Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Red Comet

The grower of this apple had sample slices at farmers market, so even before I bought any of these I had an opportunity to form a fleeting impression of watermelon candy and, perhaps, banana.

To make things even more intriguing, the grower admits that "Red Comet" is just a nickname, and indeed there's no information about it as a named variety at all.

What is in a name? This is large and round, slightly tapered, with almost no ribbing at all and a tightly closed calyx. A pretty candy-apple-red blush contains deeper carmine stripes and showcases many large tan lenticels.

The unblushed peel is a pale yellow green that almost seems to glow. Unbroken there is a faint cidery aroma.

This is the first new variety (new to me, that is) of the year and I am naturally excited to taste it.

Red Comet's flesh is coarse yellow, breaking crisp and very juicy. It is much more sweet than tart but there is enough acidity to help balance the sugar and be lively. The juicy crunch is great.

But the sweetness frustrates tasting, sweeping all the interesting flavors before it. Is that banana or not? Did I really get a hit of grain, or was it something else?

It's tantalizing when the flavors are there but hidden. The first bite can be the most revealing, if it's very sweet.

There are some pleasant fruity notes, with hints of watermelon candy and the tropics, some generic citrus and maybe banana. (So, perhaps Vista Bella or Zestar ancestry?)

Red Comet is very enjoyable with some interesting flavors. This apple would be a find any time but is especially pleasing this early in the season.

It would be a good pick for all but the most tart-averse tastes, and I hope to see more of it in the future. Honeycrisp fans might seek this out.

Google "Red Comet" and you will come a cropper. (Suspecting a typo, I even tried "Red Cornet," on the theory that "rn" looks like "m.") So I contacted the grower, Tree-Licious Orchards of Port Murray, New Jersey.

The coy reply: (a) yep, it's a secret, (b) good guess about Vista Bella but (c) nope it's not, and (d) the truth will soon be revealed.

There would be no point in keeping a secret were this already a named variety, which might have a following of its own of people who would buy it if they knew what it was.

Probably, then, this is a numbered apple from one of the university breeding programs. Maybe even the subject of a "managed release" program, a variation on the club apple approach.

Red Comet is not a bad name for this bright breed, and certainly superior to NJ-123 or NY-456 or whatever it turns out to be.

Update August 25: I've been thinking this over and realize there is another possibility, that this is a named variety whose name is also a trademark but whose patent has expired. To avoid paying a license fee, the grower may not use the cultivar name.

In particular, I think the Comet is a dead ringer for MN 1711, the variety otherwise known as Honeycrisp.

Honeycrisp is trademarked (and trademark may be renewed forever), but its patent expired in 2010, making it legal to graft this variety without a license, but not to use its name.

It makes sense that we would see some off-label MN1711 two years later, which would be sufficient reason for the grower to forego the valuabe Honeycrisp brand name. (It's not a given that the consortium that controls the name would even permit Tree-licious to license it. That's how closely these things are held.)

Red Comet otherwise resembles Honeycrisp in most respects, especially crunch, color, and sweetness, with a few minor differences. The Honeycrisps I have sampled were a bit larger and a bit more colored, and have many small dimples in the peel, absent from the Comet.

Perhaps my Comets were a bit earlier off the tree, compared to the named Honeycrips. That could explain their slightly greater acidity (pleasing, from my point of view).

It does present an interesting marketing conundrum for the grower, if the actual cultivar name is private! By contrast Cripps Pink, the cultivar name for Pink Lady (another popular variety whose patent has expired), is in the public domain.


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