An apple renaissance

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Are we in the midst of an apple renaissance?

Every time I go to the fruit market, it seems, there are new types of apples that I hadn’t heard of just a few years ago: Pink Lady, Cripp’s Pink, Cameo, Ambrosia and more.

And then there’s the Honeycrisp, the current darling of apple lovers, usually 50 cents to $1.50 more per pound than less exalted varieties.

Honeycrisp was one of the first of a new breed of apple called “club apples” – varieties that are controlled in such a way that only a select “club” of farmers, who pay for the pleasure, can grow them.

Some new apples start by happy accident: a mutation in the orchard that is then reproduced by grafting.

Other new types come about when growers intentionally cross two or more existing varieties in order to create an apple with the best characteristics of its parent fruit.

Sons of Honeycrisp

Honeycrisp was created by cross-pollination at the University of Minnesota in 1991. It is crisp and juicy but the flavor is inconsistent and it doesn’t do well in long storage. It is also difficult to grow.

So even though customers are now snapping it up at premium prices, growers are already  hard at work looking for its successor.

One may be Cosmic Crisp, developed in 1997 at Washington State University.

So many growers were interested in it that the university held a lottery for Washington growers to see who would get the privilege.

SweeTango, also derived from Honeycrisp, was introduced in 2008; it ripens a month earlier than Honeycrisp and is said to have a zestier flavor. Two more Honeycrisp descendants, Juici and one currently named MN55 (a more appealing name is being discussed) will be available in 2017.

“Club” varieties

The “club varieties” are offered by the breeders to a limited number of growers, and the name is trademarked. No one who isn’t in the “club” is allowed to grow these apples.

The patents don’t last forever; Honeycrisp’s patent has expired.

Of course other breeders and growers can come up with something very similar – they’ll just have to give it a different name, one that may be less familiar to the buying public and may be much more difficult to market.

Tim Byrne, president of the Next Big Thing cooperative that is handling the SweeTango, says the club model has several advantages. The coop can control the quality of the fruit by managing the growing, harvesting, packaging and marketing.

They also control quantity, producing enough to satisfy customers but not so much that they drive down prices.

As various types of apples compete for shelf space, the marketing muscle of the managed brands will give them an advantage.

Another coop, the Midwest Apple Improvement Association, is selling another child of Honeycrisp, the EverCrisp. But their club is less exclusive than Next Big Thing, and anyone can join. If you want to grow Ever Crisp, you just have to join the club and pay your dues.

Here’s a nice recipe for Apple Pie Muffins that was posted by Jan Brown on the Allrecipes website.

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