Walk into the grocery store and see a brand new apple variety that you've never heard of. You pick it up, look it over, and consider whether it's worth your money to try out or not. What you're picking up was created with many years of hard work and trial and error. Today, we're going to talk about how new apple varieties come to our stores.
I have Karen from the Midwest Apple Improvement Association to share the backstory of new apple varieties. You are going to want to pick up and take home to try.
You can listen to this podcast episode below or listen on any of these podcast players - Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts. If you would prefer to read the text, you will find a transcript below.
Here is a transcript of the interview with Karen Burkhart from Midwest Apple Improvement Association
Eric: All right, everybody. I am excited today here. I have Karen with me and she is from MAIA and she's going to explain all what that means. And we're going to talk about apples today. Um, so Karen, welcome to the podcast.
Karen: Hi, thank you. Glad to be here.
❔ What is MAIA?
Eric: All right. So, let everyone know, um, what is this MAIA thing we're talking about today?
Karen: M A I A, which we say "Maya" because it's easier even than saying the letters, is the Midwest Apple Improvement Association. And it was formed, um, by really a grassroots group of growers in Ohio is where it began, which of course is the center of the Midwest, or I kind of like to think that. And also there's a lot of growers in Ohio, um, probably Most are farm markets, smaller size orchards than what you would see, you know, in Michigan or Washington state or some of our larger growing regions, but it is a very lively industry there.
And the goal was to create, or develop some new apple varieties that help our growers to face the challenges in that area. And also a better quality apple. There hadn't been anything really new on the horizon in a long time, you know. Growers are still selling Jonathan's and Macintosh and a lot of the, I mean, varieties that come from the turn of the century, basically, so they were looking for something better that all growers could grow.
🍎 How a New Apple is Developed
Eric: Yeah, you see a lot of new apples have been coming out you know, other parts of the country. So, you know, Washington has developed like a billion different apple varieties out there and, and you see some new things coming out of New York here.
So I was excited when I started seeing, you know, what you guys were doing coming out of the Midwest and seeing some, um, some new varieties that, we'll be excited about and I've tried a few of the ones here, but let's kind of go into, um, so what are some of these varieties that, um, you guys have developed so far?
Karen: I can give you a little bit more history. So basically some growers got together and said, we need some new varieties. And breeding is a very long process. So I have a degree in pomology, which is fruit science from Ohio State University. I'll just put that out there. But my professor said, when I was in school, he said, you will never get famous as a plant breeder until you're dead, because it takes so long, the process.
So by time something you invented or created, um, would be popular, you'd be long gone. But this is not true, MAIA, uh, fast tracked things in a way. But they did, um, breeding the old fashioned way. So they took two varieties, and there was a whole list, um, Gold Rush, Sweet 16, Crimson Crisp, Honey Crisp, Fuji.
They picked varieties that, on their own, had some great characteristics. They're still not the perfect apple out there, maybe, but you know, they found things like this one has good crunch. This one has good flavor. This one's an easy grower, um, size, shape, just, you know, even somewhat resistant to, um, pests and diseases.
So, there's an apple flower bloom in the spring. They would take the pollen from one variety, let's say Fuji, and actually hand apply it onto the flower of a Honeycrisp. So that gets pollinated. Now you have a cross between these two. There's 10 seeds in every apple. Every apple seed worldwide is unique because it's a cross of two different varieties from the pollen, just like parents, you know. Every seed is a new variety, but if it's a controlled cross of those 2 things, you know, you're going to get hopefully some of the good characteristics.
So they did these crosses and harvested the seeds. So when these apples were ripe, they cut them in half, took all the seeds out and actually sprouted the seedlings and then, um, ended up with 5, 300 seedlings and sent these two different places around the Midwest, Indiana, Illinois, um, to be grown.
And then the seedlings, when you plant it from seed, it takes quite a while for it to produce apples. So it was about 10 years, and then these growers started evaluating. These would be planted really close together out in the field and you'd walk down the rows during harvest season and just grab an apple, look at an apple, you know, so if it's a small green thing, nope, not even going to consider it, you know, so that's how they found these varieties.
And then once they found some that were promising, they would take buds off of that and then propagate those and then try to grow some other trees and then continue the process until, you know, maybe one year it was good. One year it wasn't. So, um, it's really a long process selecting those.
Eric: Yeah, thanks for sharing that with people here, because sometimes people don't realize how much effort and time goes into that process. So they just had to like, you know, your taste, the different ones here to see if it's even going to work.
