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Anna Apple Blossom

First blossom of the season

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In JUSTIN RUSSELL'S garden, the first fruit blossoms of the new season have made their showy arrival. Leading the charge is an apple with unusual pedigree but an outstanding flavour.

The first deciduous fruit tree to burst into flower in my garden isn’t one of the usual suspects. It’s not an almond. Or a plum. It’s an apple. Experienced fruit growers will know which apple I’m referring to, since very few varieties flower so early in the season,, but for those who are still guessing, let’s continue the tease a bit longer. Not only is this apple the earliest tree in my garden to flower, it has an unusual heritage. Instead of being bred in a famous apple growing region like the English west country, Tasmania’s Huon Valley or north eastern America, this early bloomer was bred in Israel – not exactly classic apple territory. To confuse matters even more, it has specific pollination requirements. Because no other variety flowers so early, this apple must be planted with ‘Dorsett Golden’, another unusual apple bred in the Bahamas. Yep, that Bahamas, the tropical island in the Caribbean. The apple in question is ‘Anna’. Bred in the 1950’s by Abba Stein on Ein Shemer kibbutz, Anna is a cross between a ‘Red Hadassya’ crab apple and the well known dessert apple ‘Golden Delicious’. What makes Anna so remarkable is that she’s incredibly well adapted to warm climates. With a winter chilling requirement of just 150 to 300 hours, Anna breaks all the conventions and can be successfully grown in the subtropics, and even the cooler parts of the tropics such as the Atherton Tableland. Some other low-chill apples lack character, but Anna makes for excellent eating. It’s a big bruiser of an apple – the size of a heavyweight boxer’s fist – and it packs a flavoursome punch. The fruit is is crisp, very juicy and has a good balance of sweetness and acidity with a refreshing, almost grassy finish that lingers nicely on the palette. I wouldn’t rank Anna as one of the best, but she is very tasty. And also very precocious. A tiny little Anna tree will often set fruit in its first year and in years thereafter, almost every bud will produce a cluster of five flowers. That’s a heck of a lot of fruit for a tree to bear, so to avoid a huge crop of sub-standard apples it can be helpful to thin radically. Pull off four out of every five fruitlets in a cluster. It will seem wasteful when you’re doing it, but the rewards of thinning are larger apples of superior quality. If you’re growing your own fruit in an area not traditionally considered apple country, my suggestion is to make some space for Anna, and its pollinator Dorsett Golden. You’ll still need to deal with problems like fruit fly and high humidity, but after you taste your first Anna, any amount of effort with be worthwhile.