New apple product hitting stores this fall
July 21, 2019 12:15 AM   Subscribe

After two decades of research and development, WA 38 lands this fall. It could disrupt an entire industry. It's an apple.

Brooke Jarvis writes on the development and promise of the newest apple hitting store shelves this fall, and what it took to make it happen.
The Cosmic Crisp is debuting on grocery stores after this fall’s harvest, and in the nervous lead-up to the launch, everyone from nursery operators to marketers wanted me to understand the crazy scope of the thing: the scale of the plantings, the speed with which mountains of commercially untested fruit would be arriving on the market, the size of the capital risk. People kept saying things like “unprecedented,” “on steroids,” “off the friggin’ charts,” and “the largest launch of a single produce item in American history.”
Appleseed WA 38
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit (47 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
These sound fascinating, and I'd be very interested in comparing them to the more "classic" Honeycrisp - itself a hybrid cultivar that didn't get released until 1991. Shame about the repugnant patenting baked in.

I do look forward to seeing these same hybridization techniques that have been in use for centuries run headfirst into some first-grade anti-GMO hysteria.
posted by kafziel at 12:41 AM on July 21, 2019 [13 favorites]

The fact that Cosmic Crisp is being provided exclusively to Washington growers may bode well for the future integrity of this variety, perhaps avoiding the fate of its parent, Honeycrisp.

The University of Minnesota, which bred Honeycrisp specifically to be grown in the Minnesota climate, didn't retain enough control over the variety and it ended up being grown in all kinds of inappropriate (warmer) places. This didn't just lead to the price deflation that the article focuses on, it also led to lots of disappointing Honeycrisps.
posted by theory at 1:00 AM on July 21, 2019 [16 favorites]

Thanks - About halfway down I see
"Gala spread widely because the New Zealanders who developed the apple had, following longstanding industry practice, released it to anyone who wanted to grow it".

Yes, we just gave away our IP -400K pdf- for both Royal Gala and Braeburn. We wised up a bit after that, altho we still gave away rights to early kiwifruit generations which led to a home goal\market collapse. I hope the growers there hold onto their ownership.
posted by unearthed at 1:08 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Looking forward to trying one, gotta find a reliable orchard who'll ship cross country.
posted by Marky at 1:36 AM on July 21, 2019

Washington apples are shipped globally, every grocery store will have cosmic crisps.
posted by rockindata at 4:23 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

"Hungry for apples?"
posted by entropone at 4:28 AM on July 21, 2019 [10 favorites]

I have a job that has taken me through the Wenatchee-area apple orchard regions many times, and when I first saw them, I thought they were grape orchards. Apple trees are now grown to be flat on trellises with many branches on a plane now, which helps with both mechanical and hand harvesting.

Wenatchee apple growers have been having some hard times lately, too. Fires close to town destroyed several co-op packing houses and warehouses a few years ago, and the entire industry has been focussed on the rebound since then. Cherries are also grown in the same region, and this year is the first year in a long while that we have had nearly perfect harvesting weather so, needless to say, our household has had a cherry pie and two batches of cherry ice cream and probably more to come because they are everywhere in this area and are really amazing this year.

I've been hearing about the Cosmic Crisp apple for a few years now, every year previous being "yeah, we planted these, we're doing a big debut one of these years, can't wait" sort of article. This year seems to be the year. The balkanization of apple varieties is one which I haven't really explored much. I sort of just get an apple. This article is encouraging me to pay more attention. Maybe I will.
posted by hippybear at 4:40 AM on July 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

I wonder how all this effort in trying to create a brand that is available year round will pan out with the low waste/locavore movement.

This is the kind of energy intensive activity that would be difficult to justify if energy use and environmental impact were factored in.

I like Comice pears, in fact I am so consistently disappointed with other varieties that I only buy Comice. There is no better eating pear available to me. This means I only buy pears very occasionally. Would I buy more pears if a branded Comice pear was available all year? Possibly, but pears can't be stored for months like apples AFAIK
posted by asok at 4:50 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

The craziest intellectual property part of the article for me was the Pink Lady aside:
Pink Lady is a trademark name for the variety whose generic version is called Cripps Pink. The Cripps Pink patent has expired, which means that anybody can grow it, but “Pink Lady” is still trademarked, which means it’s illegal for farmers without a license to sell their Cripps Pinks as Pink Ladies; they must use the generic name. However, if you go to the store and buy a Pink Lady, it may not actually be that variety at all, since the management company in charge of the trademark — which happens to be overseeing the launch of the Cosmic Crisp — has allowed it to be applied to newer varieties that color better or harvest sooner. Your legal Pink Lady may, biologically, be a Barnsby or a Ruby Pink.
What a brave new world we live in.
posted by clawsoon at 5:08 AM on July 21, 2019 [18 favorites]

it also led to lots of disappointing Honeycrisps

I live in California, a warmer place than Minnesota, and I have yet to encounter a disappointing Honeycrisp.
posted by SPrintF at 5:27 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I live in California, a warmer place than Minnesota, and I have yet to encounter a disappointing Honeycrisp.

