Tom Putt is a dual or triple purpose varietal: an eater, a cooker and a cider apple. It’s a traditional Devon variety classified as a mild sharp and produces a clean, thin, dry cider that improves over time but can be excellent in a blend.
The fruit is medium-sized, knobbly and broadly conical in shape with prominent ribs and skin that is flushed red in stripes. Its whitish-yellow flesh is crisp and goes sweet when it is cooked. The juice has SG 1052, acidity 0.65%, and tannin of 0.13% (Copas).
The tree flowers in April or early May and gives good, regular crops in September through to November. Although its fruit can fall as early as late August the first apples off the tree tend to rot quickly. It is, however, a strong grower and resistant to general plant disease, including scab.
An apple by any other name
It takes the name Tom Putt either from an 18th-century lawyer who lived in Gittisham near Honiton in Devon or his nephew of the same name who was the vicar of Trent near Sherborne, which was then in Somerset. It was widely grown in both counties in orchards and gardens. Tom Putt is so useful and reliable, in fact, that it earned the nickname the Cottage Apple, along with aliases including Ploughman, Coalbrook, Devonshire Nine Square, Izod’s Kernel, Tom Potter and Jeffrey’s Seedling.
Although Tom Putt is known as the ‘rosy apple that grew in every garden and orchard’, Liz Copas points out in The New Pomona that it ‘sometimes has a strange, bluish, meaty bloom which may account for its synonym: Marrowbone.’ There are also Red stripe-free and White Tom Putts.
Tom Putt ciders
Marchwood Vale Cider in Dorset produces a single varietal Tom Putt medium cider which was highly commended at the Bath and West show. You might also want to look at Gillow Cider in Herefordshire. Hecks Farmhouse Cider in Somerset has produced a Tom Putt single varietal in the past and is worth checking in any case.
‘Hang Tom Putt’
The UK National Fruit Collection classes Tom Putt as an Orange Pippin cultivar. Assuming it was named after ‘Black Tom’ Putt, the notoriously crabby lawyer, it originated in the grounds of what was Combe House in the village of Gittisham where the soil is a strong, flinty loam. Black Tom, who died in 1787, is said to have won prizes for his fruit trees at agricultural fairs in Honiton but was not popular with the locals due to a foul temper. The bells at St Michael’s in Gittisham were said to say ‘Hang Tom Putt’. Combe House is now let out as The Pig hotel and restaurant.
See Cider-Making ABC for more on blending and vintage apples