Apple I.D. Practice – Four Mystery Varieties to Identify

A couple of weeks ago I offered to attempt to i.d. a batch of apples for two fellow plot holders down at the allotment. C has two large apple trees and one smaller on her plot, and J has one smallish but very productive apple tree on his. Neither of them know what variety they are, having inherited the trees when they took over their respective plots, so I said I’d see if I could help out.

If you’d like to cross-check my conclusions against your own sources, notes, or general opinions, then I’d love to hear your suggestions and/or definitive identifications. Please do leave a comment at the end of this post, remembering make it clear which of the four apples you’re referring to, of course.

Let’s Get Started

I’m going to be applying the apple i.d. method that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Obtain at least two fruits from the same tree to examine.
  2. Make a profile of the key characteristics of the fruits.
  3. Check the profile against one or more good reference sources.

It’s worth bearing the following caveats in mind in the case of all four of the sample apples that I’m examining:

  • Due to the prevailing weather patterns in our part of the world, it hasn’t been a great year for apples, generally speaking.
  • None of the trees underwent fruit-thinning this year, as far as I know.
  • The fact that these apples all seemed ready for picking in mid-September – they lifted away easily and I didn’t have to force them from the tree in any way – doesn’t guarantee that they’re at optimum ripeness in mid-September; they might have been picked early.

The combination of these factors – plus a whole list of additional growth-affecting variables – means that the apples I’m examining may not be the largest and/or ripest examples of the fruit that each tree is capable of producing.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the illustrations of a particular fruit variety shown on websites and in books are often just a single example of that variety, and one that could have been grown in very different conditions – climate, local weather patterns, soil, aspect, age of tree – and/or picked at a different stage of ripeness to the examples I’m working with.

All of the above means I’m looking for general similarities of key characteristics, rather than exact matches, but that should hopefully be enough to steer me to an i.d.[1]

For the most part, I’m using either the National Fruit Collection Database (abbreviated to NFCD below) and/or as the main sources of visual comparison and then cross-referenced with other sites and print books.

Let’s see how I get on.

Apple Number One

Shape: Round-conical
Height: approx. 50mm
Width: approx. 70mm
Cheek: Pale green flushing to a deep red, with pale lenticels[2]. Smooth and glossy.
Stalk: Short, recessed.
Cavity: Deep and narrow.
Base: Noticeable ridges, light russet streaking.
Sepals: Pointed, closed
Eye: Medium depth, narrow.
Apex: Strongly crowned, no visible russet.

NFCD[3]: No clear matches found via criteria search.

FruitID: Via the quick identification option: ‘predominantly red’ apples, possible visible matches include:

  • Calville Rouge D’Hiver – unlikely, as fruit-shape tends more towards long-conical with sepals tend that are more recurved than our examples.
  • Delicious – not sure, fruit-shape tends more towards oblong-conical? Basin tends to be deeper & wider?
  • Herring’s PippinDistinct Possibility – based on general shape, colour, pattern of lenticels, strength of crown.

Cross-referencing ‘Herring’s Pippin’

NFCD shows a ‘Herring’s Pippin’ with a decent matching photo[4].

Illustrations of ‘Herring’s Pippin’ in Joan Morgan’s The Book of Apples shows a brighter, lighter red colour, but a similar shape and matching key characteristics.

Conclusion: There’s a good chance that apple number one is Herring’s Pippin. Which is an interesting one for me, as I’ve not come across it before now.

Apple Number Two

Shape: Round
Height: approx. 50mm
Width: approx. 55mm
Cheek: Bright green, half-flushed dull red, subtle green-brown lenticels. Smooth but matt texture.
Stalk: Very short, barely prominent.
Cavity: Shallow and narrow.
Base: Lightly ridged, very little little russeting.
Sepals: Small, short, closed.
Eye: Very shallow, very small and narrow.
Apex: Almost smooth, hardly any crown.

