A bit of fluff about a Ribston pippin…

I ATE an apple yesterday. Hardly surprising, I know, but there was more to this apple than some. It came from a tree I had planted. The apple was very good and I felt absurdly pleased with myself. Well, you have to try and feel pleased about yourself sometimes, even if it is an uphill struggle at times.

The tree was a birthday present two years ago. It arrived wrapped in cardboard and swaddled in straw. With advice from my wife the gardener, I carried the tree down to the vegetable patch. I dug a hole, popped the tree in, filled the soil round the roots, attached the tree to an old stick for temporary support, watered the tree, and then left it alone.

There were no apples last year but the tree has fruited this year. A scattering of apples rather than a boxful, but clearly the most remarkable apples known to man. Or to this man.

The variety was Ribston Pippin, described as a famous Yorkshire apply variety and probably the parent of Cox’s Orange Pippin. And you can’t beat a Cox’s Orange Pippin. Or you couldn’t until now. According to Apple-tree-pedia, my tree was grown in 1708 from one of three apple pips sent from Normandy to Sir Henry Goodricke of Ribston Hall, near Knaresborough. The original tree lasted until 1835, before setting out a new shoot and living on the same root until 1928.

Sorry to go all Monty Don on you, but it was quite an apple, the tartness undercut by sweetness, the flesh only just yielding. Incidentally, in our house we play a game called What’s Monty Wearing This Week? That man may know his onions and much else besides, but he dresses like a peasant from a Thomas Hardy novel – a peasant, what’s more, who got drummed out of scruffy peasant school for being too slipshod in his choice of clothing.

Anyway I like the idea of those pips being sent from Normandy centuries ago and, in effect, growing into a tree in our back garden. From that pip came the apple I sliced up while having a picnic in the car at a horrible service station. If only Sir Henry Goodricke had known where all his careful stewardship would end up.

As I do like an incidental, here is another. In the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of Black Peter, Arthur Conan Doyle describes a character as a “little Ribston pippin of a man, with ruddy cheeks and fluffy side-whiskers”. It is now my ambition one day to be a Ribston pippin of a man with ruddy cheeks and fluffy side-whiskers.

I just tried looking up anything of further interest about Sir Henry Goodricke, but it was dusty territory, long corridors of unnoticed nobility, the stuff English history is made of when nothing of note is happening. Nothing need detain us further than that apple.

Not everyone leaves an apple for future generations to enjoy. So well done, Sir Henry. Some of us just leave an apple core at an over-crowded and unpleasant service station on the M5. And that isn’t going to grow into anything.

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