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selection and preservation that bind humans and apples together
June 20, 2013 7:24 PM   Subscribe

Of Sisters And Clones: An Interview with Jessica Rath
Every apple for sale at your local supermarket is a clone. Every single Golden Delicious, for example, contains the exact same genetic material; though the original Golden Delicious tree (discovered in 1905, on a hillside in Clay County, West Virginia) is now gone, its DNA has become all but immortal, grafted onto an orchard of clones growing on five continents and producing more than two hundred billion pounds of fruit each year in the United States alone.
via Edible Geography
Embedded within this army of clones, however, is the potential for endless apple diversity. Each seed in an apple is genetically unique: like human siblings, seed sisters from the same fruit remix their source DNA into something that has never been seen before—and is likely, at least in the case of the apple, to be bitter, tough, and altogether unpalatable. The sheer variety of wild apples is astonishing: in its original home, near Almaty in Kazakhstan, the apple can be the size of a cherry or a grapefruit; it can be mushy or so hard it will chip teeth; it can be purple- or pink-fleshed with green, orange, or white skin; and it can be sickly sweet, battery-acid sour, or taste like a banana.
Rath's take me to the apple breeder

In Kazakstan, there is a city, Almaty - or is it Alma Ata - known as the father of apples.

Why Your Supermarket Only Sells Five Kinds Of Apples
previously:
The Fatherland of Apples
There were ten thousand fruit to touch
posted by the man of twists and turns (52 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
BANANA APPLE

I WANT IT
posted by curious nu at 7:29 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


The apple chapter of "Botany of Desire" talks about this some, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for Johnny Appleseed as a crazed wanderer talking about getting your slant on.

The Golden Delicious apple is so mislabeled. It is not delicious in any way. Now a Honeycrisp... That's some seriously good eats there.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:32 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fucking industrial revolution ruined everything.
posted by crayz at 7:36 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here is the list of American apples on the Slow Food Ark of Taste.

Apples are fascinating. Good article and interesting project. Thanks!
posted by Miko at 7:37 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a bad, bad thing, as we have seen from the recent issues with the Cavendish banana monoculture.
posted by Samizdata at 7:38 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit: "The apple chapter of "Botany of Desire" talks about this some, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for Johnny Appleseed as a crazed wanderer talking about getting your slant on.

The Golden Delicious apple is so mislabeled. It is not delicious in any way. Now a Honeycrisp... That's some seriously good eats there.
"

Forget that.

FUJI 4 LYFE!
posted by Samizdata at 7:39 PM on June 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ambrosia apples are my new favorite. Found them at an apple festival last year and am eagerly awaiting this year's crop. Fujis in the meantime.
posted by curious nu at 7:40 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you want to know about apple cloning, grafting, breeding, etc, Stephen Hayes youtube channel appears to be quite charmingly knowledgable https://www.youtube.com/user/stephenhayesuk

And this is his website.

As to apple varieties, at my local grocery, which makes no pretences whatsoever to being artisanal or anything, it is just the local affordable greengrocer, we have the following varieties: golden delicious, red delicious, royal gala, fuji, pink lady, granny smith, jonathon, braeburn, jazz, sundowner. That's ten varieties, many more available at the local farmers markets, not sure any more diversity is commercially possible or desirable.
posted by wilful at 7:41 PM on June 20, 2013


One word: winesap
posted by jim in austin at 7:43 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a bad, bad thing,

Well, depends on what "this" is - the cloning is necessary to have any edible apples; it's the only way to produce more of the same kind of apple, even if it's a wonderful heirloom apple. So it's not the grafting in itself that's bad (that's what apple cultivation depends upon) - it's the selection that happens at the commercial market level, which means that only a few varieties are chosen for mass production and grown in quantity. (And those are being engineered to be ever less interesting, sugarier, and more uniform, but that's another story).
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have a Honeycrisp tree in my yard. It doesn't self-pollinate, and I have no other apple trees, so I have to walk over to the local park with my pruning shears and clip flowering limbs off the crabapple trees, then walk them back home and tie them onto my tree.

