Wales now has more than 100 officially recognized apple and pear varieties of its own. Of the 73 recently rediscovered as part of a two-year research project, more than 40 are ‘new’ Welsh cider or perry varieties.
They were identified by the University of South Wales (USW) and the Welsh Perry & Cider Society (WPCS). Their two-year Heritage of Orchards and Cider Making in Wales project involved DNA testing around 200 varieties. Leaves were collected in the Spring from around Wales and compared to the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent. Some varietals, that were previously thought to be Welsh turned out to be English or French.
Welsh Pomona and community orchards
The rediscovered varieties have been catalogued with images, in The Welsh Pomona of Heritage Cider Apples and Perry Pears.
Some of the varieties have been propagated at 13 community orchards in addition to adding to a National Collections of Welsh Cider and Perry Trees created with ‘museum orchards’ at Aberystwyth University, Erddig Hall in Wrexham and Dyffryn Gardens in the Vale of Glamorgan, both owned by the National Trust, and at the WPCS’s orchards in Llanarth and Llantrisant. These are distinct from the Welsh Heritage Orchard at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire.
Research at Erddig Hall, which has around 180 types of apple or pear, revealed that 12 cider apples and nine perry pears in its orchard are Welsh.
More than 900 trees planted
More than 900 trees have been planted at orchards in Anglesey, Conwy, Gwynedd, Monmouthshire, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Wrexham.
Tests show best apples for cider
The WCPS fermented juice from 29 fruit trees for single varietal tests devised by the cider scientist Andrew Lea and carried out by Pershore College, the horticultural centre at Evesham in Warwickshire. The tests showed that ‘there are some excellent cider apples and perry pears amongst them,’ Lea commented in the Pomona.
Storytelling about cider has long history
The project was paid for with £495,000 from the Lottery Fund. It also included the university’s George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling collecting the oral history of cider-making in Wales. Both traditions stretch back a long way. ‘In Wales, the earliest direct mention of apples comes in our myths (Mabinogion) and in the laws of Hywel Dda, where an apple tree is declared to have the same value as 60 lambs or 15 pigs,’ according to Carwyn Graves, the author of Apples of Wales.
Bardsey Island apple may date to 13th century
Interest in Wales’s cider heritage was kindled in 1998 when ornothologist Andrew Clarke picked up windfall apples on Bardsey Island off the Llyn Peninsula. Brogdale said the lemony-flavoured apples may have descended from a variety planted by monks as far back as the 13th century. Perhaps more importantly, they were completely free of scab and canker and could be used to help create new varietals that are naturally disease resistant. The multipurpose apples produce a thin-bodied, sharp cider with an SG1.048, acid 0.6% and tannin 0.06%. Bardsey Island apple trees are available from Ian Sturrock and Sons.
Search for a community orchard near you on the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species website.
Download a PDF of the The Welsh Pomona of Heritage Cider Apples and Perry Pears.