ which originally existed along with its brother, Witte Wijnappel, in orchards in the Netherlands, before being brought to South Africa.
Griessel and Nel said that although two Witte Wijnappel trees were found in the Netherlands fairly recently most of the trees growing in there were devastated during World War II.
A search by one Bas van Andel found the trees in the garden of a Mr Bouman van Wijk, who told that old timers in Holland remembered how the apple trees were the only barrier which stood between them and the German attacks.
He found no trace of the Roode Wijnappel and the trees recently brought to the Cape were made from trees identified as the Witte Wijnappel.
With the blush showing on this year’s meager harvest the question may now well be asked whether these trees could be from the Roode Wijnappel.
It will possibly not the first time that historical events may have to be corrected.
This is all very confusing, but those who cherish the South African apple history do so in much the same way as the Bristish Heritage Collection at Brogdale in the UK, which is highly regarded amongst British apple lovers.
Nel and Griessels' book, Appels in the Early Days of the Cape, is a great work and takes one back to the varieties of yester-year, covering some interesting apple names.