And then, then you got try to propagate, is this actually going to be, commercially going to work here? Because even if it, like you said, like, Oh, maybe this year it tastes good. Next year it tastes bad. Or, you know, some years , some apple trees will produce well one year and not the next year, you know?
And so, you know, a farmer can't have like, you know, every other year or something working out, you know, with, like weather and stuff already factored in.
Karen: Yeah, you're gonna, you're gonna get that anyways. Every year there's differences, you know, depending on how much rain. You can have too much rain, too little rain, um, you know, hail, just frost. But, uh, so that's, yeah, something's bad. You know, we're not even going to look at it. And then you just keep pecking away at it and getting down to something that really consistently is producing a good apple, great apple.
👶 The New Varieties
Eric: Great. Um, so you guys have found some ones that have, have worked out, and they're starting to show up. I've, I've found some at different markets and stuff here. So what are some of the ones that have been successful for you guys?
Karen: Okay, so we patented these varieties that we found that, um, so there is a cultivar name, which is patented. So we describe them as a by like, so it's MAIA-1 is Evercrisp. The MAIA 1 tree produces an Evercrisp apple, which is also patented. So, but I'll just speak in the, the names that consumers would see at their market.
So, number one, our first one and our biggest seller, our greatest success is Evercrisp. And it's a cross between Honeycrisp and Fuji. And it is planted actually worldwide there. It is in other countries. It's, very well planted, you know, throughout the United States. You'll even find it in grocery stores.
Then the other, we have five other ones, Sweet Maia, which is in Virginia, Southern areas, starting to ripen and probably New York, Ohio, Michigan around Labor Day. And it's a beautiful red apple, sweet, just, um, great apple, um, and I'm going to give you them in order of ripening.
Ludacrisp tastes like a juicy fruit piece of gum of really complex flavors. All of these have really unique flavors, and that's what they were looking for, like, wow, this is just a great apple. They have beautiful color. They're just, they're just wonderful off the tree. They store really well. Um, they're just, they're just great apples.
And our goal going forward is the idea was we wanted to fill the farm market or you pick season to start from Labor Day until Halloween. So Sweet Maia is like in most apple areas would be a Labor Day timing. The other ones fill in. We have some holes and that's one of the things we're looking at.
We still need a couple apples that are like mid September. So basically if you had to pick your own on the weekend. Every weekend you would have maybe a new, um, MAIA apple that you could fill in your orchard.
Eric: Yeah, that's, that's exciting to see. I go to apple orchards, like, you know, all the time during the fall, so you want, you want to have that longest season as you can. So that's really great.
I have an apple email list club list here where I send out emails about different apples and stuff throughout the year. And when they come in here and stuff, so, if you're on that list, then you've definitely heard before about the Evercrisp.
And we've been talking about that one a lot. That's the one I've been finding in grocery stores and, and it's one of the apples I recommend to eat in the, in the late spring and summertime, because it lives up to the name. It is, it is still crisp. You can go pick one up. Um, and I had some in June at a Meijer store and they were still crisp.
As opposed to the other apples that were on there that were, you know, okay still, but like it was, it was one that I would still go ahead and, and buy, you know, during that time period when it's not like the most optimal time for apples. So that really has been super exciting, I think, to have, to have that one out there.
And so I'm hoping to find Ludacrisp, but I found someone in Utah that grows them. So I'm hoping to try that out this fall to get onto my list. So yeah, they're good apples. They're, they're really good apples and they have, you know, they have some good flavor.
They've had, um, you know, the big thing is everyone wants a crisp apple. No one wants a mealy apple, except for my one daughter who actually likes soft apples and she gets all the ones when they go soft, they go to her. Um, but, but most of consumers, crisp is what people really want.
And you guys have really been knocking it out of the park. I think, with that.
Eric: So we talked a little bit about like, you know, the pains of like how things take time. What are some other challenges you guys face and trying to get these apples? Um, you know, to farmers to grow, to stores, to markets and that kind of thing.
Karen: I guess our biggest challenges were, you know, to, we're trying to as our organization, to support, um, farm markets and also the, um, commercial wholesale marketing of them also. Um, and that's completely 2 different needs, but we really, uh, we're just in the process now of, um, sending out or taking orders we're going to send out.
Um, point of purchase things, informational cards, things about Evercrisp, banners to help, you know, people in their markets. But for the most part, the markets, if they have a good product, which they do, they can sell it, you know, and people that go to farm markets are kind of, connoisseurs of good fruit. And there you have the opportunity where you can say, "try it!" And they can hand them an apple and, or even slice them up, but mostly, you know, hand them an apple. They can try it. And they're like, Oh yeah, I want a bushel of those.
