Bramley are the quintessential British cooking apple. Believe it or not the original Bramley tree is still growing although it is over 200 years old and has been struck by lightening, although is getting towards the end of its natural life as it has been infected with honey fungus. Nottingham Trent university have taken over the care of the tree and clones have been taken which are now for sale to ensure the original lives on however the tree you are most likely to pick up in garden centres is Bramleys seedling which should be from the original cuttings taken by Henry Merryweather back in the 1876. If you do however be warned! The tree is extremely vigorous and will take over a small garden if not on a dwarfing rootstock and is also likely to grow larger than expected on a dwarfing rootstock so go a size lower than suggested.
If you want a more controllable tree then Bramley 20 is the better choice. It is a sport of Bramley which means that was a part of a cutting from the Bramley tree which for some reason is slightly different. In this case it is slightly slower growing and about 25% smaller but the fruit is the same.
Late Autumn/winter is the best time to plant, during their torment season so that you can buy them bare rooted which is cheaper but also usually more successful.
In the kitchen
Bramley apples store well. Wrap them in paper and store in a cool dark place. Check weekly and discard any that are on the turn. Bramley apples are high in pectin so are useful in fruit cheeses and leathers and jams and jellies if trying to set a low pectin fruit.
Bramley cook down to a fluff so are good in apple sauce. Try apple sauce with pork, duck, venison or mackerel. You can also use the puree to flavour ice cream or make fools. I don’t generally add sugar to apple sauce, but you can if you like and a tiny pinch of salt.
You can bake Bramleys. Core the apple and stuff with raisins, sultanas, mixed peel and some sugar or a mincemeat mix.
If you are making a crumble or pie try mixing with another apple as well so you have the puree of the Bramley but with some bite as well from an apple that holds its shape.
Yield and plant health
I’m growing Bramley 20 as part of a family tree and it is by far the most vigorous portion of the tree, double the size of the others and with twice as much fruit. This is actually causing a little bit of difficulty as it needs careful pruning to stop the tree becoming unbalanced. Bramley 20 is very productive producing many apples which will may need thinning. The idea harvest time is supposed to be mid October however I was certainly picking earlier this year.
Bramley 20 is not self fertile and requires a partner tree from pollination group 3. Common other trees in this group are Blenheim Orange, Arthur Turner, Beauty of Bath, Christmas Pippin, Discovery, Scrumptious, Grenadier, James Grieve and Worcester Pearmain. In addition Bramley is a tripod which means you need three trees for good pollination as Branley itself is not a good pollinator.
Bramley 20 can suffer from bitter pit when watering is irregular which causes brown markings inside the apples with a bitter taste. Ensure that you water young trees well and give a good soak during droughts.
Scab can be a problem on the leaves which will turn yellow and drop prematurely. Remove infected leaves and burn or dispose of away from site.
How to Grow
Apples are frost hardy trees that can grow for up to around 200 years if well looked after. Traditionally they are planted when dormant in the winter and you can buy either pots or bare rooted plants.
Trees are often grown on different rootstocks to reduce the size that they will grow to. The smaller the root stock, the faster to fruit but yield is reduced. Smaller rootstocks are good for training apples against walls in the forms of cordons or “stepovers” or for growing apples in pots.
M27 – Extremely dwarfing. Used for cordons or growing in pots or where a small tree is required. Tree will grow to 1.2m and needs permanent staking or tying in. Space trees 1.2m apart.
M9 – Dwarfing. Tree will grow to 2m. Used for bushes or small trees. Plant 2.5m apart. Needs permanent staking.
M26 – Dwarfing. Tree will grow to 3m. Plant 4m apart. Needs permanent staking.
MM105 – Semi dwarfing. Grows to 4m. Plant 5m apart. Stake for first 5 years.
M25, MM111- Vigorous. Trees will grow to 6m. Plant 6m apart. Stake for first 3 years.
Before you plants arrive prepare the ground in a sunny, sheltered spot preferably with good drainage. You will also need stakes and ties and you might want to have mmycorrhizal fungi
Dig a hole the size of the rootball in depth but three times as wide. If your soil is heavy clay you might want to incorporate some extra drainage with some grit and compost. Position your stake in the planting pit and bang firmly in using a mallet. If using mycorrhizal fungi then gently sprinkle over the roots before laying them down in the planting pit, spreading the roots out in the pit. The tree should be no deeper than previously planted and the graft if it is a grafted tree should not be covered. Cover the roots with soil and gently firm in with your foot around the tree. Tie the tree to the stake and water well.
After this your tree should need little attention. It is advisable to remove any fruit that sets in the first year to allow it focus on setting up healthy roots and growth and to water in dry periods in the first year. The stake should remain for at least the first two years but apples grown on dwarfing rootstocks may need permanent staking and watering if dry.
Remove and dead or crossing branches in winter when dormant. You can also thin in summer to allow more light in to the tree.