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Sunset apples are a small varietal, averaging 5 to 6 centimeters in diameter, and have a round to ovate, squat shape with flat shoulders and curved sides. The apple’s skin has a yellow-green base and is covered in patches of dark red-orange striping, striations, and orange to light pink-red blush. The surface also features small spots of light brown russet, giving the apple a semi-rough and smooth texture with a matte appearance. Underneath the skin, the white to ivory flesh is sometimes tinged with green and is fine-grained, crisp, and aqueous. The flesh also encases a central core filled with oval, brown seeds. Sunset apples are aromatic and contain high acidity, creating a sweet, sharp, and tangy flavor.
Sunset apples are available in the fall through winter.
Sunset apples, botanically classified as Malus domestica, are a mid-season cultivar belonging to the Rosaceae family. The sweet and tangy apples were developed from cox’s orange pippin apples and were selected as an easy to grow, viable alternative cultivar to its parent variety for home gardens. Sunset apples are not grown commercially due to their small size, but they are popular among apple enthusiasts for their disease resistance, compact size, and self-fertile nature. Sunset apples are also cold and frost tolerant, allowing the variety to be grown on a small scale in northern regions of Europe.
Sunset apples are a source of antioxidants to protect the cells against free radical damage, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, and fiber to regulate the digestive tract. The apples also provide vitamins including vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning, vitamin K to assist in faster wound healing, and lower amounts of iron, zinc, copper, boron, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium.
Sunset apples have a sharp, sweet, and tangy flavor well suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The tiny apples are primarily consumed straight, out of hand, and the fruits offer a crisp, juicy mouthfeel as a snack. Sunset apples can be chopped into fruit bowls, salads, and slaws, sliced and layered onto toast, cut and mixed into grain bowls, or candied as a sweet treat. The apples can also be blended into smoothies, pressed into juice, or used as a base flavoring in ciders. In addition to fresh preparations, Sunset apples retain their shape when cooked, but their small size requires a lot of fruits or a mix of other apple varieties to create a complete dish. Sunset apples can be baked into crisps, cobblers, and crumbles, or they can be cooked into sauces, purees, and filling for baked goods. The apples can also be baked into pies, cakes, bread, muffins, and tarts, or they can be cooked into turnovers. Sunset apples pair well with vanilla, caramel, chocolate, spices such as nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, other fruits including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and peaches, and nuts such as pecans, pistachios, almonds, and walnuts. Whole, unwashed Sunset apples will keep up to one month when stored in the refrigerator.
Sunset apples are featured in several traditional orchards created by the National Trust, a charity in England established in 1895 to preserve places of historical importance. The National Trust currently has over 250 gardens and parks managed under the charity and has pledged to create 68 new traditional orchards throughout England by 2025. Many traditional orchards have been destroyed in England due to changing landscapes, urbanization, and the growth of large commercial orchards. The National Trust aims to reverse this destruction by creating new, smaller orchards that provide a safe space for wildlife, pollinators, and natural plant species to thrive and be protected. In 1989, Sunset apples were planted in a traditional orchard at Ightham Mote as a part of the National Trust’s pledge. The 14th-century manor once had an orchard that was destroyed, but it was reestablished to honor the traditions of the historic estate. The Ightham Mote orchard has over fifteen varieties of apples, including Sunset apples, and contains other heritage apples such as ribston pippin, tydeman’s late orange, court pendu plat, blenheim orange, and flower of kent apples. Sunset apples were selected for the orchard as their discovery site was nearby in Ightham Village, and the apples are incorporated into the village’s annual apple harvest celebrations.
Sunset apples were first grown in 1918 in the village of Ighthamm in Kent, England. The apple’s parentage is unknown, but experts hypothesize that the cox’s orange pippin apple is one of the parent cultivars. Sunset apples were developed by G.C. Addy and were introduced to markets in partnership with William Rogers under the name Sunset in 1933. After their release to growers and home gardeners, the Royal Horticultural Society recognized Sunset apples and gave the variety an Award of Merit in 1960 and an Award of Garden Merit in 1993. Today Sunset apples are a popular home garden cultivar in the United Kingdom and Northern Europe.