Whereas in the grocery store, especially post COVID, you really can't do any sampling and it's really hard. So you're only selling on how it looks, you know, you walk up and the display and the people, everyone will say, if you say what, what's more important the taste or how it looks? 90%. Oh, definitely how it tastes. But when they go in and buy, that's, well, they can't taste it, but that's not what they do. They're gonna go to the red ball of fire and, you know, that's, that's what they wanna buy. Is that the most beautiful, shiny apple? They you know, there's one that's got a little bit of green or something on, eh, no, you know, no one, the kids aren't gonna like that.
But actually, maybe the best tasting one isn't the most beautiful apple in the bin. So, so our, you know, supporting them and, and trying to, uh, with the larger membership and so widespread, people want different things and we're just, you know, we, we spend a lot of time trying to help support that however we can.
And just like, um, there's different needs. Like if you said you saw some in, Meijer or, you know, Publix or something, you know, everyone has different needs for what kind of signage they want, what kind of information. So the other thing is we're also looking at, we just want to create better tasting apples.
Everything else is improving, you know, grapes, um, you know, melons. I mean, that's who we're competing with. Not only you're competing variety wise, but. You're competing for the consumer's dollar when they come in, you know, am I going to buy grapes? Am I going to buy berries? Am I going to buy a melon, a pineapple, you know, what looks good today?
What's priced right, you know, depending what they're looking for. But, you know, and those people have come up with creative packaging. They've come up with better, you know, there's a cotton candy grape, you know, there's a lot of things that to catch people's attention. So within a few seconds, they're there, you know, how do you really, you know, how can you, you have to get your word out that you have a great product.
Eric: You are competing for a limited amount of space that, you know, they only have so much space in the stores here and there has been like, just a flood of all sorts of different apples. I mean, I'm writing about different apple varieties all the time in my blog, because there's just been so many different ones out there, especially there's been so many different ones that I've been some apple crossed the Honeycrisp. L
Like everyone's crossing different apples with Honeycrisp. People love Honeycrisp, but, um, and we've talked about this on my podcast, a couple of previous episodes, they are a pain in the butt to grow. I know there's a lot of problems with them. There's some storage issues with them.
I had Jamie from Riveridge on talking about how they have to cut the stems a certain way. So they don't all cut each other when they're sitting in bins. So there's like, I think there's a big push, someone wants to be the next Honeycrisp.
You know, there's all these new varieties of, you know, all butting heads to see which one's going to become the next, you know, Honeycrisp. I feel like that down the road that the apple is going to, you know, I'm thinking, you know, 10, 20 years from now, it's Honeycrisp is maybe more of a smaller player.
Listen to our podcast episode on The Future of Honeycrisp.
It'll be around still, but I'm kind of, you know, seeing with all these other new ones coming in, like people just want to like, find like, what's going to be like the next one that's going to like knock it off its perch.
So it's exciting too, but I'm sure like, you know with everyone going in there, It's like, you know, who's gonna win? Who's you know, someone's gonna win someone's gonna lose but it's competition for a lot of space.
That's my favorite place to go, anyway, when it's apple season. You should be, you know, if you can, you should be getting out into the orchard. Unless you live in, you know, I had somebody another day saying like, you know, ask them what their favorite apple orchard was. They're like, I live in Florida.
Karen: Uh huh. Oh.
Eric: They don't get that. But, you know, during the season, also get out to the farmer's markets, get out to the orchards, you know, get those freshly picked ones off the tree, you know. Grocery stores can have good apples here, but like, in the winter time, there's some good storage apples that they've come out with December, January, February, you can find good apples in the store. But like, during the apple season, you got to get out there and, you know, I try to eat as many different varieties that I can in a season.
My goal is at least get to 100 varieties every fall.
Karen: Yeah. And that's true. You know, the grocery stores and I think there's been a lot of improvements in, you know, storage technology and, and how, um, growers store their apples and pack them. And, and again, there, you know, there is improvements.
And I think the quality of apples, especially, you know, through March and April is still pretty good, you know, and that's, that's one of the things you need to, and maybe you need to try something else that, you know, you've been eating honey crisp and, you know, maybe you see some Evercrisp there and, you know, take them home and try them and, and they do store forever. I mean, they are hard, they're crispy, they do not get soft. So it does extend the season if they're, you know, stored right and treated, right.
