I remember when Braeburn was first becoming established from New Zealand, when it was regarded as an almost perfect apple. It was firm, crunchy and sweet, with a great acid balance and a lovely flavour.
Then it spread around the apple-producing world without much control; the uniformity of quality was lost and several variants appeared, some with more red blush, others with quite a different flavour, not all good. My faith in the variety diminished as I never really knew what quality I was going to get, and I suspect many people felt the same.
Now, however, 20 years or so later, the status of Braeburn is looking up. Growers and retailers have worked hard to establish better uniformity, and many of the poorer types and growing areas have been abandoned.
It is worth noting, though, that variation still exists, as with these three examples from Belgium, France and UK (pictured). The middle Braeburn, from France, looks and tastes like a different variety, while the two on either side are much closer to the original.
As well as these three origins, in stores at the moment (December) are Braeburn from Slovenia (in Waitrose), Italy (in Lidl and as Organic in Tesco and Sainsbury) and Germany (in Morrisons). I bet they all taste slightly different!
For my money, I think the New Zealand Braeburn, available in our summer months, still sets the bar for quality, though much of the fruit grown in the UK is very good, perhaps with a little more of a tang. It is often tempting to reach for the more blushed varieties, but there is no guarantee that more red colouration means better taste, in fact it is often the opposite.
Given the same variant of Braeburn, there will always be slight differences in eating quality between different growing areas, both in sweetness, acid levels and flavour (for example, South African Braeburn are consistently sweeter), but there should be a distinct commonality of eating experience between the different sources, much like that achieved by the newer ‘club’ varieties such as Pink Lady, Jazz, Kanzi and Rubens, for which tight quality standards are applied to use the name.
Braeburn is not a protected or registered variety, so it is up to growers and retailers of Braeburn to ensure that only the best are grown and sold. As consumers, we can really only vote with our feet, but it would be a great pity if this lovely variety is allowed to disappear from our shelves.