In our corner of the world, a telltale sign that fall has officially arrived is the incredible abundance of gorgeous apples filling crates at farmers markets everywhere… shiny piles of Ginger Gold, Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, McIntosh and, of course, the tart and crisp Granny Smith. It got us thinking… is there a real Granny Smith behind the beloved green apple? The answer is a resounding YES, and it’s a pretty cool story.
Maria Ann Sherwood was born in 1799 into an English farming family. Her parents’ work inspired her love of agriculture and her pride in hands-on farming. At nineteen, she married Thomas Smith, also a farm laborer, and the pair went on to manage a farm in East Sussex, England, where they started a family of their own.
According to Today I Found Out, “In 1838, government officials were recruiting people from agricultural backgrounds who possessed the skills desperately needed for farms in Australia.” So, along with several other families from the area, the Smiths immigrated to Sydney, Australia.
Fruit was plentiful in their new homeland, and so for the next fifteen plus years Thomas and Maria Ann Smith “honed their skills as orchardists.” They bought their own lot of land in 1856 and started their own orchard, where Maria Ann delighted in raising her own seedling apples. It’s what led to her discovery of her namesake apple.
As the story goes, in 1868, Maria Ann, then 69-years-old and a “Granny,” found an apple seedling growing by a creek on her property. “She believed that the seedling had grown from French crab apples (it is now believed that the apple is a cross between the Malus sylvestris, or European Wild Apple, and the M. domestica, or domestic apple). Granny Smith began to cultivate this new apple tree.” It produced the crisp, tart, green apple we know today as the “Granny Smith.”
Her “Smith’s seedling,” voted best cooking-apple in 1891, gained popularity throughout Australia and New Zealand, and was soon deemed suitable for export by the Department of Agriculture. The apples were introduced to Great Britain in 1935, but are considered relative newcomers to the U.S., as they only arrived here in 1972.
“Unfortunately, Granny Smith never saw her apples gain commercial recognition,” as Today I Found Out noted. “She died in 1870, just two years after discovering the apple seedling on her property. The apples were sustained and propagated by local orchardists until they became well-known, but it is Granny Smith who will be remembered as the woman who discovered one of the most well-known green apples.”
Did You Know?
- There are 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, and 7,500 throughout the world
- Granny Smith’s great-granddaughter, Edna Spurway, lived to be 101 and attributed her long life to “lots of apples”
- Granny Smiths contain a higher concentration of antioxidants and dietary fiber than most other apples
- Granny Smith apple trees are one of the fastest growing apple trees and can live for over fifty years
- Because of their high acidity, Granny Smith apples hold their shape better when they are cooked, which is why they are a favorite for baking