In this month’s column I will be discussing some apple facts and will share the history of some popular apple varieties.
Apples can be grown in almost all the U.S. but temperature is a major limiting factor.
Temperatures of less than 40 degrees for 900 to 1,000 hours are required to break dormancy. These hours are called chilling hours.
Carbonized apples were found in the prehistoric lake dwellings of Switzerland. The remains show that the apples were not only stored fresh for eating, but also preserved by cutting and drying in the sun.
Modern varieties are not produced from seed because apples, as well as other tree fruits, do not remain true to type if propagated by seed. Methods of budding or grafting fruits were known more than 2,000 years ago, and desirable varieties probably originated as chance seedlings (from seed) and then were budded and grafted onto other rootstocks.
Records of grafting desirable varieties onto wild rootstocks date back to 1647 in Virginia.
Later, John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, traveled throughout the frontier settlements of Ohio and Indiana in the first half of the 19th century, planting apple tree nurseries, preaching and carrying the news. Many of the important varieties in the U.S. came from chance seedlings, including Winesap and Delicious.
The Baldwin apple originated as a chance seedling in Wilmington, MA, about 1740. It was originally known as the Woodpecker apple because the tree was frequented by them and was named after Colonel Baldwin, who began its propagation and introduced it throughout eastern Massachusetts.
Ben Davis originated as a chance seedling in the early 1800s from Captain Ben Davis in Berry’s Lick, KY. It has yellow skin with splashes and stripes of bright red. It is an annual bearer, and very productive. It was crossed with McIntosh to produce the Cortland apple.
Grimes Golden was found by Thomas Grimes in Brooke County, WV, in 1804, near the town of Fowlersville. Grimes Golden is believed to be one of the parents of Golden Delicious.
Red Delicious was discovered as a small, insignificant seedling by Jesse Hiatt, a Quaker, in Peru, Iowa, in 1870. He cut it down twice, because it was not in the row. He said, “If thee must live, thee may.” After 10 years, the tree bore fruit, resembling the Yellow Bellflower apple that had fruit with a long pointed shape, terminating in five points at the blossom end. Hiatt named it the “Hawkeye.” Hiatt sent four apples in 1893 to a fruit show in Louisiana, MO, sponsored by Stark Nurseries. It won first place and C.M. Stark, president of Stark Nurseries, said, “My, that’s delicious!” and so the name stuck. On Armistice Day in 1940, a subzero storm raged through Iowa, reportedly killing the original Delicious tree, but new shoots pushed up from its roots and continued to bear Delicious apples because it originated from a seedling rootstock.
Golden Delicious originated as a chance seedling from Golden Reinette, which served as the pollen parent of Grimes Golden apples in Clay County, WV. Chance seedling trees emerged from fallen Grimes Golden fruit, with one seedling originating as Golden Delicious. In 1914, Anderson Mullins mailed three of these apples to Paul Stark. Stark traveled by train, horse and muleback for 1,020 miles and paid Mullins $5,000 for the tree. He named it Golden Delicious to be associated with Red Delicious.
Jonathan was discovered as a chance seedling on the farm of Philip Rick of Kingston, NY, in 1816. It is a long-keeping apple, medium sized, with prominent white lenticels (breathing pores). There are two alternative theories about the origin of the Jonathan apple. The first is that it was grown by Rachel Negus Higley. Mrs. Higley gathered seeds from the local cider mill in Connecticut before the family made their journey to the wilds of Ohio in 1796, where she planted them. She continued to carefully cultivate her orchard to maturity and named the resulting variety after a young local boy that frequented her orchard: Jonathan Lash. The other, and more accepted, theory is that it originated from an Esopus Spitzenburg seedling in 1826 from the farm of Philip Rick in Woodstock, Ulster County, NY. Although it may have originally been called the “Rick” apple, it was soon renamed by Judge Buel, president of the Albany Horticultural Society, after Jonathan Hasbrouck, who discovered the apple and brought it to Buel’s attention.
John McIntosh discovered the seedling McIntosh tree in 1811 in Dundas County, ON, Canada. It will develop red skin color best in areas that have cool autumn nights to bring out the lycopene (red) pigment.