I feel like a total freak every spring when I do this, assuming that someone in the neighborhood will think I'm a crazy person and report me to the park police.

Then every year I forget to get netting to wrap around the tree and the squirrels steal all my apples.

I paid $25 for the tree and so far I'm losing money, because I have yet to enjoy any of the apples my tree tries to produce.

Will someone please remind me to net the goddamn tree this year?
posted by padraigin at 7:45 PM on June 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Compare to the outcry over "terminator genes" (ooh, scary!) in GMO wheat. There is a major difference in that you can still clone fruit trees - that won't get you very far with wheat. But the desirable qualities of plants have been at odds with normal reproduction for a long time.
posted by nixt at 7:45 PM on June 20, 2013


There are 44 eating/cooking varieties readily available at my local heritage nursery (not including cider apples), and more than 100 available via special order.
posted by wilful at 7:48 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Uh no no no no no no, there should only be one clone out there. Of me.
posted by tooloudinhere at 7:54 PM on June 20, 2013


Of all apple cultivars out there, Golden Delicious are the most loathsome. Give me Fujis and Galas.
posted by holterbarbour at 8:00 PM on June 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


padraigin-do you live in a particularly dry place?

I ask because we have two little pear trees that produce several times more pears than we can deal with. The squirrels have no interest in them, except for the year of drought here (2 years ago, I think). With no other source of moisture, the squirrels devasted the pears, and also out neighbor's garden.

I never researched this, but perhaps a dish of water would protect the apples.
posted by hexatron at 8:01 PM on June 20, 2013


I would like this grapefruit-sized apple with purple flesh and orange skin that tastes like a banana, thank you.
posted by jeather at 8:06 PM on June 20, 2013


In the next few years I'll be taking down some diseased McIntosh trees and planting some heirloom varieties that this fellow helped preserve. One is a variety first documented in my hometown in 1852, lost and then rediscovered nearby about 20 years ago. Another is the "purplish plum impostor called a Black Oxford," which originated in the town next door.
posted by Knappster at 8:15 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I knew metafilter was just full of apple fanboys.
posted by The Whelk at 8:28 PM on June 20, 2013 [16 favorites]


padraigin-do you live in a particularly dry place?

No, I live in Minnesota, where summers are humid and where Honeycrisps were invented. But I live in the city and squirrels here are assholes. You have to batten down the hatches if you want to enjoy anything that bears fruit.
posted by padraigin at 8:35 PM on June 20, 2013


http://www.orangepippin.com/apples, with 733 varieties.

It's like tv tropes for apple enthusiasts.
posted by underflow at 9:05 PM on June 20, 2013


Roxbury Russets are my personal favorites since discovering them at an orchard a couple years back.
posted by davros42 at 9:06 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


padraigin Net the goddamn tree this year.
posted by pjern at 9:07 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


BANANA APPLE

I WANT IT


Would you settle for an apple banana? (PDF!)
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:11 PM on June 20, 2013


I've eaten the clone of an apple that first grew in 1610. It was tiny, not very juicy, and the most amazing apple I have ever tasted.
posted by jb at 9:36 PM on June 20, 2013


...733 varieties

I hereby volunteer for the apple taste-tester position!
posted by BlueHorse at 9:49 PM on June 20, 2013


If they are not called banapples there is something wrong.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:56 PM on June 20, 2013


I've eaten the clone of an apple that first grew in 1610. It was tiny, not very juicy, and the most amazing apple I have ever tasted.
How? Where? I must know! I desire to try this amazing apple!
posted by Joh at 10:24 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Miko: "This is a bad, bad thing,

Well, depends on what "this" is - the cloning is necessary to have any edible apples; it's the only way to produce more of the same kind of apple, even if it's a wonderful heirloom apple. So it's not the grafting in itself that's bad (that's what apple cultivation depends upon) - it's the selection that happens at the commercial market level, which means that only a few varieties are chosen for mass production and grown in quantity. (And those are being engineered to be ever less interesting, sugarier, and more uniform, but that's another story).
"

It is more of a "monoculture = bad" in computers and in life.

