A mouthful of history in every bite of the apple

You do not yet know the name of this apple, until tomorrow. For now, call it NY2. Photo courtesy Cornell University.

You do not yet know the name of this apple, until tomorrow. For now, call it NY2. Photo courtesy Cornell University.

Let us officially ring in the season When We Write A Lot Of Stories About Apples In New York.

Fruit growers in general are feeling bullish about the harvest this year, thanks to a cool spring, unlike last year's bud-and-frost disaster. According to the Associated Press:

“Everybody should be pretty happy with their prospects this year,” Cornell University horticulture professor Marvin Pritts said Monday. “Every fruit crop in the Northeast has really set up nicely. Apples, grapes, blueberries, raspberries — they’re all looking good.”

New York delivers the second largest apple crop in the nation, generating $268 million in sales. A little over half of those apples are sold as fresh fruit, while the rest is processed into cider, juice, etc. (You can find lots more cool New York apple facts here.)

Among them is the nugget that New York produces more varieties of apples than any other state. That's even as industrialized agriculture has whittled down the number of apple varieties sold nationwide to a select few. You know them – Red Delicious, Granny Smith, McIntosh, etc.

The local foods / slow foods movements are reviving an interest in heritage varieties of nearly everything. A fascinating article in Mother Jones (H/T Alex Belth and The Stacks at Deadspin) profiles one of the leading heritage apple breeders, John Bunker (known as "Bunk") – and along the way describes how heritage varieties tie together apple eaters across the generations:

This is the magic of apples. You can't take a graft of Clarence Thurlow and grow a new one, but his tree was easily duplicated and returned to Maine life. Today, I can take a bite out of a Fletcher Sweet and know exactly what Thurlow was experiencing as a boy 80 years ago. I can chomp into a Newtown Pippin and understand what Thomas Jefferson was lamenting in Paris when he wrote to a friend that "they have no apples here to compare with our Newtown Pippin."

"It's about apples and it's not about apples," Bunk says of his work. "I talk about the history of apples, but you know what? I'm giving a highly political talk, because it's about our agricultural heritage."

Tomorrow there's a special event  at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station’s Fruit and Vegetable Research Farm in Geneva, but I'm not sure if it falls into the "agricultural heritage" category or agricultural future.

Cornell University has a long history of breeding new apple varieties. Its researchers have released 66 of them since the 1890s, according to Cornell's press materials. Tomorrow at 12:15pm, Cornell will officially release the names of its two newest varieties, previously only known as NY1 and NY2 since they were first developed in 2010.

So you tell me: are these new apple varieties following the tradition of the likes of Fletcher Sweets or Newtown Pippins? Or is this Big Agriculture trying to develop The Next Big Apple?

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