The spur-type Granny Smiths Granspur and Greenspur were discovered at the Calvin Cooper orchard at Brewster, Washington, and patented in 1979 and 1980 respectively. Shown is a page from a Van Well Nursery catalog of the early 1980s.
The green, tart Granny Smith apple had been around for more than a century by the time it became popular in the United States in the 1970s.
Maria Ann Smith, after whom the apple is named, was born in England in 1800. She and her husband, Thomas, and their six children emigrated to Australia in 1838 and settled near Sydney in New South Wales. They acquired a small piece of land at Eastwood, now in the suburbs of Sydney, where they established an orchard and market garden.
There have been many different stories about the origins of Granny Smith. According to one account from Benjamin Spurway, his grandmother, Mrs Smith, made a weekly ten-mile trip by horse-drawn cart to sell produce in the Sydney markets. On one trip she was given some French crab apples from Tasmania by a fellow stall holder to test their cooking quality. She went home, baked a pie, and sowed the apple seeds in the ground outside her kitchen window. Only one seed germinated and was left to grow. When the tree bore fruit, it produced fine apples that cooked and stored well, so Mrs. Smith nurtured the tree and harvested the fruit for her own use.
In a different account, Tom Small related that as a 12-year-old boy in 1868, he visited the Smiths with his father, Mr. E.H. Small, who was a fruit grower. Mrs. Smith showed them a tree that was growing among ferns and grass and had a few green apples on it. They tasted the fruit, and the elder remarked that it would be a good cooking apple and it might be worth getting some grafts from it.
Asked about its origin, Mrs. Smith told him she had brought some gin cases back from the Sydney markets and they’d contained some Tasmanian French crab apples that were rotting. She had thrown them out at the site where the tree was growing.
In either case, it appears that Granny Smith is the progeny of open-pollinated French Crab, though the parentage cannot be confirmed.
Mrs. Smith grafted a few trees, and soon afterwards, a relative, Edward Gallard, planted a fairly large block and is credited as being the first commercial grower of the new variety. Sydney’s humid, subtropical climate is not ideal for apple production, but Granny Smith thrived while other apple cultivars struggled.
Mrs. Smith, who was affectionately known in the Eastwood neighborhood as “Granny,” died in 1870.
The commercial potential of the variety was recognized by nurseries in Australia and New Zealand around the beginning of the twentieth century, and major plantings occurred from the 1920s onward. It met four important criteria: It was a grower’s apple; it satisfied the packer and shipper; it stood up well in markets; and the consumer liked it and asked for more.
By the 1980s, Granny Smith accounted for about 40 percent of production in both Australia and New Zealand. A Granny Smith festival has been held in the town of Eastwood every year since 1985.
Significant plantings of Granny Smith did not occur in North America and Europe until the 1970s, largely as a result of demand generated by the popularity of fruit exported from the Southern Hemisphere. Apples were first exported to Europe from New Zealand in 1923.
Grady Auvil and Dan Gebbers were among the growers who pioneered the variety in Washington State in the early 1970s. Last season, Washington produced 13 million packed boxes of Granny Smith, making it the state’s fourth-ranking variety. Washington produces most of the Granny Smiths in the United States. California is the only other state with significant commercial quantities.Information for this article came from the American Pomological Society’s book, A History of Fruit Varieties, and from Apples Galore! The History of the Apple Industry in the Wenatchee Valley by Al C. Bright.