I live in Boston, a place that doesn't grow Honeycrisps, and I encounter disappointing honeycrisps so often that I've stopped buying them entirely.
posted by Xiphias Gladius at 5:40 AM on July 21, 2019 [7 favorites]

I live in Boston, a place that doesn't grow Honeycrisps

As an avid pick your own apple person who lives just outside Boston, I can tell you that all the pick your own places have fairly large Honeycrisp plantings as of a few years back. They're quite good at least fresh picked!
posted by tocts at 5:51 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Fantastic Sunday morning read - I grew up in Eastern Washington so many areas mentioned were familiar to me. Thanks so much for posting this!
posted by hilaryjade at 6:00 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

That was a fascinating primer on the apple business, though I'm not sold on how tasty the apple is.
Here's what espaliered apple trees look like.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:21 AM on July 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

The balkanization of apple varieties is one which I haven't really explored much. I sort of just get an apple.

For many decades, this was because the apples for sale were from a few varieties only and they weren't all that different (or all that good, usually). There were exceptions, like if you lived in a place where people still grew older varieties and there was a farmers market, but generally that was true for a long period of time in most places. Like the article says:

In those early days, the company, just like almost everybody else in Washington, primarily produced Red Delicious apples, plus a few Goldens and Grannies — familiar workhorse varieties

I'm looking forward to trying this; it's been a huge investment (or gamble) by the farmers and for their sake I hope it works out well. I don't like the trend towards patenting crops, but I also understand why there is pressure to do so, along with the efforts to protect place-specific food names (eg Champagne).
posted by Dip Flash at 6:25 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think it will take a lot for an apple to win me over from Envys (Envies?). They're not just the perfect sweet / tangy / crisp - they also don't go brown for ages, so I can cut slices and send them with my picky kid and he'll still eat them.

But looking forward to trying these nonetheless.
posted by Mchelly at 6:29 AM on July 21, 2019

WA 38’s lenticels look exceptionally bright against its inky skin, and this reminded someone in a focus group of the stars in the night sky, an observation that became trademarked as Cosmic Crisp. “It’s the first apple that’s ever been named by consumers,”
Giving stoners the world over a ray of hope that, they too, can give food a new name.
posted by jeremias at 6:34 AM on July 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is all well and good, but if you want a real apple, avoid the supermarket and get yourself to a place that grows heirloom apple varieties. It's like drinking a good artisanal local brew versus drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon.
posted by beagle at 7:16 AM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh, great, another overpriced apple product that's just going to be unusable after a year. /s
posted by SansPoint at 7:28 AM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

. . .that's just going to be unusable after a year. /s
I don't know, the article says:
. . . a crunch that lasts a long time in controlled-atmosphere storage, all the way around the calendar and into the next harvest season.
That's what makes me a little skeptical about the flavor of these things.
The apple / Apple headline is pretty good though!
posted by Bee'sWing at 7:37 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

We didn't get tired of Red Delicious apples, they hybridized all the flavor and texture out of them. I'm old enough to remember when they tasted great and had a nice crispness.

Is the profit margin higher? As foods are patented, the profit margin rises, the overall cost of food rises.

What happened to the apples that hae been on those trees until now?
posted by theora55 at 7:50 AM on July 21, 2019

What happened to the apples that hae been on those trees until now?

Those orchards were torn out (they typically bulldoze the trees into big piles and burn them) and replanted with new trees.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:22 AM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

US apple orchards have always bothered me a little because of the westward expansion mythology surrounding Johnny Appleseed. Additionally, the whole idea of plant varietal as intellectual property has never sat well with me, mostly because the holders of these patents have often been the same megacorps who brought us things like monocropping and "roundup-ready" seed.

Here in the mid-Atlantic, pick-your-own places generally do between one and three of three possible varieties, all mediocre at best because they're grown to look good and be easy to pick. If you can find a good source for heirloom apples, there are some really great locals (often planted originally by Czech and German immigrants).
posted by aspersioncast at 8:48 AM on July 21, 2019

One of the things about apples is they aren't a crop that you can grow true from seed. You can have a wonderful fruit and plant the seeds from it and when it finally comes to bear, the fruit will not be what the fruit was that you planted it from. This is why varieties of apples are all cloned fruit-bearing stock grafted onto hearty root stock.

