“Granny Smith” is a name universally known across Australia as a type of apple – hard, green, delicious and a fruit favourite in countless Australian households.
However the story of its development is not nearly so well known but is interesting in its own right, based as it was on a chance occurrence.
Maria Anne Sherwood was born in 1799 in Sussex, England and married farm labourer Thomas Smith twenty years later. The couple were to have a large family and they eventually migrated to Australia, arriving as free settlers in 1838.
They settled near Ryde, a Sydney suburb that was only in its infancy at the time, but was developing as a fruit growing area. The Smiths purchased a plot of local land and began a thriving orchard that supplied fruit for the Sydney markets. Maria also became well known for her home made fruit pies that were also sold at the markets.
The random event that was to change the course of the Australian fruit industry is believed to have occurred in 1868 after Maria discarded a number of French crab apples onto a compost heap where other apples had been disposed of. To her surprise a tiny apple tree later sprouted from the compost and intrigued with the vivid solid green colour of the fruit she tended it carefully. Over the following years she planted several more from the offspring.
This was never a commercial venture but after her death part of the old orchard was purchased by a local named Edward Gallard who developed the seedlings and planted commercial crops.
The apple, believed to be a hybrid cross between a crab apple and another type of conventional apple called a “Cleopatra” grew well and became popular in Australia as a cooking apple in the late 19th century, known as a “Granny Smith Seedling”.
Then, after World War One, they were exported and over the next decade became a popular apple of choice around the world. They were not only suitable for cooking, but kept well and grew readily in a variety of weather conditions.
Maria Smith died on 9th March 1870, with her enduring legacy the “Granny Smith“ apple, a fruit she had discovered purely by chance only two years before.
Image: A photograph of Maria “Granny” Smith – date unknown. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.