Thursday, February 9, 2017

McIntosh x Delicious

Breed the noble McIntosh with the ubiquitous Delicious, and you'll get a different variety every time you do.

But when the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Cornell University did so in 1945, it created Empire.

This apple is a reliable, crisp variety that boasts generic versions of the berry-and-wine flavors that characterize most of the vast McIntosh family.

Empire keeps well and is highly consistent. I recommend it as an easy-to-eat introduction to the Mac family; if you like it, go deeper.

McIntosh is well respected, but Red Delicious is the apple that apple snobs love to hate.

I would argue that Delicious is more to be pitied than censured: originally a foundling called Hawkeye, it became victim of its own success.

When something is really popular we try to improve it. Farmers adopted scores if not hundreds of genetic mutations to Delicious that involved color.

As of today Wikipedia lists 42 sports of Delicious that have been patented in the U.S. since 1934. The total number of Delicious sports is certainly greater.

All of these sports involve color that is "brighter" "deeper" "less striped" "more intense" "darker" and so forth. Some are earlier. None mention flavor or texture.

As Sarah Yager put it in The Atlantic in 2014, "As genes for beauty were favored over those for taste, the skins grew tough and bitter around mushy, sugar-soaked flesh."

Which raises the question: Which version of Delicious pollinated McIntosh in New York in 1945, making Empire?

Even if it was not the original (once known as Hawkeye but then rebranded as Delicious), the pollen parent could not have been any of the sports patented after about 1947.

Tastes change, but Delicious rose to to fame during the same period when people esteemed and enjoyed such varieties as Baldwin and McIntosh. Delicious was likely pretty good, once. Some of that goodness probably made it into Empire.

And by the way, if you like a good Red Delicious, give Empire a bite. You'll probably like them too. Lots of people think they are better.

Empire has been on my mind (and in my mouth) lately. The Macouns, which sometimes are available and good through March, gave out in December this year, so I've turned to Empire earlier than usual.


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