I've heard about people who are heritage apple fans having a single tree onto which are grafted dozens of different kinds of apples. The quality of the root and trunk system feeding all the grafts is important, but the single tree is bearing lots of different kinds of apples, each on their own branch.
posted by hippybear at 8:54 AM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

No wireless, less space than a Nomad. Lame.
posted by srboisvert at 9:02 AM on July 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

I live in Texas, which is not known for apple cultivation. I've found that when honeycrisps are good, they're great, but when they're bad, they're inedible (this might be what the article referred to as "bitter pit"). This happens often enough that I've given up on them. Usually it's especially big ones that have an especially deep recess under the flower.

I eat a lot of apples and am always interested in trying different varieties. I'll be looking for this. It's crazy that they can legally control a plant hybrid. I recognize the amount of work that went into testing this particular hybrid over the 9,999 others, but at its base, it's the same technique farmers have been using forever.
posted by adamrice at 9:17 AM on July 21, 2019

I've never been a fan of honeycrisps. Too sweet. My latest apple discovery is Red Prince apples. They're too sour to eat when picked, but they put them in storage and then in Jan/Feb they're perfectly crisp and just the right amount of sweet. I may have posted about them here before. I believe you can get them in Europe, but I don't know about availability in North America outside of Ontario.
posted by quaking fajita at 9:31 AM on July 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

We’ve been big fans of the gold rush variety which are common at farmers markets in the mid-Atlantic: crisp, tart, stores well. I’m hoping this works out well for the WA growers, it’d be nice to have more competition in the worth-eating space.
posted by adamsc at 9:49 AM on July 21, 2019

If you buy red cherries all summer long, for example, you might actually be purchasing a dozen or more different varieties that ripen at different times, but they’ll all be labeled as Dark Sweets — it’s not considered worthwhile to try to educate consumers about so many varieties that are available so briefly.
This reminds me of my parents' insistence on buying Bing cherries from the back of the B.C. fruit trucks that would come through town every fall. We'd can a big batch, and have - between them and the peaches we canned - bedtime snacks for the year.
posted by clawsoon at 9:51 AM on July 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

When I was a kid in El Paso we would drive up to the mountains in New Mexico to get apples. They were Winesaps, cider apples, but they weren't bad eating. They would eventually dry out and wrinkle sitting in the carport and we would make apple sauce in a big cone shaped thing with a wooden cone to mush them.
I once saw a letter written by an officer's wife in a display in Fort Davis, a lonely fort in west Texas. She was looking forward longingly to the early crop of golden delicious apples to break the monotony of their diet. I wonder if those came from New Mexico too, it was a long wagon ride away.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:14 AM on July 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

I looked it up and it looks like the railroad made it to Fort Davis in 1881 about halfway in the life of the fort after the Civil War. It makes much more sense that the apples would come by rail in those days before refrigeration.
posted by Bee'sWing at 11:11 AM on July 21, 2019

For my money, the best apple content on the web is Chuck Wendig reviewing heirloom apples. He has a great orchard hookup, that thread goes on for some time...

He also reviews grocery store apples on his blog.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:25 AM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Why are they called 'heirloom' apples? This etymology is bad, as it suggests these varieties of apples are old news. Are they still tasty? Hell yeah.
posted by The River Ivel at 12:42 PM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Moving to Ottawa (Canada) was an (apple-of-my-)eye-opener for me. So many new kinds of apples! And so, so delicious! Empire is my favourite; I also love Spartans, though their season is short and they don't store very well. Russets are funky looking but oh so yum, with that intriguing hint of pear flavour. And Cortlands are a good stand-by when the Empires aren't looking so good.

I've never liked Galas (too sweet, ugh) or Honeycrisp (too big, no character). I guess we'll see whether these new apples even get imported; the Ottawa area is an apple-growing region.
posted by heatherlogan at 12:53 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

A heretical thought I just had is that nobody needs to worry about preserving heirloom apples. Apple genetics means that we can generate 10,000 new apple varieties whenever we'd like.
Every fall, she makes weekly trips to the experimental orchard, walking through the latest rows of ripening trees in hopes of finding the next star apple. One of her grad students told me that, by necessity, these visits are less a countryside amble than a power-walking mission to make it through 10,000 possible varieties. Only the apples that happen to catch the eye even get tasted.
I bet somebody could get a good "heirloom" business going by walking through the experimental orchard tasting the ugly apples to see which ones combine delayed-gratification looks with candy store taste for the next farmer's market hit.
posted by clawsoon at 1:14 PM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I bet somebody could get a good "heirloom" business going by walking through the experimental orchard tasting the ugly apples to see which ones combine delayed-gratification looks with candy store taste for the next farmer's market hit.

