In this part of the country, the name Allen Brothers is synonomous with apples. So, when Russell Allen kept telling me that I ought to write an article about the impact of one variety - the Honeycrisp - on the United States' apple industry, I figured he had a good reason.
Russell is about as knowledgable about apples as any living human, and not a man given to hyperbole.
"We bought our first orchard in 1956," he said, "so I've been growing apples for over 50 years. This is the first variety that has come down the pike that has revolutionized the industry. The Jonagold didn't do it, and neither did the Spy Gold. The Honeycrisp has."
The Honeycrisp was developed in 1991 at the University of Minnesota from a Macoun and Honeygold cross, with the Honeygold itself a cross between the Golden Delicious and Haralson. The result is an apple of outstanding size, flavor texture, color and storageablility that hit the orchards in 1995.
It's a great crisp, eating apple and its flavor will enhance any cooked dish that includes apples. The University said the Honeycrisp was "the best, most exciting apple we've ever introduced."
Russell said that Allen Brothers weren't the first to catch on to the value of a Honeycrisp, but they have been growing and selling them for 12 years now. Ray Mark at Wellwood Orchards has been growing them for the last few years as well.
"It's a good apple and people love them," Mark said. "They are a little harder to manage, but outside of that they're a really good tree."
Honeycrisps are also a valuable apple, and have more than taken over the top spot that Macintosh apples once held in this country.
"It's changed the whole industry," Russell said. "We pack a big skid each week to go to the Boston market. Mac was the premium variety for years. But I can send a skid of Honeycrisps to Boston for twice the price I get for Macs."
Russell features over 20 varieties of apples in his Wesminster orchard, but says that at least half his pick-your-own customers ask for Honeycrisp. As an added bonus, he doesn't charge any more for his self-pick Honeycrisps than he does for his other self-pick varities.
In an American industry in danger from foreign growers and varieties - the Gala from New Zealand and the Fuji from Japan, for example - the Honeycrisp has been a huge boon. In fact, Russell said, there is some concern that it may be over-produced.
Vermont and other northern states have the perfect climate for producing excellent Honeycrisps, but the demand is so great that they are being grown even down into the mid-Atlantic states. Russell said that the warmer climate affects the color, but not the taste and texture of the Honeycrisp.
The University of Minnesota just recently announced that they have developed the Sweet Tango variety, created from, and supposedly combining the best features of, the Honeycrisp and the Zestar. It has just started to appear on the market this fall.
Perhaps learning from what happened when the Honeycrisp hit the market, the University has limited the number of growers, and growers have to buy into the group to have access to the variety. It's yet to be seen if the Sweet Tango Will have the impact on the American market that its parent had, but there is little doubt that American growers will be watching it carefully.