By Jan Cashman
There is a lot of truth in the old adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are one of the healthiest foods a person can eat. They are high in fiber and Vitamin C and low in calories. They are high in antioxidants. Eat the skin and you get even more nutritious benefits.
Apples originally were found between the Caspian and Black Seas. Even though this is not far from the “cradle of civilization”, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, nowhere in the Bible does it say that the forbidden tree was an apple. However, humans have been eating apples since at least 6500 BC. They were a favorite fruit of ancient Greeks and Romans.
In North America, Johnny Appleseed established orchards in the upper Midwest in the early 1800’s. Back then, apples were used primarily for hard cider. They became more popular as a fresh fruit when refrigeration came into use so they would keep longer and new, better-tasting apples were available.
Apples do not grow “true to seed”. In other words, if you plant an apple seed, the tree that results will not produce that same type of apple. So, breeders take pollen from an apple with desirable characteristics and swab it onto the stamen of an apple variety with other good features, then bag the flower to keep the pollen from other trees away. The seeds will then be grown on and grafted to see if that tree’s apples have good enough flavor, texture, storage life and appearance to merit further production.
By the 1960’s, most supermarkets carried mainly three types of apples, McIntosh, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious. These three kept a long time and were attractive but at the expense of texture and taste. Red delicious are flavorless and mealy. In the 60’s and 70’s, apple breeding programs took on the task of developing new and better apples. Washington State, Cornell, and the University of Minnesota have the main apple breeding programs in the United States. Not surprisingly, the hardiest varieties that do well in our northern climate come out of Minnesota.
By the 1970’s some good new varieties were introduced from New Zealand, Australia, and Japan—Gala, Granny Smith, Fugi and Braeburn. They have a long shelf life and also better texture and flavor but most are not hardy enough to grow in Northern climates. New apples were being introduced in the U.S. too. While at the University of Minnesota in the late 60’s, my husband, Jerry, was on a panel that tasted apple pies to rate potential new apples in a blind taste test. One of his young professors was doing the breeding and by 1978, State Fair and Sweet 16 apples were on the market, two of the best apples we sell.
In 1991, Honeycrisp apples were released from the University of Minnesota and they hit the market by storm. Honeycrisp are crisp and crunchy and sweet; everything an apple should be. The last few years, honeycrisp has become one of our best-selling apples. Luckily, the tree seems to be hardy and customers who planted Honeycrisp two or three years ago are already getting nice crops of this delicious apple.
This chart lists a few of the best apples for Southwest Montana. There are many other apples that grow and produce well here–some old varieties like Wealthy, some from Canada like Goodland, some others from Minnesota like Haralred. Good weather conditions have made 2016 a great year for all apples in the Gallatin Valley. This time of year we enjoy the fruits of our labor with big crops of wonderful apples!