This is the fourth exciting yellow variety from our Minnesota Harvest breeding program. Sponselli, Golden Earl, and Golden Haralson were named before Sugar Shack, and we have at least one more yellow apple currently under consideration but not yet named.
Sweet! That’s the word on Sugar Shack. When we first tasted Sugar Shack from the original seedling tree in our test yard,* we said, “Did you taste that? Can that be right?” It was ‘way sweet and didn’t seem to have an acid component. Very different. The crunchy flesh was an interesting and quiet chew. I don’t know of another apple that has the same “mouth feel.”** Smooth and silky, yet crunchy. The closest I’ve had is London, another variety from our breeding program, but London is noisier than Sugar Shack.
So we put a very scientific ‘keep an eye on this one’ note on the Sugar Shack tree. Of course, we hadn’t named it yet, and we are the type of people who would name an apple ‘Keep An Eye On This One,’ but we later thought ‘Sugar Shack’ was a better name.*** The guys who named the apple variety ‘Westfield Seek-no-further’ in Connecticut ‘way back in the mid-1700′s didn’t do too bad with a novel name, though. Antique apple collectors are still growing the variety, and the intriguing name certainly has something to do with that. We could name an apple ‘Minnesota Never-stop-growing-this-one’ and then hang around a few hundred years and see if it worked. It’s worth a shot.
That first taste was kind of stunning, and we thought we may have caught the apple at a time when it wasn’t likely to repeat the performance. Every year is different, and you definitely find that a variety likes it one year and may not like it the next. That’s why those wine people are so snooty about vintages. There really are differences, and they make a difference.
We found the original notes to hold true over the next several years with crops from the original tree, and, after a while, we found enough wisdom to decide to propagate some first-generation maiden trees. We did that, and 2004 was the first year we picked apples from them. The photographs here are from the 2004 “crop.” We had 24 Sugar Shack apples all together from the new trees! So it’s brand new, but that’s how it starts.
Sugar Shack is a blocky, irregular-shaped apple. You could say lop-sided, not unlike York Imperial, a commercial variety grown in the Virginias, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. As with most yellow varieties, Sugar Shack tends to pick up a pink cheek (in this case, almost an orange cheek) on the sunny side of the apple. It has a short stem (that’s usually good for resisting wind damage), an irregular-but-flat top, and it comes off the shoulder real husky and wide before it rounds down rapidly to the calyx rim, where it is very similar to the shape of the Spartan apple from British Columbia, Canada. The lenticels on well-grown Sugar Shack apples are pronounced and dark, but sparse, giving the apple a speckled appearance.
Like the note says, we’ll ‘keep an eye on this one.’
* They say the word “orchard” is a blend of two words, “horticulture,” that is, the growing and handling of fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and “yard,” the lawn where you grow them. Actually, “garden” and “yard” are from the same root word. In America, we call our lawn a “yard” and our flower patch a “garden,” but in England they call their yard a “garden,” even if it is just a lawn without flowers. So the word that came to us as “hort-yard” and formalized as “orchard” pretty much means “horticultural garden.” And since “hort” by itself more or less means “garden,” you could just about say “garden garden.” The word “orchard” is applied exclusively to tree fruits (like apples, pears, peaches, cherries, plums) and nuts (which is applicable to us, because we grow tree fruits, and we are nuts!). But citrus, which are tree fruits, generally grow in groves, I think. Anyway, this is all just to say that we could call our test yard a “techard” if they can call a horticultural garden an “orchard.” It makes a really long explanation on a sign, though.
** Amazingly, I am not the one who made up the term “mouth feel.” Even I would have hesitated to invent that. But it is exactly effective, and, as long as it’s out there, and it’s not my fault, I’ll use it. They use it in the food industry, and my exposure to it was in discussions about ice cream, cream fillings, yogurts, custards, etc. Fruit pectins, like those found naturally-occurring in apples, are used to give these products (and lozenges, candies, cough drops) a smoother, silkier “mouth feel” than they otherwise have. It is doubtless that pectin is involved in the particular mouth feel of Sugar Shack.
*** Part of the reason for naming it Sugar Shack came from discussions I had had with guys who had made a lot of maple syrup in the olden days. They talked about drinking mugs of finished syrup tapped right off of the evaporation pans. Whole mugs! Like it was a drink! Well, I would never have conceived that such a thing could be done. It’s syrup, not chocolate milk! And I asked those guys if they meant just partially evaporated sap, you know, in the process but not finished all the way, but they said no, it was all the way. Oh, man, that’s rich! But I had heard another thing from the olden days that should have given me a clue. It was from Bill Hayes, who, aside from doing everything else in the whole world, had kept bees in Pennsylvania. Apparently it was nothin’ for them to drink honey straight. You never know what to think about olden days guys, but I came to believe that story in the early 70′s when Bill ate with us regularly at the orchard. He had a talent for getting more honey on a piece of bread than a piece of bread was invented to hold, and he consumed in a meal more honey than the rest of us collectively used in a week. So those are my two sweet stories, and, since the University of Minnesota had done such a good job with the names Honeygold and then Honeycrisp (which are outstandingly appropriate for the respective varieties), not to mention their perfectly-named Sweet Sixteen, I thought we’d best hit the nail on the head, too, and that’s Sugar Shack.