KENNEWICK -- I love fall. It's when tart, juicy apples are ready for harvest.
Imagine my dismay when the only apple varieties I could easily find when I moved to Washington in 1980 were red and golden delicious.
My "apple palate" was developed in the northeast part of the country where apples had more flavor, more tart balanced with sweetness. Red delicious apples just didn't measure up for me, but it was the predominant apple found in local orchards and grocery stores.
However, market preferences change with time and the red delicious trees in many Washington orchards have been replaced with newer varieties, such as gala, Fuji and Granny Smith.
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Within the last several years, even newer varieties, such as cameo, honeycrisp and pink lady, also have made an entrance. Soon you may come across SweeTango, one of the newest apple varieties on the market.
SweeTango was hitting market shelves this week in a few big cities, like Seattle. This new variety was developed at the University of Minnesota by the same breeders that developed honeycrisp. Trademarked by the University of Minnesota, the breeders are hoping SweeTango will be as successful as honeycrisp, one of SweeTango's parents.
SweeTango is a blush type apple with a deep red blush over a yellow background. I haven't had the chance to taste it yet, but it's reported to be crispy, "juicy and sweet with hints of fall spices, balanced by vibrant acidity." David Bedford, one of the breeders that developed SweeTango, says it has the "same wonderful crispy texture of honeycrisp and even more flavor than its parent."
If you don't find one in Seattle, you'll probably have to wait until 2011 or 2012 when more SweeTango trees come into production and their fruit becomes available nationwide.
A new apple variety from Minnesota, why not from Washington? After all, Washington is the top apple producer in the country and at least 45 percent of the apple varieties in production here are considered passe. Be patient, you probably will see one or more new outstanding varieties being released from WSU within the next year or so.
Traditional apple breeding takes time. Last year in the WSU apple breeding program, more than 18,000 new hybrid seeds were produced from 18 crosses. Some 20,000 seeds from the crosses made the year before were planted and 14,000 seedlings from the 2005 crosses were budded onto dwarfing rootstock. Getting closer to testing and tasting, over 6,200 seedlings were planted in evaluation orchards in 2008 and the best selections from earlier trials were propagated for regional trials.
They're also testing "elite" selections in grower trials.
What do breeders look for when developing a new apple? Obviously they want an apple that has super eating quality, one with the right firmness, crispness, juiciness and a balanced sweet-tart flavor. It must also be attractive with desirable color, size, and appearance. On the production side, a stellar apple variety must bear early, produce well, not be prone to sunburn, and have disease resistance. In addition, it must store well and taste great when it comes out of cold storage.
It's a lot of work, but before long there will also be new unique WSU varieties being released for growing in central Washington.
By the way, my favorite apple varieties are Empire and Ida Red, usually not available in our region, but I am becoming a fan of cameo, honeycrisp and pink lady.