Today the British have greater concerns due to Brexit but the lowly apple has shown the way, albeit small, on what a nation needs to do to succeed in the world.
Say hello to the humble Gala apple.
Main picture: The victor in the fight with EU’s apples: the lowly Gala apple
The last time that the British were confronted with the stark reality that they were unable to feed themselves was during WW2. With the Unterseeboote or U-Boats chocking off Britain’s food supply, the nation faced the very real risk of starvation. Unlike the Germans during WW1 when the British blockade of German ports created the unspeakable horror of mass starvation, the British did not succumb.
In their dire straits, with their stiff upper lip, and starvation not being an option, the British created the Woman’s Land Army which would do battle in the fields. All available land even within towns was converted into tilled land. By such stratagems, hunger was kept at bay.
Back to the place of the humble apple which for centuries has been a staple in the diet of the British.
A brief historical overview
Like most fruits, humans prefer them sweeter. Usually the maxim the sweeter the better applies. But not with drinks. For this we can blame the nobility in Britain. For if they had made bitter fruit an acquired taste, the plebeians would have followed suit. Instead they chose sweet apples.
There is evidence that apples grew wild in Britain in the Neolithic period but it was the Romans who first introduced varieties with sweeter and greater taste. OK, so the British nobility can blame the colonists and invaders from the southern littoral of the Mediterranean.
After the Roman exit from Britain, many orchards were abandoned due to invasions by Jutes, Saxons and Danes. Do not forget the Angles. However, following the Norman Conquest improved varieties were introduced from France, which included the Costard. Orchards were developed within the grounds of monasteries and the raising of new varieties was undertaken by cross-pollination. Clearly the French were practicing genocide with their genetic engineering of the humble apple. Maybe this can account for the quintessential British malady, The Stiff Upper Lip.
The Wars of the Roses and the Black Death led to a decline in the production of both apples and pears in England until Henry VIII instructed his fruiterer, Richard Harris, – no relation to his namesake & serial nuptualiser of more recent origin – to identify and introduce new varieties. The red skinned Pippin was introduced from France but the most common apple in Tudor times was the Queene.
Until the agricultural revolution of the 18th century, methods of raising apples and pears were relatively haphazard.
More genetic engineering followed. After the Second World War new rootstocks were introduced which enabled the height of apple trees to be reduced. This allowed harvesting to take place from the ground thus making long ladders redundant and reducing the costs of labour for picking and pruning. Surprisingly the option to genetically engineer humans with longer arms was not attempted possibly because they had not yet discovered the double helix.
Additionally, the smaller trees allowed sunlight to reach a greater proportion of the developing fruit, which increased the density, and consistency of fruit colour. Trees could be planted closer together which resulted in greater productivity.
Connection between apple growing & Brexit
To cheers of acclamation Britain joined the EEC in January 1972, but not from the apple farmers. Once the UK was a member of the EEC, there were no restrictions on the importing of apples from abroad during the English season. This led to English growers facing great competition from high-yielding varieties which were difficult to grow in UK, as they required a warmer climate.
Instead of casting aspersions on the foreign growers and striking for higher wages, they should have blamed the foreigners for working too hard – the Germans – and for being paid too little. Blame the 3rd world countries.
Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Granny Smith were the three most important of these varieties which were heavily promoted and advertised. By contrast, English growers were producing much lower yielding varieties, which had been bred for taste rather than yield. As a result, they were unable to compete with the relatively low priced imports. Many English orchards were taken out of production due to lack of profitability and replanted with other crops during the final twenty-five years of the last century.
The decline of the British apple growing industry cannot be laid solely at the feet of the EU. It was also their brethren in the southern Pacific which had revolted. In the early 1990s, Gala and Braeburn, both varieties which had been raised in New Zealand were introduced to the UK market and rapidly increased in popularity.
With their Churchillian “We will fight them on the Grocery Shelf” oratory ringing in their ears, the British valiantly resisted this late 20th century invasion.
Their weapon of choice was the Gala apple. Their salvation would come in the form of modernised farming techniques.
If the sunshine was too low to cultivate sweet apples, they would prune the tree so that it looked more like a grape wine.
If the Brits were too short, too lazy or too short armed to pick these apples, they would import the pickers.
If the British growing season was too short to provide apples for the majority of the year, they would erect cold warehouses.
If sweet apples is what was required, they would ensure that the sweetness of the apple on the consumers table would be at a peak. The starch content of orchids would be measured so that they would be at optimal sweetness when eaten.
In this manner, the British have increased the local content of apple production from a third to two thirds of consumption over the past quarter of a century.
In typical parochial fashion, once they have vanquished the EU apple, they vote YAH for Brexit.
To cheers of acclamation they exited the EU on the 23rd June 2016, a day that will go down in infamy. Sorry. That was Theodore Rooseveldt’s line when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour!
An isolationist philosophy will not prevail in the modern world. The British electorate has focused on the costs but not the benefits of inclusion in the EU. In future British goods will be subject to tariffs. The Financial Services Industry in London will ultimately be extremely badly affected.