To visit Whanganui’s Saturday morning market is to be forever encountering tales of Mark Christensen, the legendary amateur plant scientist who put the heritage apple Monty’s Surprise on the world health map.
Mark is an accountant by trade, but when he’s not in his office, this Whanganui citizen and ardent member of the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust, is busy researching the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. And the locals love him! So much so, that as you make your way around the Whanganui market, you’ll find every second stall holder singing his praises, and none more so than Murray Jones and Melinda Hatherly-Jones. This dynamic duo are expert grafters of the Monty’s Surprise apple trees which have been gifted throughout the Whanganui region, and are the power behind ‘Nicely Spicy’, a delicious winter comfort beverage of mulled Monty’s Surprise apple juice. But just what is it that’s so special about this big red apple?
The story begins with USA Cornell University’s study on the potential cancer inhibiting powers of Red Delicious apples, and a Finnish study looking into the reduction of some cancers in those who eat more apples than most. This interesting research led members of Heritage Food Crops Research Trust in New Zealand to think about just how well Kiwi apple varieties might compare with their overseas cousins in terms of health benefits.
One member of the trust in particular was instrumental in tracking down Dr Tony McGhie of Plant and Food Research in Palmerston North, and encouraging him to test 250 heritage and seedling apple varieties. When Dr McGhie agreed, he discovered that 3 varieties of apple showed up as possibly having the potential to benefit human health in reducing the incidence of some cancers. Of these 3 varieties, Monty’s Surprise came out on tops. In fact, it lived up to its name by delivering a very big surprise indeed! It contained the highest levels of quercetin flavonoids (a pigment in the skin of the fruit that helps defeat some cancers) out of any apple in the world.
Mark was delighted. He believes disease-preventing substances in Monty’s Surprise apples combine with the body’s own immune system to offer protection against some cancers. Human body’s are very complicated, and there is no guarantee that Monty’s Surprise apples will be helpful to everyone facing certain types of cancer, but as apples are such a delicious fruit, wouldn’t you want to munch your way to what might potentially help save your life?
Where to get it
Today, Monty’s Surprise trees are widely available from a range of nurseries. Described as being disease-hardy, and producing large apples with a shiny red stripe over a green skin background, the tree’s fruit ripens late in the season. Best of all, even if you have only a small garden or balcony space at your disposal, you can still grow a Monty’s Surprise in a container in its dwarf form. As winter is the time to source your tree, why not hop online while you think of it, and place your order..