Last week I wrote about the red-fleshed Almata apple. In that blogpost, you might have sensed some disdain for the Red Delicious apple. I wanted to clarify my position. Today, not many people want to eat or pick Red Delicious apples. They associate this variety with the mealy, tasteless apples sold throughout the commercial supermarket system. In truth, the Red Delicious apple was once delicious. That’s how it got its name!
In Peru, Iowa, in the late 1800’s, a farmer, Jesse Hiatt, tried to get rid of an old apple stump from his field, but the tree persisted in sending up shoots. Finally he let it grow, and when it bore fruit, he was so excited by its taste, he named it Hawkeye. It must have had a tangy sharpness. I imagined a taste almost villainous for him to choose such a strong name. Though recently I read that Iowa’s nickname is the hawkeye state . . . so much for poetic imaginings.
Over the years of breeding and grafting, that Red Delicious apple changed, becoming more like a cheap red table wine compared to a complex Bordeaux. Instead of its original creamy interior and variegated outer skin, the apple became more red. I can imagine the growing chant, redder is better. Consumers wanted ruby-red apples like the red apple in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. As far as the grower was concerned, the apple needed to be really red, have the Red Delicious characteristic elongated taper, and travel well. Taste was of little concern. Intention equals outcome. Over time, the Red Delicious apple lost much of its original flavor.
Then in the late 1980’s, the public’s desire for Red Delicious slowed down as new apples, the Granny Smith from New Zealand and the Fuji from Japan, entered the marketplace. Supply and demand. The public no longer wanted to buy Red Delicious, and the apple industry that had relied so heavily on this one apple almost collapsed.
The Red Delicious trees that we grow here at Old Frog Pond Farm are tasty apples. The flesh is dense and the fruit is both sweet and sharp. Its skin is striped, and it has the traditional five knobs on the blossom end. Picked right from the tree, I always enjoy them. One year I actually tried to promote them with the name, “Hawkeye,”; but no one seemed interested in that name either.
Maybe I will just have to graft more of them over to Almata apples. No one seems to be able to resist that red-fleshed bite.