Mother of Minnesota Apples
I got my first scions of Malinda from Joe Koenig, a farmer who lives several miles south of Minnesota Harvest, in about 1977. I was aware of Malinda’s valuable contributions to the gene pool of the hardy Minnesota apple varieties, but Malinda itself had fallen off the charts and, long before 1977, wasn’t being planted in commercial orchards anymore. Actually, I’m not sure to what extent it was ever planted here commercially. But the locals all seemed to have grown up on them.
I grafted the scions onto a Canadian rootstock.
Joe had told me that their Malinda apples were prized. They tasted like pears (in fact, around here, they were equally known as “the pear apple”), and they kept them in the root cellar all the way until April or even longer. That’s really impressive, because root cellars aren’t very cold. The optimum keeping temperature for most apple varieties is a degree or two each side of freezing (apples don’t actually freeze until about 29.7 degrees Fahrenheit, they say), but root cellars are usually in the 50 degree range… far from ideal. To their credit, root cellars are humid. That’s good. The thing that made root cellars fairly effective is that people used to wait until there was a good hard frost before picking their “winter” or “winter keeper” apples.
(Old-timers claim that many apple varieties taste better — sweeter — after a frost in late fall. I claim apples often get worse — softer — with a frost in fall. And they do. True, some varieties, including Malinda, withstand repeated moderate frosts well enough to maintain excellent quality, but you never know that you won’t get a killing freeze instead of a frost. You run the risk of losing whatever is still on the trees when a hard freeze comes along. So I say pick everything that’s ready, and only leave something on the tree if you wouldn’t want it anyway in its less-than-ripe condition. Then, it may finish off nicely with a few warm days. And if you lose it to frost before it comes around, so be it. You didn’t lose anything you wanted. But don’t leave something out there that’s ready to pick and you just think it would be smart to catch a little frost, because you might just lose it to a great big frost instead.)
OK, as I was saying way back there, people did wait for a frost before stocking their root cellar with keepers. And it was necessary that they did so. Why? Because a frost will arrest the respiration (and therefore the ripening process) of an apple. In its arrested condition, the apple will suffer the fairly warm temperature of a root cellar remarkably more successfully than apples picked before the frost… apples that keep on ripening until they rot in the cellar.
But those were the olden days. Here in the newen days, we have refrigeration. We can harvest an apple at 75 degrees, one that is actively marching onward in its ripening process, and we can put it in a refrigerator, which will effectively arrest that process within hours. So we don’t have to risk a hard, damaging freeze to get that apple to keep well all winter. And it will be a much firmer apple throughout the winter than a root cellar apple that was (correctly and necessarily) picked after a frost.
I’ve never been impressed about the notion that an apple tastes better after a frost. There’s one main reason for that. It’s because what on earth have those people been eating all summer and fall? They’ve been eating apples that didn’t take a frost. Didn’t they taste good? Yes, they did! So why do late apples need a frost to taste good? Personally, I don’t think they do. However, I like apples with a lively taste. If I liked mellow apples better, I suppose I’d think they tasted better after a frost, too. Kind of hard to admit that, though.
The flavor of an apple will slowly change in a refrigerator, but it may be a fact that frost changes things immediately and in a way that doesn’t eventually happen in a refrigerator. I’m not entirely convinced of that, but somebody may read this in fifty years after such a thing has been proven certain, and I can’t afford to look like a dunce in fifty years. It’s bad enough already.
Anyway, I think that whole frost thing isn’t an issue if you’re growing apples that actually mature in your growing season. But everyone always stretches the limits and grows varieties that may need a few more warm days than they usually get. Hence the need for a frost to finish them off, I guess.
Well, Malinda was a perfect match for the root cellars. Malinda took a frost (or seven of them) in excellent condition and then went into the cellars for a long winter’s nap.
