Żeleźniak is an old apple variety, known at least since 16th century, and most probably of German origin, possibly from Franconia (the area of the cities Bamberg and Nürnberg). It became popular in the whole Central Europe, especially because it can be easily stored until the summer of the year following the harvest. The variety has been known in Poland for centuries, particularly in the regions controlled by Prussia, that is the Northern and Western parts of Poland.
The trees start to bear fruits relatively late. Fruits mature in October and offer rather quality over quantity; they are not consumed before December (traditionally starting at Christmas time). They are traditionally used for juice and apple wine production and added to sauerkraut, the stored apples were eaten fresh in the spring. Because of their beautiful red color, they were popular as Christmas tree decoration and were substituted by glass decorations in the post-WW2 times.
The variety is resistant to the majority of diseases, but less tolerant to low temperatures. It grows well even on poor soils, if they are not too dry. The trees were often grown along countryside roads and on balks between fields. Both in German (Rother Eiserapfel) and Polish, the name of the variety is derived from the word “iron”, which can be related to the robustness of the plant or the long period over which the fruits can be kept fresh. Another Polish name “Groszówka” is explained by the low prices of these apples, “grosz” being a hundredth part of 1 złoty (the currency of Poland).
In modern times, the fact that they can be stored over long months lost its importance and so the variety started to disappear from orchards.