That may be true, but the heirlooms we already have are the result of hundreds of years of experimentation in Europe as well as America. They embody a huge variety of flavors, colors, shapes, sizes, degrees of sweetness or acidity, suitability for eating or cooking, etc. But most of them lack the ability to be stored for months, which means they are unsuitable for the mass market. Also, the mass market doesn't want apples that taste like bananas or pineapple, it wants a homogenized apple flavor. That's the "candy store taste." True heirlooms have flavors you never thought apples could have.
posted by beagle at 1:50 PM on July 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

beagle: True heirlooms have flavors you never thought apples could have.

I had that reaction when I recently tried Cotton Candy grapes, though that was more of a "should not" than a "could not".
posted by clawsoon at 1:57 PM on July 21, 2019

Beeswing’s comment sounds like a Ken Burns soundtrack
posted by growabrain at 2:05 PM on July 21, 2019

I have never had a good crispy Honeycrisp. Seems like they turn to mush in a skin too fast. Or maybe I'm just unlucky. A few weeks ago I was looking for Fuji apples, and there were none in the (fancy expensive) grocery store. But there was a variety I'd never heard of, Kiku. I bought a few, and they were amazingly good.
posted by ctmf at 2:44 PM on July 21, 2019

I randomly grabbed a bag of Ruby Frost apples today - or, rather, my daughter randomly grabbed them over the railing in the checkout line - and they were pretty good for a moderately tart apple.
posted by clawsoon at 3:48 PM on July 21, 2019

Here’s my philosophy: eat grocery store apples year round for health reasons, but go out of your way and pay whatever you have to in order to support your local heirloom apple grower. There’s just no comparison. Bring some joy to your life and eat an heirloom apple. The difference is remarkable.
posted by yaquina27 at 4:06 PM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pre-industrial apples would also have been selected for being tough plants, for being reasonably pest- and drought- and damp-resistant on their own. I thought the most interesting part of my previously on this was that orchards that have not, previously, been irrigated, are putting in irrigation when they replant; partly because the weather is changing and partly because if you expect apple fashion to change every decade your orchards aren't going to live to get deep-rooted anyway.

All this will work until it doesn't.

I am wondering if apples just don't ship as well as we think they do even with modern technology, because the East Coast classics I've tried on the West Coast have been only eh and that's what people on the East Coast largely say about West Coast apples. Between any two people, it could be differing tastes, but it seems unlikely that everyone on each* coast happens to prefer the apples that grow near them.

* All three coasts, counting the Great Lakes orchards.

posted by clew at 4:13 PM on July 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

I may have eaten a Cosmic Crisp here in Australia. I don't recall the name it was sold under, but it was a remarkably dark red and remarkably crisp. That is, some of the apples looked almost black, with the paler dots described in the article, and the feeling of biting into one was like nothing I had ever experienced. The flesh felt as if it were cleaving and fracturing under my teeth, more like biting into an artificial substance than a normal apple, and the surfaces of the flesh felt slightly coarse.

For taste and general texture I preferred a Pink Lady. This apple was somewhat sweeter, and less juicy, but I could see myself buying it if it retains its crispness in storage, when Pink Ladies may start to become a bit softer and sweeter.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:47 PM on July 21, 2019

I live in California, a warmer place than Minnesota, and I have yet to encounter a disappointing Honeycrisp.

I live in Washington these days, which is where a heck of a lot of apples come from. Honeycrisp was pretty reliable, at least eaten promptly, in season, when I first noticed them in the 6-8 year ago range, but that was just before the next wave of plantings started producing, and the newer, big ones are not great. Looking forward to seeing how the Cosmic Crisps do - there aren't enough apples that taste good and store well.
posted by wotsac at 6:25 PM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ironically, given the post title, I don't recall mention of McIntosh apples in this discussion or any of the links. Not a bad apple if you get a good one.
posted by clawsoon at 9:29 AM on July 22, 2019

Not a bad apple if you get a good one.

This is a statement that is a miracle of being exactly the most broad statement one can say about apples at all times across all of history.
posted by hippybear at 9:54 PM on July 22, 2019

I may have eaten a Cosmic Crisp here in Australia. I don't recall the name it was sold under, but it was a remarkably dark red and remarkably crisp.

I don't think Cosmic Crisps are here yet; that sounds like it might have been a Bravo apple, which was developed in WA by the same people who did the Pink Lady. I really like them.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 6:42 AM on July 23, 2019

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