NFCD: Again, no clear matches found. Searching on just ‘globose’ and ‘small’ returned 14 possibles – with both M27 and MM111 rootstocks amongst them – but no obvious photo matches. Attempting to increase the criteria, even with simple colour combinations, quickly resulted in no matches found.[5]

FruitID: via the Quick Identification option, using both ‘striped, acid, smooth skinned’ and ‘striped, smooth, dessert / dual purpose’ criteria, possible matches include:

  • Ashmead’s Kernel – The very shallow eye basin and tightly closed sepals look right, but the examples shown are more distinctly striped and have more pronounced russeting and the lenticels are paler.
  • Baxter’s PearmainTentative Possibility – The sepals look about right (although some examples shown have a much more open eye), and the red/green balance of the colouration is about right (except for those photos showing pale yellow or yellow apples…)
  • Winston – Again, there’s a similarity with the general size and shape, and the sepals, but the examples shown tend to have paler lenticels.

Cross-referencing ‘Baxter’s Pearmain’

NFCD shows a ‘Baxter’s Pearmain’ that is reasonably similar, albeit with an everso slightly deeper eye.

Pomiferous has ‘Baxter’s Pearmain’ as one of George Lindley’s apples, introduced in 1821, and the general description sounds about right.

Keepers Nursery can provide Baxter’s Pearmain via a bud-grafting service and their one photo does show a tantalisingly similar apple. The description makes it clear that it’s a mid-October apple, meaning the apples I picked are a month or so early which makes sense, as they are still quite green.

Conclusion: There’s a reasonable chance that apple number two could be a ‘Baxter’s Pearmain’, becoming more likely if the apples I picked and examined are a month under-ripe. I’ll try to remember to check back in a month and see how they’re doing. Again, it’s not an apple I’ve come across before, so it would be an interesting one if the i.d. does hold true.

Apple Number Three

Shape: One fruit is distinctly long-conical (possibly a king fruit?), and the other is shorter and rounder[6].
Height: approx. 60mm – 70mm
Width: approx. 65mm
Cheek: Pale yellow/green with red striping through to amore solid, darker red flush. Distinct russet lenticels. Smooth but faintly textured due to pronounced lenticels.
Stalk: Quite long, approx, 18-20mm
Cavity: Medium depth but fairly narrow.
Base: Medium russeting, faint ridges.
Sepals: Shallow, flat, closed.
Eye: Shallow, medium width.
Apex: No russeting, noticeable but not pronounced crown.

FruitID: via the Quick Identification option, using both ‘striped, acid, smooth skinned’ and ‘striped, smooth, dessert / dual purpose’ criteria, possible matches include:

  • Gala / Galaxy – Reasonable size and shape matches for a couple of reference photos, except most photos of both varieties[7] are paler red with paler lenticels, and have longer, more recurved sepals.
  • JupiterTentative Possibility – A good visual match with the reference photos, including lenticel patterning and sepal shape.

Cross-referencing ‘Jupiter’

NFCD shows a rounder apple[8] with a similar red/green pattern but with lenticels not as clearly defined. The eye/basin and stalk/cavity are a reasonable match.

Garden Apple I.D., the RHS website, Orange Pippin and Rosie Sanders’ The Apple Book all show examples of fruits that are approximately the same size and shape, but are more distinctly striped. Having said that, the description of the variety’s key characteristics in The Apple Book is a decent match.

Conclusion: There’s a reasonable chance that apple number three could be a ‘Jupiter’, but I’m not 100% convinced and would welcome a second opinion[9].

Apple Number Four

Shape: Round
Height: approx. 55mm – 60mm
Width: aaprox. 65mm – 70mm
Cheek: Pale yellow-green, distinctly striped with orange-red, some russeting. Visible and slightly raised russet lenticels.
Stalk: Very short, deeply recessed.
Cavity: Medium depth and width.
Base: Very faint ridging, strongly russeted.
Sepals: Quite short, closed (photo above actually has sepals missing so appears open).
Eye: Distinctly recessed, minimal russeting.
Apex: Faintly crowned, indistinct ridges.

FruitID: via the Quick Identification option, using both ‘some russet, flush / stripes, usually sweet’ and ‘fruit profile: round’ criteria, possible matches include:

  • Alkmene (Early Windsor)Strong Possibility – Very good photo match with the examples shown, particularly the general shape of the fruit, short stalk, and the pattern of striping on the cheek.
  • Ashmead’s Kernel – Example photos show a fruit that’s generally paler in colouration than ours, with longer stalks.
  • Barnack’s Beauty, Laxton’s Superb, Laxton’s Victory, Sunset (and a few others) – all reasonably close shape- and colour-matches, but with noticeable differences in the example photos; usually the stalks are much longer or the ridging on the the basin is more pronounced.

