Red Delicious

The Red Delicious is a clone of apple cultigen, now comprising more than 50 cultivars, that was recognized in Madison County, Iowa in 1880. As new cultivars with improved color and earlier harvestability have replaced the original cultivar in commercial orchards, the taste and texture of the harvested commodity have deteriorated, and many customers have begun to reject the Red Delicious at markets.

Apple expert, Roger Yepsen notes some of the Red’s less desirable qualities: ‘The skin is thick and bitter and has to be chewed vigorously… this apple ranks close to the bottom when cooked… sold year round, so shop with skepticism. Delicious retains its cheerful good looks long after its flavor has departed.’

The Red Delicious originated at an orchard in 1880 as ‘a round, blushed yellow fruit of surpassing sweetness.’ Stark Nurseries held a competition in 1892 to find an apple to replace the Ben Davis apple (now mostly used as a process apple rather and increasingly rare). The winner was a red and yellow striped apple sent by Jesse Hiatt, a farmer in Peru, Iowa, who called it ‘Hawkeye.’ Stark Nurseries bought the rights from Hiatt, renamed the variety ‘Stark Delicious,’ and began propagating it. Another apple tree, later named the ‘Golden Delicious,’ was also marketed by Stark Nurseries after it was purchased from a farmer in Clay County, West Virginia, in 1914; the Delicious became the ‘Red Delicious’ as a retronym (a new name for something to differentiate the original version from a more recent one).

In the 1980s, Red Delicious represented three-quarters of the harvest in Washington state. A decade later, reliance on the variety had helped to push Washington state’s apple industry ‘to the edge’ of collapse. In 2000, Congress approved and President Bill Clinton signed a bill to bail out the apple industry, which had lost $760 million since 1997. By 2000, this cultivar made up less than one half of the Washington state output, and in 2003, the crop had shrunk to 2 percent of the state’s harvest, which totaled 103 million boxes. Although Red Delicious still remained the single largest variety produced in the state in 2005, others were growing in popularity, notably the ‘Cameo,’ ‘Fuji,’ and ‘Gala’ varieties.

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