Good Riddance, Red Delicious Apple
One cool thing about the fruit business is that the people in it, starting with the growers, are by and large a heck of a lot more accommodating than people in other businesses. Years ago I covered a lot of industries as the business reporter for a newspaper, and I have to say to this day I’ve never seen competitors who are so friendly with each other.
The collegial atmosphere is on display in spades nearly every time a grower hosts an event, sharing some of their secrets of success with fellow growers, such as on an International Fruit Tree Association tour. I’ve since asked around, and other industries just aren’t like that; they keep secrets secret.
It even extends to industry media. For example, the first time I visited Washington’s immense apple industry in season, I didn’t stay in a hotel. The longtime editor of Good Fruit Grower, Cal Bosch, insisted I stay with him, as since retirement he and his wife had opened a bed and breakfast.
But he had an ulterior motive. I had written a cover story for the February 1999 issue of American Fruit Grower about ‘Red Delicious’. A lot of people, especially Washington State University’s chief apple breeder at the time, Bruce Barritt, skewered the old variety. Cal had written a lot about ‘Red Delicious’ though the years and was justifiably proud of the industry and its growers, especially in the Okanogan where they claimed to grow the most beautiful ‘Red Delicious’ in the world.
As soon as I got into the kitchen, Cal whipped out a giant, gorgeous ‘Red Delicious’, and insisted I try a top notch King Red that hadn’t been stored forever — at a time when Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storage and other postharvest practices weren’t nearly as good as today.
I took a bite of the apple, and its texture was a lot firmer than probably any ‘Red Delicious’ I had ever had. But the flavor? Cal asked if I thought it was good, and, well, I lied. I told him it was great; there was no way I was going to contradict my gracious host.
I couldn’t help but think of that while in Chicago for the 2018 U.S. Apple Association Outlook & Marketing Conference, where it was announced ‘Red Delicious’ would lose its No. 1 ranking to ‘Gala’ this year. It took a long time to supplant ‘Red Delicious.’
Good riddance, I thought. How many kids had been turned off of apples by the little typey but mealy ‘Red Delicious’ they were served in school? My own kids weren’t immune. When I took them to the weekly farmers’ market, they didn’t want me to buy red apples, only green ones. They were lucky to have a Dad who pushed high-quality fruit to them. How many consumers have been turned off apples as children?
That cover story from 20 years ago, “King Red’s Reign — Is it time to oust good ol’ Red Delicious? Some say yes,” closed with a quote from Grady Auvil, who died in 1998. These words from the legendary Washington grower who championed other varieties, notably ‘Fuji’ and ‘Granny Smith’, are incredibly prescient.
“The ‘Red Delicious’ is dead,” said Auvil, “although it might take 20 years to bury it.”