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  • Writer's pictureCider Buzz Mcr

‘Discovery’ – an Essex pip that became a gardener’s delight

'The Book of Apples' by Joan Morgan and Alison Richards, 1993.
A wonderful book and a colour plate of a painting of 'Discovery' by Elisabeth Dowle.

A cider drinkers Pomona – a journey through apple types – the bittersweets, the bittersharps, the sweets and the sharps - and introducing some famous apple varieties. An attempt to popularise some cider apple varieties.

No. 3 - Discovery, an eating apple

Photo of a Discovdery from Sam Nightingale

“One of the varieties which carries the exact flavour of the apple into the cider”

Mike Johnson, Ross on Wye Cider and Perry Co.

My background is one of drinking west country style ciders since I was a youth in rural Devon. For nearly fifty years I’ve been drinking ciders made from classic bittersweet and bittersharp cider apple varieties.

Moss Cider, now based in Furnace Vale in Derbyshire, but with roots still In Moss Side.

Just over ten years ago my horizons were widened by an introduction to the wonderful Moss Cider project.

Based in Manchester’s Moss Side, the project used donated apples and pressed them into juice and fermented some for Cider; and the donors got a share!

Then my partner and I learnt how to make our own cider from the garden and park trees of Tameside. Just a little bit of sharp acidic cider, enough to keep Cath and her clog dancing friends supplied – ‘Milltown Cloggies’ on tour.

A subsequent motorhome tour of Normandy set us off to discover more about the diversity of cider and we developed a passion to bring the best ciders we could to Manchester. The seed for Cider Buzz Mcr started to germinate.

We visited cider makers across the west country, tasted some superb ciders and educated both our minds and our palates. But it is only in more recent years that we’ve realised we know little of ciders from the Eastern Counties tradition.

Discovery - the ferment

When I first sought advice from Sam Nightingale of Nightingale Cider about which eating and cooking apple varieties are the best to produce eastern counties style single variety ciders, his reply was instant:

Image: Sam Nightingale
“there are only really two single varieties of dessert fruit that stand up on their own, the Russet and the Discovery. Two such different yet powerful expressions of flavour.”

Sam uses Egremont Russet and we spoke on the phone for ages about both apples. But one single clear message came through: boy does he love Discovery, his favourite! Indeed he echoed Mike Johnsons words that it ‘carries the exact flavour of the apple into the cider’.

Sam Mount of Kentish Pip Cider agreed and added:

“Discovery has to be one of my favourite apples it’s very delicate and has a highly distinctive flavour and aroma. It’s the first apple of the English season and is only around for a short window, which really adds to its excitement and mystique.

Image: Sam Nightingale

Lots of people have Discovery apple trees in their gardens and the flavour is much loved, but it’s not so often seen in supermarkets and grocers. Sadly, Discovery doesn't keep well and has fallen out of favour as a commercial dessert apple.

However, Kent apple growers have been reluctant to lose these unique flavours, so they had to find another way of enjoying them all year round and cider came to the rescue. Discovery apples are easy to press and make into juice, giving a lovely pinkish colour that comes from the skin and the flesh.

Sam Mount reports:

“The first year we made Discovery cider even the finished cider had a pink hue but eventually, like the juice it becomes more golden over time and the cloudiness disappears.”

Other cider makers have called Discovery the Gewürz of the apple world, after the German Gewürztraminer Grape with its ‘heady’ easily recognisable aromas.

Sam Mount adds:

“In terms of flavour Discovery has one of the most, if not the most unique aromas with very floral fruity apple. It has distinct notes of strawberry, and others of quince and peach.”

Discovery Cider

Image: Sam Nightingale

Matthew Curtis of Pellicle Magazine and advocate of the crossovers between beer, cider, natural wine and some of the fermented flavours of food; has recommended Nightingales wild ferment Discovery Cider:

“For those still unsure about cider, the aptly named Discovery from Kentish cider maker Nightingale’s might be the perfect gateway. Kentish ciders tend to be somewhat lighter and crisper than their west of England counterparts, making this light bodied and medium finish easy drinking, while still maintaining the kind of complexity you’d expect from a low-intervention cider”

‘Discovery Ciders’ I know of:

Kentish Pip - Pure Discovery Limited Edition Range in Bag in Box

“The Discovery apple is the first to mature and be picked in the autumn. With the nose and flavour of this early variety, our Discovery blend is a medium fruity cider with a delicate rosé blush. A wild fermented minimal intervention cider, which is matured for a minimum of 6 months before release”

Sam Nightingale, Nightingale Cider

Apples do not reproduce true to type, meaning that the tree from the seed will produce apples that are almost certain to be different than the parent. You can have fun and experiment, but don't expect to have the same fruit. Once in a while, lucky finds are accidentally discovered among trees grown from seeds.

Appendix – a bit of history

Discovery - The story of a pip…. to a neglected seedling ….

Discovery was first raised in 1949 by a Mr Dummer of Blacksmiths Corner, Langham, Essex. He was a workman on Essex fruit farms and had raised a few seedlings from Worcester Pearmain pips, a 19th century early-season apple variety which lends its attractive red finish.

Joan Morgan, in ‘The Book of Apples’ from 1993, suggests that its other parent may be Beauty of Bath, a variety with a distinctive fairly acidic taste.

Dummer decided to plant his best seedling in his front garden, but as he only had the use of one arm, he required assistance from his wife. Unfortunately, she slipped and broke her ankle, so the tree had to remain, despite frosts, covered by a sack for some weeks before it was planted.

Nevertheless, the tree survived and produced colourful heavy crops, which, unlike many other earlies did not drop. Perfect for handpicking from the tree when fully ripe. Dummer named it ‘Thurston August’, to indicate its early cropping.

…. and a profitable graft

A nursery man Mr J. Matthews heard about the fine flavours of the apples from this tree and bought several grafts, which he cultivated. He renamed it ‘Discovery’ in 1962 and so commenced its rise to popularity. Every year he held a party under the mother tree in order to publicise the new trees he had cultivated. Joan Morgan believes the tree to still be there.

… and a path to commercial success and a popular garden apple

Discovery became widely grown in many household gardens, being fairly easy for the amateur to grow; and additionally by the 1980’s it was one of the most popular English early commercial dessert varieties. The apples were quite widely available in shops in the UK in late August and early September but in more recent years it has fallen out of favour.

Sam Mount, Kentish Pip:

“Most Discovery orchards have been pulled out and the remaining few are dropping in numbers as it’s a difficult apple to work with. Compared to modern more commercial varieties such as Gala, Braeburn, Jazz etc it has lower yields, more sporadic cropping. It can also be very prone to frost (on the blossom in early April) as it’s an earlier variety. Then it doesn’t store very well so it’s not available past September.”

So what comes next in our little Cider Pomona?

Prequel – Flakey Bark Perry Pear

Pomona One – Yarlington Mill

Pomona Two – Kingston Black

Pomona Three – Discovery

Pomona Four ………?

Traditional west country cider apple varieties:

Bittersweets – fulsome and textured

Look out for: Yarlington Mill (Pomona One), Dabinett,

Bittersharps – tingly

Look out for: Kingston Black (Pomona Two), Foxwhelp,

Eastern counties eaters and cookers:

Sharps – tangy; and Sweets – well... sweet (!).

Look out for: Discovery (Pomona Three), Bramley’s and Egremont Russets

Perry Pears:

Look out for: Gin, Butt and Coppy - oh and Flakey Bark (Pomona Prequel)

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