The history of your favorite apple varieties


In the United States, apple season has begun. Crisp, fresh fall apples have started to hit market shelves, and the variety that you can find is staggering, especially at farmers’ markets and boutique grocery stores. If you live anywhere near an apple growing area, you will be able to pick and choose depending on what you want to do with the apples. 

You might wonder where all of these varieties originated. If so, you can learn more about the history of many types of apples over at Food & Wine. The list begins with a worldwide favorite, the Gala apple. It is a cross between the Golden Delicious and Kidd’s Orange Red, and was  discovered  by  New Zealand orchardist J.H. Kidd in the 1930s, although it didn’t find its way to the U.S. for forty years after that. 

One of Gala’s parents, the Golden Delicious apple, was created when a farmer in West Virginia noticed a chance seedling in his orchard and allowed it to mature. Although no one knows with certainty, experts suspect that the Golden Delicious is a cross between heirloom varieties Grimes  Golden and  Golden Reinette. One thing we know for sure is that it is not related to the Red Delicious apple. 

Universities – including the University of Minnesota – have developed many apple varieties. Chief among those developed by the U of M is the HoneyCrisp apple, which has surged to the top of pile over the last two decades. You might be surprised to learn that the HoneyCrisp was almost lost to history: the apple was nearly thrown out of the development program. For years its specific parentage remained a mystery that remained unsolved until just a few months ago. The HoneyCrisp is a cross between the Keepsake apple and an unreleased variety known as MN1627.

New varieties pop up now and again. The most popular fresh face around here is the SweeTango, another University of Minnesota product. Local orchards also sell several heirloom varieties that are not well suited to mass production but which work well in a variety of uses. My current local favorite is the Haralson, which is an excellent all-around tart apple. Where I used to live, I enjoyed the Winesap apples (pictured above) that grew on my neighbor’s tree. What are your favorite apple varieties?

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  • Jane  on  September 25, 2017

    When I was a teenager I used to do apple picking at a friend's parents' orchard. I have never tasted apples as flavorsome as those. I wish I has recorded what they were – at that age I had no idea these things mattered. I do miss the English cooking apples, Bramleys – using Granny Smiths in the US is nothing close.

  • laureljean  on  September 25, 2017

    The Haralson is my favorite, too. I moved from Minnesota to Ohio recently and can no longer find it. Not happy.

  • sgump  on  September 25, 2017

    Several months ago in New Jersey, I purchased some Smitten apples (imported from New Zealand), and, well, I'm smitten! What's more, they kept for three months in a cool place without losing any of their charm. (Be warned, though, that Smitten is definitely a SWEET apple.) I'll have to try to track down a Haralson now, though! And a website I love during apple season is

  • ellabee  on  September 28, 2017

    So many great apples… Smokehouse and Gravenstein for straight eating. Lodi for summer applesauce. Roxbury Russet for juicy eating or cider.

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