Don’t be tempted by the early red of the Red Delicious

[cleeng_content id="192736729" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]It just doesn’t pay to pick a red delicious apple early. The apple’s deep red color may fool us into thinking that it’s ready to drop from the tree and that it is presently at its peak of flavor. That sweetness won’t be there but a starchy chalkiness may be our only reward for that first bite. Now, what to do with the rest of that foolishly wasted apple? A quick look around and a low toss into an overgrown fencerow works best. After all, we’re supposed to know better having been around apple trees since forever.

In the absence of an overgrown fencerow, we may drop the apple under the tree and loudly comment, “Yup — looks like some little kids have been out here.” Perhaps even “accidentally” stepping on the apple, crushing it and destroying the evidence of the adult size bite. We could, with some effort, finish eating the apple claiming to anyone who may be present that through our expertise, we were able to select the only ripe apple on the tree and wouldn’t advise bystanders to pick any others yet.redapple

The problem of using this method to escape this situation is that anyone else present is likely to consider himself such an expert in pomology and make a similar selection and also wind up with a piece of fruit that tastes like a damp chalkboard eraser. The next person who comes along is likely to behave in a similar manner and so forth. Walking away with the apple saying that we’re “saving it for later” is likely to have the same effect. (Eventually, our apple will mummify under the car seat.)

If every seed of every apple ever grown were to be planted and the resulting tree brought to fruit bearing, every tree would produce a different apple. The differences are usually pretty obvious but can be, in some cases, microscopic. Every apple seed that is destroyed represents an extinction of an as yet unknown variety. I always make sure that my apple cores wind up on the ground somehow so that these seeds can at least have a chance.

Consistent varieties of apple trees are propagated by budding, grafting or an old-time seldom used process known as “layering.” Anyway, apple trees are not propagated by planting seeds. Many years ago, a farmer near Peru, Iowa, found this out the hard way — so the story goes.

This fellow apparently possessed an obsession with order and symmetry in agriculture. A chance seedling apple tree sprouted in a row of trees in his orchard. Likely, the existing trees were started from seed and of no particular or consistent variety. Thus, the farmer probably found nothing objectionable about this tree’s uncertain lineage.

However, the tree was growing out of line with the others, which this agrarian just couldn’t tolerate. He cut the tree down but it soon re-sprouted from the root so he cut it down again. The tree sprouted a third time and I guess the farmer figured that he was licked and let the tree grow. This time, he tasted the apple and was instantly amazed by its flavor.

He turned this miraculous find into an initially successful commercial venture by selling seeds from the tree. It would be a few years before these seeds became producing trees, but when these trees grew anything from huge, lumpy green mealy mush-melons to fiery colored pippins, he became none too popular in the neighborhood. Eventually, the apple would get the attention of a large commercial fruit tree producer and the Red Delicious was then on its way to our fruit stands and grocery stores.

The original Red Delicious wasn’t all that red and apple scientists worked to produce strains with more color. People say that these newer, redder strains lack the old Red Delicious taste and, to some degree, they’re right. There was a block of small Red Delicious trees at Whitham orchard that fit this description. Just walking down the rows, one could sense that something was amiss.

The trees were stark and uniform and looked as though they should have serial numbers. If the block ever went PYO, they would probably be coin-operated. The apples, though a deep red, were virtually tasteless even when dead ripe. When these prickly bushes were finally pushed out, they didn’t even make good firewood.

In contrast were the big seedling rootstock old-time Red Delicious trees that surrounded the machine sheds. They tasted great but unless they were doused with Alar, they were more striped than red. They also had the tendency to grow in a rounder shape rather than sporting the elongated shape that the public preferred. Another spray, Premolin, could be used to enhance the apple’s shape and make them more “typey”, in grower terminology. Mr. Whitham said that the northern growers had an advantage, as these desirable qualities seemed to occur naturally in their climate.

Eventually, newer strains of reds were developed that have color, shape and taste without chemical or hormone enhancement. At the far northeast corner of the orchard grew a block of Skyline Reds. I recall sickle bar mowing with a slow, steady 550 Oliver in this block just prior to harvest. The limbs laden with deep red apples gushed lavishly out of the rows so that I had to vary the tractor’s course around them. Come harvest, it was difficult not to keep a sample of this sweet tasting apple going.

I believe that this is the strain of Red Delicious of the tree that I maintain along Jersey Mountain Road near Romney. When I found it, the tree had a shape like a Lombardy poplar and grew exactly one apple, which daughter Emily snagged. In the ensuing years, I’ve pruned some shape into the tree and with the help of fertilizer and home orchard spray have harvested at least five good crops.

Examining this year’s crop, I’m tempted to sample one of the big red pies though I know the apple will be chalky and nearly tasteless and wind up in the fencerow. I can imagine how Eve must have felt looking at the tree that was “something to be longed for to the eyes” (Genesis. 3:6).

However, she found a unique way of getting rid of the uneaten portion of that fruit, which really didn’t work out all that well. If she had perfected the low toss to the fencerow, this alone may not have acquitted her of the first crime committed on earth by a human being but it may have worked out better for the rest of us. I had to get away from the tree.

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