Our first wave of breeding work started in 1973. We planted a bunch of apple seeds we got from fruit that was grown near Monterey Bay or San Francisco Bay in California in test plots set out by an independent breeder named Henry Silva. He was considered eccentric for various reasons, among them being his efforts to cross apples with pineapples, something you can’t do. At one time, though, people couldn’t fly. So you have to keep an open mind about things. Stuff happens.
First we had to stratify the seeds and get them started growing in pots. Then we appropriated a corner of a soybean field and transplanted them into that ground. We tended the plot for several years until there was only a single seedling remaining alive. So we were really good at tending, wouldn’t you say?
Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Seeds in yellow apples from California wouldn’t be expected to possess much in the way of winter hardiness in their genetic makeup. Our losses, due exclusively to winter injury, were simply part of the process of natural selection for hardiness. We could have lost all of the seedlings, but, very remarkably, we got one hardy one. It was important that we had that little bit of success. We had something to go with. We were off and walking!
In those days, Ritchay (his real name is William Eric Sponsel) wanted to make an experiment out of everything we did. I thought the little test plot was experiment enough. We had real work to do. We were supposed to be growing apples and selling them. We had our hands full. If you experiment, you have to keep records and evaluate stuff. We didn’t have time to do all that.
But he was experiment crazy. Experiment this. Experiment that. Invent this. Try that. Crazy!
Dr. Frank Dennis, who had been one of our professors at Michigan State University in the Department of Horticulture, ended up inviting Ritchay to go with him and his wife, Kate, to England for a sabbatical study at the University of Bristol. After driving those two saints crazy, he wound up going through medical school there, and we all thought he was going to be an orthopedic surgeon, like Doc was. Ritchay thought so, too, but he got swept away into ophthalmology (eye surgery and treatment of diseases of the eye) because he invented a way to test for and diagnose the eye disease glaucoma that was much more accurate than the then-current medical standard. He also made his program personal computer applicable so that it could be used world-wide wherever electricity could be generated. Testing could then be done remotely in underdeveloped areas where suitable clinics aren’t available.
He’s been all over the world presenting this and other eye research to one international symposium after another, but that’s in his spare time. Most often he’s at the University of Texas San Antonio where he routinely saves people’s eyesight daily, unless he’s in Washington, D.C. working out how universities all over the world will perpetuate their research programs by retaining rights to intellectual property and selling them to commercial companies (drug companies, for example) instead of having to rely on grants after giving their ideas away. Or else he might be in Guatemala providing some free eye surgery.
I told him years ago to cut all this experiment stuff out, as I’ve said, but the boy just wouldn’t listen. What can you do?
We took enough budwood off of that lone seedling to propagate a few dozen first generation trees. They grew, and it was from them that we first saw any fruit of this variety. The original never fruited. It never even grew to be a tree. It was just a step between seed and trees. So it was pretty cool when the first harvest came along after several years and we had ourselves a yellow apple. But it was really cool when it tasted like a pineapple.
The apple has one major fault, as the pictures show. It develops red pits. It’s not the first yellow variety to do that, but it happens every year to nearly every Pineapple. That’s a fatal flaw for a commercial apple variety to have. We don’t know what causes the pitting. There are a number of possibilities. Could be the ‘apple’ x ‘pineapple’ factor. And maybe there’s a simple remedy. We just don’t know what it is. On our scale, it doesn’t really matter. People who know how they taste, generally from sampling them here at the orchard, buy them regardless of the red dots. Ours is the type of place where you don’t have to be pretty to be popular.
Pineapple, if anything, is a little too much like a real pineapple in that its optimum flavor isn’t always present. We’ve all had fresh pineapple that wasn’t ripe yet. It depends on when you pick it. Of course, timing of harvest is one of the most important concerns for almost anything that’s grown, but Pineapple seems to be particularly picky about when it will hit its most pineapple-like flavor. And, of course, this means ripe pineapple flavor. Actually, an under-ripe Pineapple doesn’t taste like an under-ripe pineapple, but a ripe Pineapple tastes like a ripe pineapple. It’s not a typical flavor for an apple to possess. No one in the last 400 years has named an apple Pineapple, that we know of, which might be a hint that they didn’t have an apple that tasted like one.