Ever wondered who was the lady behind Granny Smith’s apples?

Granny Smith apples originated in Australia in 1868. Emigration and chance played an equal role in producing one of the best known fruits in today’s groceries and supermarkets.

The apple is named after Maria Ann Smith and is thought to be a hybrid of Malus sylvestris, the European Wild Apple, and the domestic apple Malus domestica. The fruit has a light-green skin and crisp, juicy flesh.

Granny-SmithMaria Ann Smith (1799-1870) was baptized on 5 January 1800 in the rural parish church of St Peter and St Paul, Peasmarsh, Sussex, England, daughter of John Sherwood, farm labourer, and his wife Hannah, née Wright. Maria followed her parents into farm service. On 8 August 1819 in the parish church at Ebony, Kent, she married Thomas Smith (1799-1876), a farm labourer. During the next 19 years, Maria bore eight children, three of whom died in infancy.

Together with several other farming families, the Smiths emigrated to New South Wales, under the Australian government’s bounty scheme. “Bounty immigrants” were selected by colonists, who then paid for their passage. When immigrants arrived, the colonists employed them and the employer would be reimbursed by the government for all or part of the cost of passage. The Smith family reached Sydney in the Lady Nugent on 27 November 1838.

The origin of the Granny Smith apple is documented, although the first account was not published until 1924. In that year, Farmer and Settler published the record of a local historian who had interviewed two men who had known Maria. One of them recalled that in 1868 (then twelve years old) he and his father had been invited to the Smith farm to inspect a seedling that had sprung up near a creek. Maria Smith had dumped there the remains of French crab apples originally grown in Tasmania.

Granny-Smith-applesAnother story recounts that Maria had been cooking a mix of Australian apples and French crab apples. Throwing the residue onto a garbage heap she later found that a new cultivar had sprung up underneath her kitchen window. Whatever the case, Smith’s husband was by then an invalid and Maria took it upon herself to propagate the new cultivar on her property, finding the apples good for cooking and for general consumption.

Maria Smith died just two years after her discovery. But her efforts had not gone unnoticed by her neighbour Edward Gallard, who extensively planted Granny Smith trees on his property and bought the Smith farm when Thomas died in 1876. Gallard was successful in marketing the apple locally, but it did not receive widespread attention until 1890 when it was exhibited at the Castle Hill Agricultural and Horticultural Show. The following year it won the prize for cooking apples under the name “Granny Smith’s Seedling”. The apple became a hit and the rest, as they say, is history.

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4 comments on “Ever wondered who was the lady behind Granny Smith’s apples?

  1. Peter Horsfield says:

    The history of the granny smith is a good one to be shared. Thanks Philip. But let me be culturally chauvinistic and say that the sensory history of the apple can only be known if the relationship began in childhood in its homeland and buried itself in your cellular structure through peel snatched from the kitchen bench behind your mother’s back on your way to the backyard and the length progressively drawn into your mouth by chewing, having the juice drip down your chin when you’ve taken it from your backpack on a rest from walking in the heat with the smell of eucalypts in the air, and sitting behind the back yard EC skinning it with your teeth before biting into the flesh while hiding from the neighbour whose tree you’d just pinched it from. God, I’ve just talked myself into going and grabbing one.

    • Philip Lee says:

      Sounds like the beginnings of a novel… “Cider with Sheila”? Yes, my childhood, too, was replete with apples, also grown widely in England and the cheapest fruit in a country where pineapples and mandarines were reserved for Christmas. And then there were the delights of scrumping, of course!

  2. Peter Horsfield says:

    Scrumping?

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