Cross-Referencing ‘Alkmene’

NFCD shows a good match with similar colouration and a suitably short stalk.

Garden Apple I.D. has an example with a deeper red colour (theirs could be a ‘Red Alkmene’?[10], but the general size, shape and other key characteristics are about right.

The RHS website and both have good matches, as does Rosie Sanders’ The Apple Book.

Conclusion: I think there’s a very good chance that apple number four is ‘Alkmene’, a.k.a. ‘Early Windsor’. This is a fairly common apple – or at least the ‘Red Windsor’ (‘Red Alkmene’) is one that’s grown commercially in the UK and can be found in supermarkets at this time of year – and for good reason: it’s a very tasty dessert apple, well worth growing, or buying.

Quick Summary

So there you have it. As far as I can tell, based on the searches and sources described above, the likelihood is that the four apples are:

Apple Number One – I think there’s a good chance this is a ‘Herring’s Pippin. According to the National Fruit Collection: “Thought to have been raised by Mr Herring of Lincoln. It was first recorded in 1908. Introduced by Pearson of Nottingham.”

Apple Number Two – I think there’s a reasonable chance this could be a ‘Baxter’s Pearmain‘, albeit a slightly under-ripe example. The NFC says it was “introduced by G. Lindley[11] of Norfolk, England in 1821.” Making this the variety’s bicentenary year.

Apple Number Three – A much more tentative i.d. this time, but I think there’s a chance it might be a ‘Jupiter‘. The NFC says: “Raised in 1966 at East Malling Research Station, Kent. It was introduced in 1981.”

Apple Number Four – I’m prepared to say that there’s a very good chance this is an ‘Alkmene‘, a.k.a. ‘Early Windsor’. The NFC says: “Raised in 1930 at the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Brandenburg, Germany.” Although it wasn’t introduced commercially until the 1970s.

What do you reckon? Have I done a decent job of identifying these apples? Have you spotted one that you’re sure I’ve misidentified (maybe that tenuous ‘Jupiter’)? Would you like to try making your own profiles and running your own searches and see what you come up with? Any and all feedback, suggestions and corrections are extremely welcome, via the comments, or by email.


1 Apple i.d. can be a tricky game to play sometimes, unless you go the whole hog and pay for genetic analysis.
2 Lenticels are the dots that are usually visible on the skin of the apple. They’re actually ‘breathing’ holes, that allow the exchange of gases between the interior of the fruit and the atmosphere surrounding it; an essential part of the ongoing ripening and eventual senescence process.
3 The National Fruit Collection Database.
4 Frustratingly, the over-colour is given as ‘orange’ – which it quite clearly isn’t – which is probably why it didn’t come up in my criteria searches, as I was using ‘red’ instead…
5 I’m beginning to lose faith in the NFCD search as a primary investigation tool, although it is very good for cross-referencing once you know the name of the variety you’re interested in.
6 I didn’t notice at the time of picking, but the shorter of the two appears to be a bit rotten at the eye, possibly due to a codling moth infestation, and so it might be a case of stunted growth, meaning it’s not a typical size and shape.= for the variety.
7 ’Galaxy’ is a sport of ‘Gala’, so is very similar
8 Again, the longer apple could be a ‘king fruit’, from the centre of the blossom cluster, which can sometimes be larger than typical apples of a given variety.
9 This is a very tentative link, but this apple is similar in its general glossiness and crunchy texture, to the ‘Saturn’ that we grow on Plot #79. Both ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Saturn’ were raised by the East Malling Research Station, whose mission was to find apples with commercial potential, so it makes a vague sort of sense that they could have introduced apples of a similar gloss/crunch if they thought that was what the market was demanding. As I say though, it’s quite a tentative bit of not-really-evidence…
10 The ‘Red Alkmene’ (a.k.a. ‘Red Windsor’) is a sport of ‘Alkmene’, which has a much deeper red flush according to the NFCD photo reference.
11 That would be George Lindley, father of the more famous John Lindley, and author of A Guide to the Orchard and Kitchen Garden (1831).

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