Updated: Apr 14, 2022
RED DELICIOUS APPLES AREN’T PARTICULARLY TASTY. At least that was the conclusion my youngest son and I had in the late 1990s when we sampled them fresh from our neighbor’s hilltop orchard in Lake Leelanau during the mid-October harvest.
The dark red orbs we were handed produced that famous crunch that we all associate with biting into a fresh apple, but my son quickly frowned and whispered, “Dad, these are awful.” I shushed him and thought his reaction was a bit over the top. Soon it was my turn and I totally agreed with him. They did not deliver that sweet juicy flavor a fresh apple should.
Our expectations may have been a bit high perhaps because we were being hosted by our neighbor sharing the experience of his harvest in Leelanau County. I thanked him for our hand full of apples thinking a few days in cold storage might improve their flavor. I decided to keep that thought to myself.
It took a quarter of a century for this memory to resurface and now I share some newer insights as I’ve researched the topic of apple varieties in the USA.
In a December article in New England Today, we were told of the downfall of the Red Delicious. It once was the most popular apple in the U.S. It had everything going for it in the appearance department but the flavor left much to be desired. We could attest to that fact first hand. The senior food editor from Yankee Magazine describes the Red Delicious as “a mouthful of roughage.” Not the type of accolades needed in today’s competitive world of food aficionados. A tough skin and mushy texture might have worked years ago when long distance trains first started delivering fresh apples across the USA. As it turns out the Red Delicious really is an apple for the eye and not the palate. Still, its availability and dark red appearance kept it as the leading apple for nearly fifty years.
My research also found that apples have undergone improvements at several of our nation’s university research stations and new cultivars are being developed for our next generation farmers to meet the demand for improved flavor and unique attributes. These newer generations of apples are not only planned for the fresh markets but also are being directed to the fast-growing cider sector that has become so popular.
Remember when our mothers used to remind us that you don’t judge a book by its cover? It seems a fitting adage to apply to these newer varieties with their improved flavor profiles. The palate is going to win this race as it should.
Can you identify this apple in my photo?
The Most Popular Apple Varieties in America (2019, U.S. Apple Association)
2. Red Delicious
3. Granny Smith