A locked-down Bannockburn couple were in their kitchen baking an apple pie yesterday -nothing unusual about that.
But the apples they were using stemmed from an apple core thrown out of a railway carriage near Lawrence at least 59 years ago.
Scientists John and Gillian McLaren are well known for their work with apple and apricot cultivars and as part of that, Mr McLaren is in the habit of checking out hardy, wild apple trees growing in Otago.
During one such excursion some years ago, he came across a single apple tree next to the defunct railway line connecting Dunedin and Lawrence.
The line opened in 1877 and closed in 1961.
Mr McLaren surmises a passenger threw an apple core out their carriage window and one of the pips germinated.
The tree has since died, leaving the McLarens as the caretakers of its progeny.
They have several young trees growing and are propagating more in the hope the variety can be commercialised.
Mr McLaren suspects the tree originated from France and was brought to New Zealand during the goldrush.
Its apples have an elliptical shape and, although not ideal for eating fresh, were excellent for cooking — even better than Granny Smith, he said.
"It makes a beautiful apple pie."
Mr McLaren previously worked for the government in horticulture research, and is a shareholder and director of the Nevis Fruit Co Ltd, which develops apple varieties.
He plans to give the new variety a name — perhaps "Goldminer".