Braeburns are NOT a bad thing.
posted by Samizdata at 11:47 PM on June 20, 2013


padraigin

Tree.

Net.

This year.

Make it so.
posted by Samizdata at 11:53 PM on June 20, 2013


Only accept true golden apples - look for the seal of authority, καλλίστη.
posted by 23 at 12:24 AM on June 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I've eaten the clone of an apple that first grew in 1610.

Sure, but have you seen Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate?
posted by Podkayne of Pasadena at 2:39 AM on June 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


Grew up with an orchard in the garden. Around ten different apple trees, two pears (plus red/blackcurrants, gooseberries, blackberries...). I don't know when they were all planted, but some looked very old and there was some evidence of the garden being originally planted when the first bits of the house were built some time around the late 18th century. The last time the place had had gardeners was probably the mid-20s.

It is something to live with apples. Many years, there were far too many to consume no matter how assiduously one went at it, so autumn saw a carpet of fat, brown, rich-smelling slime-deliquescing apple corpses and drunken, obese wasps. Of jams, tarts and sauces, there was no end. Summer was a larder.

Why the cities and byways of this darn country aren't stuffed with apple trees, I do not know.
posted by Devonian at 2:42 AM on June 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Braeburns are ubiquitous in British supermarkets. I think a lot of them are grown in New Zealand and shipped over. But I don't care because we planted a James Grieve this spring and it's already grown a foot and a half and looks like it'll crop this autumn.

The Black Oxford sounds extraordinary. Can't find anyone who sells it in the UK. Bother.
posted by Hogshead at 3:54 AM on June 21, 2013


The area I live in used to have a lot of small farms; as machines became more available and farmers could work more land, the homesteads were abandoned and the tiny farms joined together into larger ones. None of the modern farms are really big - geography does not permit - but if you drive the back roads, you can see traces of old silos and overgrown foundations... and magnificent thickets of lilacs, once-tidy ornamentals gone wild and huge. And where you find the farm wife's old lilacs, you also find old apple trees, which we raid later in the year and bake into pies made even more delicious for being full of stolen feral apples.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 3:57 AM on June 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Egremont Russets or Cox's Orange Pippins are my favourites.
posted by walrus at 4:00 AM on June 21, 2013


Sing Or Swim: "If they are not called banapples there is something wrong."

applenannas
posted by double block and bleed at 4:15 AM on June 21, 2013


1. Gala
2. Fuji
3. Great apples I haven't tried yet
...
∞ (Tie) Golden Delicious/Red Delicious
posted by double block and bleed at 4:18 AM on June 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


stolen feral apples
posted by Meatbomb at 5:41 AM on June 21, 2013


It is something to live with apples.

That it is. Didn't have the full orchard experience, but the family property when I was a wee lad had what we called a Red Delicious apple tree that in retrospect I think wasn't exactly what its output was (as they were far tastier than that variety in any store). That was a good one.

On the other hand, I wasn't at all fond of the nameless variety but big old healthy one loaded down with slightly-less-than-golfball-sized green apples that were bitter and borderline edible at best, though the horses loved them. Daily summer chores were picking up the carpet of fallen apples and filling up multiple 5-gallon buckets, and every skipped day of that was its own moral due to that rapid slime rot effect. Nothing quite like the feeling of going to pick up an apple and fingers sinking right into, plus those fat drunken wasps and other bugs often emerging from the deliquescing ones with a "hey, I was EATING that!" attitude. But in hindsight, I bet that was a large part of why I never developed any fear of wasps. Hard to be afraid of things when your childhood brain is mostly fixed on being grumpy at the vast injustice of needing to spend fifteen minutes or so gathering up fallens instead of faffing about.

