If it weren’t for David Bedford, there would be no honeycrisp apples. The honeycrisp trees (then known as MN 1711) were tagged for removal at the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station’s Horticultural Research Center, when Bedford, head of the apple breeding program, noticed that these trees were in a terrible growing spot. He thought they would have promise in a better site, so he let them live. It was a good thing he did. The honeycrisp has become an exceedingly popular apple. It has the perfect apple texture and its flavor is subtle and sweet. The apple grows to large proportions and stores well. And the trees love the cold weather.
Creating new apple cultivars is a long process and many cultivars never make it to the stage where they get nice names like honeycrisp. It took the honeycrisp thirty years to be released as a cultivar after it was grown from a seedling at the U of M in 1961. There are many reasons for this: The trees need to grow big enough to produce significant fruit, they need to produce fruit consistently from year to year, they have to survive the harsh Minnesota winter [Ed. note: Take it from me, North Shore natives, the Minnesota winter is intense. The snow never melts and when the wind blows you can feel aching sinus cavities you weren’t even aware of.], and for this particular cultivar, the U of M was treading lightly. In the late 1970s they had three cultivars metaphorically crash and burn. The regent and honey gold didn’t survive the winter (see above) and the red baron mysteriously turned yellow and orange and stayed yellow and orange. Oops! However, the honeycrisp was a clear success.
Originally it was thought that the honeycrisp was a cross between the Macoun and honey gold; however, when the U of M folks tested its DNA, they realized that it was a cross between keepsake and another cultivar that did not survive the testing process. Apple fanatics everywhere must be wondering “What other apple varieties were grown and destroyed that I will never taste???” (That wouldn’t be me, of course.)
You can buy and pick honeycrisps at Russell Orchards in Ipswich.
(Thanks to Minnesota Harvest for the fascinating, detailed account of the growing and creating process.)