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In my hometown (Eastwood NSW, Australia) we annually celebrate the Granny Smith Apple, which is assumed by many to be the first green apple widely propagated.

How true is it that it was the first green-skinned apple to be widely propagated throughout the world? In our local stores it is usually the only green variety available.

From wikipedia:

Widely propagated in New Zealand, it was introduced to the United Kingdom c. 1935 and the United States in 1972 by Grady Auvil.

Example claim:

Miss Spurway was the great grand-daughter of Maria Ann ``Granny’’ Smith, the woman who inadvertently grew the first green apple

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  • This appears to be more of a food sciences question or the history of a certain type of apple. By and by this is not an academic history question, which is why I have VTC'd this question. Oct 12, 2011 at 0:04
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    @GPierce - Food sciences, are you serious?
    – going
    Oct 12, 2011 at 0:11
  • @GPierce - I have started a discussion in meta so you can provide guidelines as to what an 'academic' history question is.
    – going
    Oct 12, 2011 at 0:17
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    Here's one vote to reopen. Apples normally turn red when they're ripe - at some point, humans created or found a variety that stayed green and started propagating it. That's an historical event, and asking when it happened strikes me as a perfectly good question for this site. I suppose 'widely propagated' is kind of vague - maybe Xiao could specify the country or countries that interest him.
    – Rose Ames
    Mar 28, 2012 at 0:02
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    Another vote to re-open. The origin of crops is a =big deal= in history and archaeology. It may not be as sexy as "where did wheat production originate", but it's still a valid topic. Jul 26, 2012 at 14:01

2 Answers 2

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For a moment let's ignore the meaning of "widely propagated".

Apple trees were the first trees to be cultivated. Their genetic diversity is incredible, with for example 2000 varieties allegedly found in Italy only. Other sources report that there are 7000 known apple varieties in the world.

I do not report the sources as I have serious doubts about methods and accuracy, including e.g. the difficulty to catalogue local varieties with limited diffusion. As an example of what I do mean, in my hometown we grow an apple tree which gives pale yellow fruits, with (apparently) random portions having white skin and transparent pulp. Despite such distinctive characteristics and extended efforts on my behalf, I can't find this apple in any study/catalogue.

If then one considers that many apple varieties went extinct, especially since the 19th century with the systematic introduction of market oriented cultivars, an exhaustive answer to your question becomes impossible.

If I were less skeptic about the possibility to establish the first green apple, I would say that the Bramley originated at the beginning of the XIX century, and it comes in both green/red and green only. The White Transparent is definitely green, and originated in (allegedly) 1850. Both these varieties are pretty much common, although I must admit less common than the Granny Smith. The Granny Smith seems however, according to my research, the first green, dessert apple: all the other greenies I've found are cooking varieties.

That said:

  1. I am skeptic about the possibility to establish the identity of the first green apple
  2. Long live the Granny Smith Apple
  3. The "moment" of which in the incipit is still going...
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Wikipedia now has a quite extensive list of varieties of apples that includes dates. It is a little difficult to sort as many don't have a date or there is additional text in the date box that confounds sorting. Now, early date doesn't necessarily mean widely distributed, nor does it mean that we have records of all apples dating back to their origin or even when they were first planted or distributed (these are two different things... an apple tree might have been planted in one small location before being "discovered" and more widely distributed). In addition, apples originated somewhere in Central Asia a few thousand years ago, so they've been around a long time and we don't have records dating back much further than a few hundred years for this sort of thing. We know the Romans ate them, so presumably they had some varieties of their own, but we just don't know.

For reference, the Granny Smith from the question, was produced in 1868

On the Wikipedia list, I can see a few apples that might well claim to be widely distributed (as in outside a single country/region) and earlier than Granny Smith. Not least of these is the Sturmer Pippin, which is the parent plant from which the Granny is derived. These are/were available in both the UK and in Australia (obviously as the Granny Smith is Australian and derived from it) and New Zealand. The first record is from 1827 and these are definitely a green apple, being quite tart, just like the Granny Smith, but not as good a keeper in my experience.

Having said that, I think we can do better than that:

@astabada mentioned the Bramley, which dates back to 1809, and is found in the UK, Canada, USA, Australia and NZ. These aren't strictly green apples, getting quite red on the sun-side of the apple.

One might also argue that an apple such as the Roxbury Russet, which was the first apple bred in the USA, dates to the mid-1600's, and spread from its origins in what is now Boston, through parts of the Northern USA. I can find records indicating some 750 miles/1200 km (Boston to Ohio), which is reasonably far in my book.

I can't find many more that are older than that, with records of how far they might have travelled.

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  • What does "obviously as Granny is Australian" mean? Are you saying the term "Granny" for one's grandmother is an Australian term? (It's used in the US as well.) Or that the Granny for whom Granny Smith apples were named was an Australian woman?
    – shoover
    Aug 24, 2023 at 16:09
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    @shoover in the context - the granny smith apple. I'll amend to make clearer.
    – bob1
    Aug 24, 2023 at 20:51

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