I am happily in the camp that's puzzled that more available green spaces aren't filled with apple trees of all varieties.
posted by Drastic at 6:03 AM on June 21, 2013


How? Where? I must know! I desire to try this amazing apple!

it was in the tasting tent at an apple festival in Cambridge, UK. But since there was only one tree, they were all sold out in the first few minutes of sales. But if you haunt English apple festivals (are there more than one?), you'll see lots of apples from varieties developed in the 18th and 17th centuries - and they really can be very different.
posted by jb at 6:13 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am pretty sure the ranking of apples goes something like this:

1. Empire that you just picked yourself.
2. Any other apple you just picked yourself, including "delicious" apples.
3. Jonagold, Fuji, properly ripe Granny Smith
4. Any other properly ripe apple
5. Any supermarket apple sold loose
6. Any supermarket apples sold in plastic bags
7. Supermarket "delicious" apples.
posted by Nothing at 7:41 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


We have old apple trees in our new place which I am trying to rehab. We know our property was know as "The Orchard" in the 1930s so I am hopeful that we have something yummy coming.
posted by shothotbot at 8:18 AM on June 21, 2013


There's few things better than plucking the perfect apple from a tree and eating it right there in the orchard. One of those better things is picking and eating strawberries in the strawberry field.

When it is time to check out, I always confess and tell them how much I ate. They generally say "Don't worry about it. Everyone does that."
posted by double block and bleed at 11:45 AM on June 21, 2013


1. Eve
.
.
.
2. McIntosh
posted by Wyeldfire at 11:57 AM on June 21, 2013


Just a shout out to the awesome and huge Mutsu / Cripsin apples we always pick late in the season at one of our local orchards. They're like double-sized Golden Delicious only, unlike GDs, they have a good taste. And they can really well for nice dessert treats all winter long.

My go-to snack apples in the last couple years have been Empires and Honeycrisps, with Gala as a third choice when Wegmans runs out of the first two.
posted by aught at 1:04 PM on June 21, 2013


One of those better things is picking and eating strawberries in the strawberry field.

This, but blueberries. Holy cow. Only a couple more weeks.
posted by aught at 1:06 PM on June 21, 2013


One interesting thing is that many of the varieties being called out here as favorites are pretty recent commercial developments. Braeburns date from the 50s and were a sport. Gala and Fuji and Empire are all 20th century developments. Honeycrisp is super recent, 1970s. 20th century development cultivates apples to be sweet and crisp for eating out of hand, and long-lasting for commercial shipping. Only Granny Smiths are really commercially cultivated for cooking any more.

Apple geeks get into 18th and 19th century apples. The varieties cultivated before the 20th century are more interesting and widely varied. Some were best for sweet/fresh cider, some for hard cider, some for overwintering, some for drying, some for cooking and some for eating out of hand, but usually with a less uncomplicatedly sweet flavor profile. It's fun to try as many as you can find, because they're all so different.

if you drive the back roads, you can see traces of old silos and overgrown foundations

This is how present-day apple hunters make discoveries. I've had the experience of hiking or driving with a couple botanist apple-geek friends, who will crash through brambles at the sight of a knobby, twisted old tree in the distance, at an old homesite now covered with second-growth forest. These orphaned dooryard trees are all over New England's woods. Or at the margins of old farmsteads or in-town house backyards. There are probably hundreds of as-yet-undiscovered or thought-extinct apple varieties lurking out there.
posted by Miko at 1:12 PM on June 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Out of 2500 known varieties ion the US, these top 15 popular apples account for almost 90 percent of production.

Braeburn
Honeycrisp
Cortland
Idared
Empire
Jonagold
Fuji
Jonathan
Gala
McIntosh
Ginger Gold
Red Delicious
Golden Delicious
Rome

Only MacIntosh (1811), Rome (early 1800s), and Red Delicious (1870, a New Jersey sport!) are pre-20th century.
posted by Miko at 1:17 PM on June 21, 2013


But if you haunt English apple festivals (are there more than one?)

RHS Wisley certainly had an amazing selection of apples at its food festival before Christmas last year, and Google suggests there are other apple-centric events around the country.
posted by Hogshead at 2:38 PM on June 21, 2013


If you noticed there were only 14 on my list, I left out Granny Smith. That's the 15th.
posted by Miko at 2:52 PM on June 21, 2013


I netted the fuck outta that tree, you guys.
posted by padraigin at 5:41 PM on June 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


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