There are some apple varieties that contain McIntosh as one of the parents. These include:
Cortland (McIntosh X Ben Davis), 1915. It has snow-white flesh and does not keep as long as other apple varieties. Cortland is a cultivar of apple that was raised at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY, in 1898. The apple was named after nearby Cortland County, NY. It is among the 15 most popular apple varieties in the U.S.
Empire (McIntosh X Delicious), 1966. Empire is the name of a clonally-propagated cultivar of apple derived from a seed grown in 1945 by Lester C. Anderson, a Cornell University fruit nutritionist who conducted open pollination research on his various orchards. In 1945, scientists from the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station harvested the Empire seed, together with thousands of its siblings. The Geneva teams grew and tested ever dwindling sub-populations of the sibling group until 1966, when the final selection, the Empire, was released to the public at the New York Fruit Testing Association meetings.
Macoun (McIntosh X Jersey Black), 1923. The Canadian horticulturalist W.T. Macoun was developing this variety at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. It is an eating apple. This apple is excellent for making the European-style apple pies because it doesn’t break down during cooking and remains firm. Macouns are also very popular at roadside stands and PYO farms.
Northern Spy was discovered around 1800 in East Bloomfield, NY as surviving sprouts of a seedling that had died and was cultivated with stock brought in from Connecticut. The Wagener apple is believed to be one of its forebears. It fell somewhat out of favor due to its dull coloration, irregular shape, tendency of the thin skin to allow bruising and lack of disease resistance, specifically subject to bitter pit and blossom fireblight, but it is resistant to woolly aphid and somewhat to scab. It is not widely available at retail outside its growing regions but still serves as an important processing apple in those areas.
The Rome apple (also known as Red Rome or Rome Beauty) is a cooking apple originating near Rome Township, Ohio, in the early 19th century. It is rounded, all red and very glossy, with a thick skin and firm flesh. It comes to market in late September and is considered a good keeper. Rome apples are widely grown and available and are a staple variety in American commerce.
The story is given that in 1817 Joel Gillet (also spelled Gillett or Gillette by his descendants) found a tree in a shipment from a nursery that did not match the others; he gave it to his son Alanson, saying, “Here’s a Democrat. You may have this one.” His son planted the tree on the banks of the Ohio River, where several years later it was found producing red fruit. His cousin, Horatio Nelson Gillett, took cuttings and started a nursery to promote the apple. Originally known as Gillett’s Seedling, it was renamed the Rome Beauty in 1832 in honor of the township.
The Winesap originated in New Jersey prior to 1800. It keeps for a long time in cold storage. The Stayman Winesap resulted from a seedling of Winesap grown by J. Stayman of Leavenworth, KS, in 1866. They both have a sweet and tangy flesh.
The York Imperial dates back to the early 1800s when it was found on the farm of a Mr. Johnson adjoining what then was the borough of York, PA. Johnson was attracted to the tree by school boys visiting it in the early spring to pick up apples that had passed the winter on the ground covered by leaves. He found the fruit was in good condition. The next autumn, he took ripe apples to a local nurseryman, Jonathan Jessop, who began propagating the variety prior to 1830 under the name of Johnson’s Fine Winter. The apple was known by this name until the middle of the century when Charles Downing examined specimens of it and pronounced it the “Imperial of Keepers,” and suggested that it be named York Imperial. It is probably best characterized by its lopsided appearance. It is an apple that is flattened, poorly colored and firm to hard at harvest. The flesh is creamy yellow.
The Honeycrisp is a cultivated variety developed at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station’s Horticultural Research Center at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Designated in 1960 as the MN 1711, patented in 1988 and released in 1991, the Honeycrisp, once slated to be discarded, has rapidly become a prized commercial commodity, as its sweetness, firmness and tartness make it an ideal apple for eating raw. It has much larger cells than most apples, which rupture when bitten to fill the mouth with juice.
The first Gala apple tree was one of many seedlings resulting from a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Kidd’s Orange Red planted in New Zealand in the 1930s by orchardist J.H. Kidd. Donald W. McKenzie, an employee of Stark Bros. Nursery, obtained a U.S. plant patent for the cultivar on Oct. 15, 1974. The variety is also an increasingly popular option for UK fruit farmers. It is a relatively new introduction to the UK, first planted in commercial volumes during the 1980s. The variety now represents about 20 percent of the total volume of the commercial production of eating apples grown in the UK, often replacing Cox’s Orange Pippin.