Haralson / Scarlet O’Haralson
For many decades, Haralson has been the number one apple in Minnesota, leading in number of trees planted and in production of apples. It was introduced in 1922 by the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. The original Haralson, which we still grow and love, is striped red with greenish-yellow undercolor. Over the years, several sports have been discovered. The first was Red Haralson, which was marketed by Hilltop Nursery of Hartford, Michigan. Next was Haralred, discovered by our friend Louis Lautz of La Crescent, Minnesota. And the latest version is from Sponsel’s Minnesota Harvest breeding program, which we call Scarlet O’Haralson. All three of these “improvements” are blush types. They don’t have a stripe pattern in their coloring.
The Haralson apple tree is very winter hardy, which is a necessity for survival through the cold Minnesota winters. It is also very productive. But those aren’t the only reasons Haralson is grown extensively here. The apple has an excellent, distinctive, tart flavor when well-grown, is very crisp and juicy, and keeps well from September until about March 15 under refrigeration. It is outstanding in apple cider, where we use it as the dominant variety in our blends (Haralson gives cider a crisp, fresh, “zing”, which accentuates the flavor of the sweet varieties we add). It also makes great-tasting, perfect-textured pies. In fact, Haralson is an all-star for nearly all apple baking purposes.
We like to pick Haralson for maximum sweetness, which may seem like a funny thing to say, considering that any categorization of this variety puts it in with the tart apples where it certainly belongs. But it can develop as much sugar as any sweet apple. When it does, it also develops a more intense acid aspect, especially when grown on our particular soil, so you have sugar with propulsion. It’s not quite like a rocket-ship taking off in your mouth, but it does get your attention!
Lots of the gift boxes we’ve sent around the country over our 34 years have been filled with Haralson apples. They ship well and arrive in good condition. And people like ‘em. We sure do!
Haralson is a parent of Honeygold (Golden Delicious x Haralson, University of Minnesota, 1970) and a grandparent, through Honeygold, of the famous Honeycrisp (Macoun x Honeygold, University of Minnesota, 1991).* I’ve seen some sources say that Haralson itself came from the cross Malinda x Ben Davis, but I’ve never seen the University of Minnesota include Ben Davis in the parentage. They claim it as “open pollinated Malinda,” meaning that the pollen came from who-knows-what apple tree on the body of some bee who pollinated a flower on a Malinda tree. That flower grew into a Malinda apple, that part is for sure, and the seed that grew the tree that produced Haralson apples came from that Malinda apple.
It’s easy to know the pollinated parent, because you take the seed from an apple you’re holding in your hand. But where did the pollen come from? That takes a lot of prior planning and work to control. First, you have to protect the flower that you want pollinated, so that a bee can’t come by and fertilize it with whatever apple pollen he has picked up on his recent touring about the countryside. You seal the flower on the Malinda tree in a bag before it even opens. When it opens, still inside the bag, you go to the Ben Davis tree and pluck a flower whose pollen is viable. You bring that Ben Davis flower over to the bagged Malinda flower, unbag it, rub the Ben Davis flower on it so that the pollen transfers, and bag it again. Then you identify the flower with a weather-proof tag and wait until blossom time is over, at which time you unbag the flower, which has become a tiny apple. If things go well, it will grow all summer long and ripen in the fall of the year. You check it frequently and finally pick it. When you cut it open and collect the seeds, you’re sure that the “male” parent was Ben Davis and the “female” parent was Malinda, because the Malinda received the pollen. If you had wanted Malinda to be the “male” parent, you would have done it the other way around, bagging the Ben Davis flower and pollinating it with Malinda pollen. There aren’t any male or female apple trees. All apple flowers have both male and female parts so that, in the natural setting, each flower can give pollen and receive pollen.
Well, anyway, it’s a lot of work, isn’t it. You see, I don’t even put a question mark after “isn’t it,” because it is. (No wonder somebody didn’t know whose pollen it was! I can live with “open pollinated Malinda” and still sleep OK at night.)**
And then, after you do this umpteen times, and plant the seeds the next spring after stratifying them over the winter, and grow them for, say, six to ten years, you can check them after that at harvest time year after year, if you’re not busy, to see if any of your umpteen seedlings hold any promise. I’ve heard many times that researchers figure to plant 10,000 seedlings in order to find one, many years later, that is promising.
It’s really exciting! It’s just that you have to control your excitement, letting the tension build little by little until you reach the utterly joyful climax of discovery some thirty years later…
…which could easily happen in somebody else’s lifetime.
There’s an art to doing this, isn’t there.
December 29, 2004
100-year ‘Haralson’ Question Answered
The DNA testing done on Honeycrisp afforded the opportunity to fill in the missing blank that has followed the ‘Haralson’ apple. Haralson, introduced in 1922 after its years of evaluation, has carried the parentage designation “open pollinated Malinda,” meaning it started as a seed from a Malinda apple whose flower had been fertilized by pollen from an unknown apple variety. In the past, “open pollinated” meant you would never know.
But DNA testing has identified the missing parent as ‘Wealthy’, the first commercially accepted variety the University’s predecesser introduced from breeding work that began in the 1850′s. The new, corrected cross for Haralson now shows as ‘Malinda’ x ‘Wealthy’.
* New information tells a different story regarding the parentage of Honeycrisp. See the Honeycrisp page for details.
** Well, well, well. Even though I wasn’t losing any sleep over it, unexpected news came via David Bedford, head of the apple breeding program at the University of Minnesota’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Victoria, MN. Through DNA testing attempting to identify parents of ‘Honeycrisp’, the “missing” parent of Haralson was discovered to be ‘Wealthy’. The designation “open pollinated Malinda” is a thing of the past. The parentage of Haralson is now known to be the cross Malinda x Wealthy.
The new information boosts our estimation of Wealthy, Minnesota’s first commercial variety, from a nearly-forgotten relic to a viable breeding bloodline. The apple, named after his wife, was Peter Gideon’s greatest success from his years of toil, breeding apples for the harsh winters of the northland using seeds from Siberia and other cold places. Gideon was the founder, some time in the 1850’s, of apple breeding work that was assimilated and continued by the University. A plaque is still standing near the birthplace of this great (and now greater!) apple that changed apple-growing in Minnesota and other cold-climate areas from impossible to successful.
I see this re-alignment of thought to be very appropriate indeed, bringing attention once again to Gideon’s work and extending his legacy. Instead of having his name and his significance fading away along with his apparently obsolete variety, he is fast-forwarded a hundred years into the current mainstream on the merits of Haralson, Wealthy’s most famous offspring. And none of us know right now what a few Wealthy or a few Haralson seeds might bring us in the way of apple varieties for the future.