The real Granny Smith

I was very proud to establish and manage a certified organic grocery store called Granny Smith Natural Food Market. It operated in Sydney’s northern suburbs from 2002 to 2012 when I sold it to move to North East Victoria.

A lot of thought went into the naming of my business. Maria Ann ‘Granny’ Smith was a real person and had grown her famous apples not far away on the hills above Sydney Harbour. But most people don’t know of her as a real person.

In Granny’s story I saw local food production, hard work, thrift, organic values, recognition of the work of women in horticulture and strong social fabric. As a middle-aged woman with a large family, Granny Smith emigrated to the young but growing colony of New South Wales on the far side of the world. She worked quietly to produce food, maintain a household economy and support her family. Naming my business after her was a way of giving prominence to these values. My current logo is the peel of a Granny Smith apple: I still have a soft spot for her.

Below is Granny’s story from my former business website:

Granny Smith is without doubt one of our most famous Australians. Her name is recognised and known throughout the world. But many people don’t realise she was a real person.

Maria Ann Smith is buried in the graveyard of St Anne’s Anglican Church, at Ryde in Sydney. This church now sits close to the corner of busy Victoria and Ryde Roads, but when Granny Smith was alive its prominent position afforded it a splendid view over rolling farmland, orchards and fields flowing down to the Parramatta River below, and west to the Blue Mountains. Thomas and Maria Ann Smith’s farm was located a few kilometres from St Anne’s.

The Smiths, with their five children, arrived from England in 1838 and settled in what is now the Sydney suburb of Eastwood, barely inhabited at the time and known as the Dark Country. Maria was 38.

By 1856 the Smiths had 10 hectares of good farming land, which they used to grow fresh produce for the Sydney market: apples, pears and other fruit, vegetables, milk and eggs. Mrs Smith made fruit pies, for which she developed an enviable reputation. All this produce had to be transported to Sydney by either horse and cart along rutted and often muddy tracks, or by boat down the Parramatta River, whose wharves had first to be reached along similar rough roads.

At first, Thomas would take their produce to the Sydney Markets. But, according to their grandson Benjamin Spurway, his grandfather would often arrive home from Sydney with little money left to show for their hard work. So Mrs Smith began to take their goods to the Sydney Markets herself. This must have taken all day, a tremendous burden on an already busy mother and farmer.

It is said that one day a wholesaler at the markets gave her a box of apples from Tasmania with which to weave her pie-making magic. She took these home and, like most housewives of the time, threw the peels and seeds out of the kitchen window onto a compost heap in the garden below. Some months later, she found a small apple seedling, known as a ‘pippin’, growing in the compost. She tended it carefully to see what it might bear.

Apples never grow true to type from seed and most pippins bear fruit good only for cider or animal forage. But the special thing about apples is that every pippin offers the remote possibility of growing some entirely new, special and delicious apple. And what Mrs Smith found when her little tree bore fruit were beautiful green apples with a magnificent crunch, refreshing tanginess and superb keeping qualities. The Granny Smith apples cooked well and were also good for eating and the apple’s reputation quickly spread. With refrigerated transport still only in its infancy, the Granny Smith apple’s beautiful colour, delicious flavour and texture and ability to hold well and maintain its crunch on long voyages quickly brought it export success.

Maria Ann Smith gave birth to sixteen children, of whom only six survived to adulthood. Knowing through experience the difficulties of motherhood, Maria had earned a reputation for her competence and willingness to help her community. In her sixties, she had become affectionately known to all as ‘Granny’.

Granny Smith died in 1870 at the age of 69, before the commercial success of the apple that bears her name. Soon after World War I Granny Smith apples were exported from Australia all over the world. They are now grown in South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, the United States and France. Growing widely from the seeds of an accidental pippin, nurtured by a resourceful woman, it has become a firm favourite everywhere apples are grown.

Maria Ann Smith with eldest son Thomas c1863-68. Image: Dictionary of Sydney / State Library of NSW
From the store’s website: Granny Smith Natural Food Market

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