Stories tagged James J. Luby

Oct
26
2008

Malus domestica 'Honeycrisp'
Malus domestica 'Honeycrisp'Courtesy Art Oglesby

Honeycrisp, my favorite apple

Around the end of September I eagerly visit an apple orchard to stock up on Honeycrisp apples. I first experienced Honeycrisp apples back when they were first released in 1991 because I lived next door to Jack Kelly and what is now part of Apple Jack Orchards. I was impressed by the "explosively crisp" snap as you bite into the apple and its sweet, juicy flavor that also has a hint of tartness. Here is a quote about the Honeycrisp apple from the University of Minnesota Extension:

Honeycrisp fruit is characterized by an exceptionally crisp and juicy texture. Its flesh is cream colored and coarse. The flavor is sub-acid and ranges from mild and well-balanced to strongly aromatic, depending on the degree of maturity. It has consistently ranked as one of the highest quality apples in the University of Minnesota sensory evaluations.

The Honeycrisp story is remarkable

I first read the amazing story about how the Honeycrisp was developed in the City Pages. James J. Luby and David S. Bedford, working within the Department of Horticultural Science University of Minnesota, have given a big boost to Minnesota's apple growers and the horticulture department.

Bedford calls it a "lifesaver." According to the university's office of technology commercialization, Honeycrisp has generated $6.3 million for the institution, placing it among the school's top five most lucrative inventions. (The U receives $1.35 a tree and splits royalty income in thirds, with one portion going to the inventors, another to the college and department where the faculty work, and the third into a general research fund.)

How the Honeycrisp apple is produced

Apple breeder David Bedford tastes between 500 and 600 apples every day. Bedford is trying to find the genetic gems from among the nearly 20,000 trees in the horticulture department's orchards. Only 15 or so have the "wow" that allows their genetics to advance to the next round. Hand pollinating select blossoms and using wax bags to prevent any stray pollination, produces the next generation of seeds. The ancestors of the Honeycrisp were in the crop of 1960. A bad freeze almost eliminated the genetic line in 1980. When the parent trees were killed by a 1 in 50 yr. freeze, the offspring were classified as unacceptable. Bedford decided to let them have a chance, and

A few years later, when the clones began bearing fruit, Bedford was shocked by the apples' crispness and juiciness, which reminded him of an Asian pear. "The thing I remember was that the texture was so unusual, I wasn't sure if it was good or bad," he says.

Read more about the Honeycrisp saga

The complete story is fascinating. You can read more by clicking the City Pages link. Probably the best description of the Honeycrisp apple sage is told at MinnesotaHarvest.net. An addendum within this webpage added this surprising quote:

Records and public releases from the University of Minnesota from 1991 to the present have identified the parentage of Honeycrisp as the cross 'Macoun' x 'Honeygold'. But recently completed DNA testing has determined that neither Macoun nor Honeygold are parents of Honeycrisp.

The testing determined for certain that Keepsake, another apple from the University of Minnesota's apple breeding program that was released in 1978, is one of the parents. But, despite extensive searching, the other parent has not been identified. There is no DNA match among any of the varieties that are thought to be possible parents.

The University's Research Center routinely crosses and plants thousands of seeds annually, moving them and the resulting seedling trees from place to place over a period of years, so there are multiple points where a mix-up could take place.