The Cortland Apple debuted in 1915 from the New York State Agricultural Experiment Stationin Geneva and was named for Cortland County, New York. Its parents were the famous McIntosh Apple, which contributed a lot of the flavor, and a variety called ‘Ben Davis’, which gave this tree its excellent cold-hardiness. Another remarkable trait of the Cortland apple is that the snow-white flesh is extremely resistant to browning, so slices you cut for a salad or fruit tray won’t get yucky. This tree opens its lovely white blossoms in mid-season and will set fruit without a pollinator, although having another Apple Tree or Crabapple Tree in the vicinity will improve production.
The Empire Apple was developed in the Empire State many years ago, and New York is still the area where this variety is primarily grown commercially. Lester Anderson of Cornell University crossed a McIntosh Apple with a Red Delicious Apple in 1945 to get the ball rolling, and more than 20 years and thousands of seedlings later, Empire was chosen for release. (This is why you probably shouldn’t bother growing Apple trees from seed—even after a carefully planned cross, you’ll get a LOT of duds!)
Contrary to popular belief, the Fuji Apple Tree wasn’t named for Mt. Fuji but for the town of Fujisaki, 500 miles to the north of the famous peak. It was developed at a governmental research station there in 1939. Researchers chose two American Apple Trees as the parents: one was the celebrated Red Delicious,and the other was a beloved heirloom called ‘Ralls Genet’ (or ‘Ralls Janet’), which Thomas Jefferson had grown at Monticello. From this cross, 787 seedlings were grown, and then inferior ones were weeded out one by one until Fuji emerged as the clear winner. Fuji was introduced in Japan in 1962, but the fruits didn’t reach American markets until the 1980s.
The Gala Apple Tree was hybridized in New Zealand in the 1930s by James Hutton Kidd, an English-born fruit grower who, sadly, didn’t live to see the wild success of his introduction. Kidd died in 1945, and the Gala Apple didn’t go into production until the 1960s. It didn’t enter American markets until the 1970s. To create this wonder apple, Kidd first crossed Cox’s Orange Pippin, a beloved British dessert apple, with Red Delicious. Then he crossed the resulting hybrid with Golden Delicious. It took several years for the seedlings of each pairing to bear fruit and reveal whether they were worth keeping or not, but in the end, the patience of Kidd and the breeders who carried on his work paid off.
The Gravenstein Apple tree was first grown in Denmark in 1669. This classic fruit is still quite popular in Northern Europe and is Denmark’s “National Apple." It finally made its way to this country in 1811 via Russian traders, and cultivation of Gravenstein Apple trees thrived in Sonoma County, California for many years—until recently. Yes, the area still has its streets, schools, and festivals that are named after this beloved seasonalapple, but most of today’s farmers in California have grubbed out their Gravensteins to plant much more profitable wine grapes. Very soon, it seems, the only way you’ll be able to enjoy this heirloom fruit is to grow it yourself.
The Honeycrisp Apple Tree originated at the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in 1960. Plant breeders there were working on developing new varieties of Apple Trees that could endure the rigors of northern winters. Honeycrisp’s parents were recorded as Macoun, a McIntosh relative, and Honeygold, a previous U of M introduction. However, in a daytime TVtalk show twist, genetic testing in 2004 revealed that neither Macoun nor Honeygold were actually the parents. A Minnesota Apple called Keepsake was determined to be one of the true parents; the other parent remains unknown and has never paid child support. Honeycrisp was patented in 1988.
The Liberty Apple Tree was not a chance seedling, but the result of a carefully orchestrated marriage of trees with specific traits. In 1955, plant breeders at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva chose ‘Macoun’ to be the mother of the new Apple Tree. Macoun is another release from the Geneva research station that scores sky-high on flavor but low on disease resistance. To boost Liberty’s immunity to diseases, it was sired by a relative of Malus floribunda, the robust Japanese Flowering Crabapple. The Liberty Apple Tree isn’t immune to all of the pests and diseases that afflict Apples, but it is far more resistant than most.
The Macoun Apple Tree was born and bred in Geneva, New York at the State Agricultural Experiment Station back in 1909. Researchers crossed the beloved McIntosh Apple, which gave much of its flavor to Macoun, with an heirloom variety called Jersey Black, which lent its rich color. The new Apple was named after a Canadian fruit grower, William Tyrell Macoun, and it was introduced in 1923. Because it performs especially well in New England and it doesn’t ship or store particularly well, it is known primarily as a regional Apple. Macoun was once believed to be a parent of the uber-popular Honeycrisp, but a paternity test later revealed that Macoun was not the father after all.
The story of the McIntosh Apple Tree goes way back to the early 1800s. A young man by the name of John McIntosh, born in New York State to Scottish immigrants, had fled to Ontario to be with the girl he loved, despite his parents’ disapproval. When he got there, John was crushed to learn that his true love had died. He stayed in Canada and later found love again. One day, he found some Apple Tree seedlings growing on his farm, and he transplanted several of them, although only one lived through the winter. In 1835, a traveling handyman happened to stop by the McIntosh farm and taught John and his son Allan how to clone trees by grafting them, and that’s how that one surviving tree—the original McIntosh Apple Tree—was first shared with the world.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have grown thousands of fruit trees over a period of many decades in order to come up with a few exemplary selections. Honeycrisp is one standout, and Zestar!® is another. The motivation behind Zestar!® was to create an apple that was not only early ripening, but also firm, crisp, flavorful, and a “keeper.” Early-ripening apples until that time were rather mushy and didn’t store well. The cross that produced Zestar!® was made in 1972. The fruit turned out to be everything you could want in an apple, AND it ripened in August and could be stored for two months—even without refrigeration! After further evaluation, it was finally introduced in 1999.