The prince of all these among English apples is Cox’s Orange Pippin. Every grower knows that Cox is a difficult fruit to bring to a high standard, but it remains, after nearly 200 years, the one the connoisseur wants to eat. It is at its best from store in November and December. Its thin skin and the foaming texture of its richly sweet flesh are always welcome. In 1929, the fruit critic Edward Bunyard called it the Château d’Yquem of apples, on account of its combination of rich sweetness and long keeping quality.
Cox’s Orange Pippin was bred in 1830 by Richard Cox, a retired brewer. Cox lived at Colnbrook, now romantically sandwiched between Slough and Heathrow Airport, but then a quiet corner of rural Buckinghamshire. We do not know the apple’s parentage, but it is likely that one of its forebears was Ribston Pippin, a Yorkshire-born dessert apple that, to Victorians, occupied the place on the podium of ideal dessert apples now assumed by Cox.
This is the real wonder of Cox’s Orange Pippin: although it took me many years of gradual discovery to appreciate it, many of my favourite apples are closely related to it. When I encounter the eating quality of an unfamiliar apple and come to do a bit of superficial homework, there is Cox nearby on the family tree, quietly nodding to me in an unobtrusive way.
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