It was the apple of Van Riebeeck's eye, and now you can have a bite of it
The Witte Wijn apple is back in South Africa after being absent for hundreds of years
The last time somebody planted a Witte Wijn apple tree in South Africa all hell broke loose.
The person responsible was Jan van Riebeeck, widely considered the father of expropriation without compensation – although he did come bearing gifts apparently.
What is more clear is that Van Riebeeck oversaw the planting of the famous Company’s Garden where fresh vegetables and fruit – including the Dutch Witte Wijn apple – were grown and supplied to passing ships.Now the Witte Wijn apple is back, after an absence of hundreds of years. It is under quarantine in a warehouse in Grabouw in preparation for replanting in a heritage orchard – and possibly commercial production.
Industry stakeholders will be hoping the fruit this time ushers in a period of political calm, not upheaval.The Witte Wijn variety is the first apple recorded in the diary of the Dutch governor of the Cape, reportedly first picked in the Company’s Garden on April 17 1662. It was recently tracked down in the Netherlands and imported back to South Africa by producer organisation Hortgro and industry research body Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing.
Although due to stay under strict quarantine until next year, the apple will then be planted in an existing heritage orchard designed to preserve historical fruit varietals.Hortgro’s executive director, Anton Rabe, said: “We are really proud and privileged to participate in this initiative to bring the historical plant material back to South Africa and will continue to honour the roots of our industry for many years to come.“The impact on and contribution of the apple industry to the modern economy of the Western Cape is huge. This massive industry, which today contributes to more than 45,000 jobs, food security, rural stability, infrastructure and foreign earnings, was however built on a small and nearly forgotten historical event of 356 years ago.”
Tru-Cape quality assurance manager Henk Griessel said the planting of the heritage orchard ultimately prompted the decision to import the Witte Wijn. “I knew then [when the orchard was planted] that the company was as serious about heirloom varieties as it is about developing new and improved apple and pear strains, and when the opportunity arose to import the budwood for the original South African apple, the Witte Wijn Appel, it was an easy choice.”Of the Witte Wijn he said: “The flesh is soft, very juicy with a good taste. It is a good-looking apple and very tasty when stewed. It is also suitable for making apple wine. The tree is strong and bears well when it becomes older.”
If all goes according to plan the Witte Wijn will be replanted in the Company’s Garden where it first colonised South African soil.