A Golden for the Cold Country!
Golden Delicious is the most-planted, most-produced apple variety world-wide and is the second most-produced variety in the United States (behind Red Delicious). It’s a favorite of many apple lovers. Golden Delicious can’t be grown successfully over a long period of years in Minnesota. But now, with Cold Gold, it can!
Most Minnesota growers have planted and grown Golden Delicious apples for a while, but not for long. A cold Minnesota winter comes along, and, zap, our tender Golden trees become lifeless, leafless skeletons. And it is certainly disheartening when that happens. Our own experience at Minnesota Harvest was a planting of 110 Smoothee Golden (a russet-resistant strain of Golden Delicious) trees in 1971.
We grew Goldens of truly superior flavor and firmness from those trees for about six years, and then all but five trees were killed in a single winter. Those five struggled along until all were dead by the thirteenth year.
So we had our taste of Minnesota-grown Golden Delicious, but we had to admit that it wasn’t realistic to plant any more of them, no matter how good they were.
That’s where Cold Gold comes in. An apple expert cannot tell the difference between Cold Gold and Golden Delicious (even though they aren’t genetically identical). But Cold Gold appears to be unaffected by Minnesota winters, at least so far. It looks like we may have gold for the cold country. That’s pretty exciting!
In the 1970′s, 80′s, and early 90′s, we were actively growing Golden Delicious at our Michigan Harvest Orchard in southwestern Michigan, where we never had any winter injury to Golden trees. In those days, we were bringing our entire crop (of all varieties) from Michigan Harvest to Minnesota Harvest, and we developed a great trade for those excellent Goldens. (Both of our orchards have produced apples of superior flavor… The soil* makes a tremendous difference!) In the early 70′s, Golden Delicious apples were not known very well in Minnesota. We found out that we had to encourage people to sample the Goldens, because they would often just bypass them. When they discovered how good they were (especially how much better than grocery store Goldens from Washington), we had no trouble gaining a great following.
It’s pertinent here to mention Honeygold, the exquisite delicacy released by the University of Minnesota in 1970. We love Honeygold and have sold many thousands of bushels. It’s sweeter and really does taste more like honey than Golden Delicious. The texture of Honeygold is crisp and delicate, a little more airy, and juicier than Golden Delicious. So there are significant differences. We all grow more than one variety of red apples, and those differences are the reason we should grow several Golden types. Honeygold bruises every easily, for example, and it has sustained winter damage statewide. If Cold Gold continues undamaged by the winters, it’s a very welcome new variety.
We won’t know how low Cold Gold can go unless we experience winters of the ferocity of 1976-77, 1977-78, and 1982-83. Those turned out to be the worst winters in the entire century, and we lost outright one-third of all apple trees we had in the ground at the time, and most others didn’t feel so good, even though they survived. So we’re in no rush to go through that again, just to determine how hardy Cold Gold is. The original tree has been damage-free for twenty-five years, and the first generation trees are fine after 11 years. So, for now, and until further notice, Cold Gold is hardy.
* Soil imparts flavor to fruits and vegetables. The mineral/volcanic soils of the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon) have far less organic material than many “eastern” soils (soils east of the Rocky Mountains). More than half of the U.S. crop of apples is grown in Washington, but the better-tasting apples generally come from east of the Rockies. That’s my opinion, and it’s not too hard to find lots of folks who are in agreement.
But there’s more to it than that, and a couple of examples will show what I mean.
Back in 1975, I went to West Virginia in November to pack apples in Old McDonald’ packinghouse near Martinsburg, West Virginia. A great volume of apples is grown in that area, where Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia are all within about 30 miles of each other (one of the most interesting collections of states’ boundaries to be found in America). The soil in there is a red clay, and it gives a similar ground flavor to Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and York Imperial alike, even though those varieties differ significantly in flavor. I kept going from one to the other and being impressed about it.
Then, in 1978, several of us went to England to visit Alistair, my newborn nephew. Somewhere west of London we had lunch including boiled potatoes and remarked about the flavor of those potatoes. Immediately after lunch, we stayed in the neighborhood and picked our own strawberries. They tasted just like the potatoes! That same ground flavor kept coming through. (And it tasted better in the potatoes… I couldn’t get used to it in the strawberries.)
Our soil at Minnesota Harvest imparts an acidity and ground flavor that really propels the taste of our apples. Our sweet apples aren’t bland, and our tart apples have a lot of zip. We find the same is true of vegetables and other fruits we grow. They’re full of flavor, so much so that we often ask each other if we’ve ever had a better-tasting such-and-so. It’s great when it’s consistently remarkable.