Is the "Honeycrisp killer" apple ripening?
This is some from one of the apple stories I have in today's paper. This is a juicy deal, so make sure you have a napkin handy. Heh.
That’s a strong statement from Dennis Courtier, a self-described “apple geek” and the president of Pepin Heights Orchards in Lake City.
Is he talking about Honeycrisp, the wildly popular apple created by the University of Minnesota and now the official state apple?
“It is definitely better than Honeycrisp,” said Courtier, munching on a slice of apple while standing among rows of trees just reaching maturity.
Despite heavily marketing and growing Honeycrisp himself for many years, he is preparing what he believes is a new contender for the top spot on the apple tree, a “Honeycrisp killer,” if you will.
The name of this hardcore up-and-comer? SweeTango.
Don’t despair, Honeycrisp fans. With Honeycrisp being grown on about 6 million trees, it will be around for a long time.
Being planted in such profusion is part of the reason Honeycrisp might be taken down a notch or two. Described as “a bit fussy” and “very site-sensitive” by the U of M’s research pomologist (apple breeder) David Bedford, it must be planted in a cold climate to produce the best-tasting fruit.
As its popularity grew, the gigantic West Coast apple growers decided they should plant the Minnesota upstart, in a big way.
That has resulted in what Courtier and Bedford see as a steady deterioration of the overall quality of the Honeycrisp apples rolling onto the market.
A bad apple or two can spoil more than the bunch. It can ruin a variety’s reputation, they say.
Honeycrisp trees grown in cold climates, such as the orchards in Minnesota, still produce quality fruit.
Looking for the next hot apple variety, Courtier turned to the U of M and discovered SweeTango.
With only a test number and no name, the early trees grew in Pepin Heights’ research and development plot. Soon the apple’s taste, texture and site flexibility marked the nameless apple as one to watch.
Courtier decided to plant the new variety in larger numbers as well as licensing the fruit with a name that he created himself.
This apple season, which is just starting (Pepin Heights’ retail store opened last week), will mark SweeTango’s debut.
Don’t expect to buy bushels. Only a small number will be available. Look for production to grow 20 percent to 40 percent a year with “plenty” of SweeTango being available in 2011.
Does Bedford, who often tastes up to 500 to 600 apple a day, agree with Courtier’s assessment of SweeTango?
“It might not be a Honeycrisp killer, but it is a competitor. It is the only apple that holds its own in a blind taste test against Honeycrisp,” he said. “I’d say they are one and two of the best-tasting apples. It is just that, depending on the day, I’m just not sure which is one and which is two.”