Apart from the clocks going back, another annual event at the end of October is of course, Halloween.
Medieval historians tell us that its connection with the pagan festival of Samhain has been overstated but Halloween has been recorded here for some centuries.
For instance, the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork has a painting by Daniel MacLise, the Cork painter who was a friend of Charles Dickens. It’s called Snap Apple Night and it depicts a bawdy night of Halloween partying and games that MacLise attended in Blarney in 1832. Almost two centuries later, apples and apple games are still associated with Halloween and there are now 7,000 varieties to choose from.
Few apples are as well known as the Granny Smith - and Catherine Cleary told us about its origins.
The Granny Smith by Catherine Cleary
The story of the Granny Smith is one of a pioneer woman, a happy accident, a catchy name and the development of the apple as a year-round fruit. The most surprising thing is that it starts with a real person, an Englishwoman whose married name was Smith.
Maria Ann Sherwood was born in Beckley in East Sussex in 1800. She married Thomas Smith who was from a nearby town and the couple set off for Australia with their five children when Maria Ann was 38.
They settled in the farmland of New South Wales, an area where the Sydney suburb of Eastwood sits now. There are two accounts of how the apple that sent her name into the future came into being. One was that this woman farmer, whose husband was an invalid, brought home some packing cases containing a rich compost of rotting Tasmanian apples. She tipped them out among ferns beside a stream. The mulch sprouted a seedling which bore a new and delicious pale-green-skinned apple.
Another account, told by her grandson, was that a fruit agent gave Maria Ann some French crab apples to test. She made an apple pie and threw the peelings out the window. And it was from these that the new variety sprouted.
However they grew it wasn’t until well after Granny Smith died, at 70 - a the ripe old age for a 19th century woman - that the apple bearing her name really took off.
Twenty years after Maria Ann Smith’s death a new apple was exhibited at an Australian agricultural show as “Smith’s Seedling”.
The name seems to have needed a tweak – and the following year it won a prize as a cooking apple under its new name Granny Smith’s Seedling.
In 1895 the Australian Government began growing Granny Smiths and saw their potential for export. This is when fruit merchants began experimenting with shipping apples in cold storage. The Granny Smith had a long growing season and an excellent shelf life and by the mid 1970s, it accounted for 40 per cent of Australia’s apple crop.
Today, apples are regularly shipped from one hemisphere to another and kept for up to a year in controlled atmosphere storage designed to stop them rotting. It all started with the Granny Smith - one of the first varieties that allowed fruit merchants to tinker with seasonality and turn the apple into a year-round fruit.
As we sink our teeth into a Granny Smith this Halloween, it’s worth wondering what the 19th century pioneer, Maria Ann Smith might have made of it all.
The grave of Maria Ann Smith
Catherine Cleary is the restaurant critic of The Irish Times.