But I say that you shouldn’t wish for the return of the olden days. Malinda met the needs, but it isn’t really all that good compared to the apples we’re eating these days. I’ve tested Malinda pre-frost and post-frost and at various times in the winter and spring. There just isn’t a time when it’s above marginal. The Malinda is dry and only has a hint of flavor. Sometimes the flavor it has is actually an off-flavor. To Malinda’s credit, it stays hard and crunchy in lousy conditions. That’s the redeeming quality.
Now, I know it’s hard to take my word for it, so come to the orchard some time and try one. I think it’s very unlikely you’ll go home with a sack full, unless you want to make dried apples. Malinda makes very good, surprisingly tasty dried apples.
Nevertheless, Malinda possesses genes that have transferred desirable characteristics to a number of Minnesota apples, and that’s a huge contribution. The activity of growing apples in Minnesota simply owes its existence to Wealthy and Malinda. Even though we may have gotten here eventually another way, the horses we rode here were Wealthy and Malinda. And the first rider was Peter Gideon (see our story on Wealthy, Peter Gideon’s breakthrough).
Following is a piece from the University of Minnesota’s publications attesting to the importance of Malinda in their apple breeding. Before you read it, I’d like to say that Malinda is also very important in apple breeding at Sponsel’s Minnesota Harvest. All of our Haralson strains and any cross that has Haralson, Chestnut Crab, and others as a parent are examples of varieties that couldn’t be here without Malinda.
Here’s that U of M writing:
The Minnesota climate is colder than most fruit-producing regions. No wonder that the first apple breeding efforts in Minnesota looked to Russia; in 1865 about 150 apple varieties were imported for testing. In the early 1900s, U of M plant breeders collected wild trees as well as cultivars from New England and other Midwest breeders. Thousands of crosses were made from those parent trees. The record-breaking cold winter of 1917-1918 helped sort out the winners and the losers. Some progeny of “Malinda” genes, a New England apple, survived and led to the successful apples released in the 1920s, including “Haralson” and “Beacon.” Some “Malinda” genes live on in varieties released decades later, including “Honeygold” and even HoneycrispTM.
So, you see, we may not want Malinda. But we sure want Malinda’s genes!
PS (Entry of 12/01/2005): I just talked to Dave Bedford, head of the apple breeding program at the University of Minnesota, to verify some information. Part of it had to do with the Malinda apple and which varieties are results of Malinda crosses. Here’s what he verified:
Varieties with Malinda as a parent, with female parent first and male parent second:
Beacon (Wealthy x Malinda)
Chestnut Crab (Siberian Crab x Malinda)
Haralson (Malinda x Wealthy)
Varieties with Malinda as a grandparent, through MN 447:
MN 1606 (MN 447 x Northern Spy)
Sweet Sixteen (MN 447 x Northern Spy)
Keepsake (MN 447 x Northern Spy)
Here’s how that works:
MN 447, says Bedford, was an open-pollinated Malinda. That means the seed that grew to become MN 447 came out of a Malinda apple, but that nobody knows the variety that the pollen came from. So MN 447 is a child of Malinda, and the three varieties shown directly above are children of MN 447, so their grandparent is Malinda. Furthermore, any offspring of any variety listed above has, as the University of Minnesota writing said (above), has Malinda genes. This would include Honeygold (because one of its parents is Haralson, one of whose parents is Malinda) and Honeycrisp (because one if its parents is Keepsake, one of whose parents is MN 447, one of whose parents is Malinda).
So the list of varieties that have Malinda genes, whether as a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent, is:
That’s a distinguished list!
* I added Minnehaha and Folwell to this list after the 12/01/2005 discussion with Bedford because, in reviewing my notes on the 12/29/2004 discussion with him, Bedford had included those two varieties as offspring of Malinda. Because they were introduced so early (1920 and 1921, respectively), I’m assuming they had Malinda as a parent directly (as in father or mother). There wouldn’t have been enough time for them to be another generation removed from Malinda, I’m guessing. But I didn’t ask Dave about them this time, so I don’t know what their other parent was. I’ll ask him next time. Of the list above, only the first three (Minnehaha, Folwell, and Beacon) are obsolete. The remaining seven are all very important to us at Sponsel’s Minnesota Harvest.