The Amazing Granny Smith Apple
I used to never care much for granny smiths, and a few years ago, I would have called you crazy if you'd say I would grow a granny myself. I used to think granny smiths had no other use than to decorate the bowls of hotel lobbies and waiting rooms. I saw it as a conspiracy for a rather fake courtesy to offer up food, all the while knowing bloody well that few people would care to eat any. Sure, they look nice in those decorative bowls. I remember staying at one of those fancy hotels once, and on an especially hungry Morning, I ventured to eat one of those things. Yuck, tasted like an under-ripe apple to me, why would anyone bother?
Cooking with grannys isn't exactly desirable either unless you don't mind your apple pie to taste like it's been lined with chunks of shoe soles. Yes, I am referring to that rubbery texture you so often find in those cheap apple pies at the local diner. I grew up in Europe, and I clearly remember the wonderful fluffy texture of the apple chunks in the pies my Aunts made. The favorite cooking apple of Europe is the Belle De Boscoop. It's one tart bugger, but after it's cooked, not only does it sweeten up and develop that wonderful fluffy texture, but it's also retains its shape really well - at least until you take a bite. But a granny is not what I recommend to cook with. If you want an unripe apple, pick any unripe apple, you'll get the equivalent of a store bought granny smith.
My love affair with the granny started on one cold late January day while I was rummaging through Gene Lester's vast apple orchard. Oddly enough, there were a few trees that still had some fruit hanging on them. One of those were these delicious lemon yellow sweet and crunchy apples that had a very good flavor balance. I had to have some, so I asked Gene what they were. He told me they were granny smiths, and I could hardly believe him. Sure enough, it turns out that grannys do indeed ripen to a delicious emerald yellow-green in the middle of January. There's not much in the apple orchard in January, so to have such a tasty apple ripen this late is a real blessing. That's why I like to think of the granny smith as the emerald of Winter.
There is a reason Granny smiths are under-ripe in the store. That's because granny smith belongs to a class of apples that are subtropical - that is, they require a very long growing season to properly ripen. When grown North of about latitude 40 North or South, they simply will not ripen properly. In fact, the granny smith originated on a farm Northwest of Sydney that also grew citrus. Granny smith originated in the late 19th century in what is now known as the town of Eastwood. With an average Winter high in the upper 60's and average Winter low right around 45F, (See statistic here) it's hard to believe granny smith requires any chill at all. In fact, Kevin Houser of Kuffel Creek Nursery in Riverside, California assures me that his granny smith actually never defoliates and happily produces copiously every year. As I see it, the catalogs that advertise granny smiths as requiring 600 hours of chill are lying. Nobody bothered to look up Easwood's climate.
When tree ripened, granny smiths are simply out of this world. This is one versatile grand apple for the state of California. It will develop great flavor even in the Summer inferno of the Central Valley.That's because it ripens so late that by the time the fruit comes off the tree, there is plenty of chilly weather around. In fact, granny smiths taste better in warm Summer areas.
It's really a shame that so few people ever get the chance to taste a real tree ripened granny smith. It's time to stop the spread of mis-information about granny smith and let this apple take it's rightful place right next to fujis as one of the best and most delightful subtropical dessert apples. As a true low chill apple, granny smith doesn't require anything near 600 hours of chill and should do very well even in the warmest coastal locations of Southern California. While I don't expect stores to ever carry ripe granny smiths, at the very least gardening books and websites ought to give granny smith apples the attention they deserve.
If you want to learn about granny smith's rich heritage, you can read about Maria Smith on Australia's Ryde District's writeup: Granny Smith and her Apples