Eric: Exactly. And that's a good point, you know, like, like Honeycrisp itself, I think, like, it could be a good apple in the first bit of the fall here, but in the winter time, it's like. It's okay, like the flavor just doesn't, it doesn't last as some of the other ones do. So yeah, there's like, you know, like I have a list too.
I think it's good to like, you know, think of certain varieties that are really good to eat at certain times of the year, and eat those then. Like a fresh Gala off a tree is good, in the grocery store, not so much. It's a matter of like, you know, being able to try certain ones at a certain time, enjoy them when they're available.
I just did a thing the other day talking about Cortland apples and how like, you know, there's a certain window for them where, sure they may not be rotten, but like, if you don't eat them a certain time period, even if you store them, they're not that good anymore either. So in a lot of them, it's trying to figure out when the apple is at its peak. So that's why I always recommend trying to different ones at different times so that, you know, you have that kind of thing.
🛒 Where to Find MAIA Apples?
Yeah, so we mentioned, you know, already, people can look for these Apples, Evercrisp is the one that we are seeing in stores, um, like you mentioned before. Publix, I saw them in Florida this last winter, so I'm down in Publix, you know, Meijer stores have had them, um, I'm trying to think of other stores.
Karen: We've had sales in Aldi, in Costco's, uh, Giant, you know, and. It's, it's just very regional. So someone who's packing, they have, you know, there's a regional distributor. So they might go to the Washington DC area and, um, you know, Publix, it's probably not in all of them, but, you know, I saw them in Key West, they, you know, so it's like, wow, you know, that's awesome.
Um, so Evercrisp has, there's Evercrisp.com is a website, um, which is consumer facing. And there is a list of our farm markets, some of them, not all of them, but, and we try to keep that up. So that's someplace you can look and see, you know, if there's someone near you.
Also then we have our, MAIA website. So it's maiaapples.com, which is more it's our area for our growers to get a lot of information, but if you're really interested in it yourself, you would probably enjoy, you know, scrolling through there. There's tips on pruning and thinning and, um, you know, how to, uh, plant. I mean, just a lot of information, ripening times, but also there is a directory of growers.
So anyone who is a member of MAIA, which is any growers that are growing our trees and that's by state. So you can kind of, I mean, you could search North Carolina. You could look up that person and see, well, maybe they have a farm market and, you know, they could, and that isn't particularly listed on there, but it says who our growers are, so it might lead you in some directions.
And then there's, there's a lot of information about the other varieties besides Evercrisp on there also. And, and there's contact information. If you have a question on either of them, um, you can always reach out. And we also have a ever crisp, um, Instagram page too, which is great. Might, you know, give you some information and recipes and, you know, breaking news with Evercrisp.
Eric: Yeah, thank you for sharing that, um, and that's a great tip to help kind of help people find some of the local things to maybe get the opportunity to find like some local farm that you don't know. You know, cause with farms and stuff here. It's it can be hard sometimes to find. Like I go to different areas, you're trying to find different farms, you know, from Google searches, but sometimes, different farmers just won't have an online presence. They, you know, they're busy out on the farm or something. They're not, you know, really into it.
It'd be a little more of a search. Some people are more active on social media. So sometimes it does take a little bit of searching, but you can, you know, I think that's one good way to kind of discover someone new.
Karen: Yeah, and I've found, you know, when you do search a lot of the people that do have a website and probably the larger markets, they will list what varieties they have and when they're picking. And, you know, so, and you can always just Google, you know, farm markets near me. And, you know, even if you're driving like you, you know, you're traveling across country, you're certainly going to, you know, it's going to pick up.
Some of that information for you. So also, as I say, ask if you go in a grocery store, go find the produce manager and say, why don't you have Evercrisp? We love that. Cause then they're good. They're like, well, what's Evercrisp? Well, it's the best Apple ever. And they're going to go, maybe they'll go search it out and they'll start, you know, they'll, they'll get a supply and same with the farm market.
Hey, why don't you have Evercrisp? And, oh, I never heard of that. Well, you need to look it up. And then they, you know, they might search us out and decide they want to plant some trees. So, you know, if you like it, um, or any of the varieties, you know, ask in the grocery stores and at your farm markets.
So, your one vote matters, like an election, so put your vote out there for an apple here, because you make, you know, you're all part of the process.
👀 Where to Find More Information
Eric: All right, Karen. Thank you so much for coming on today here. We appreciate that.
Um, and, and what's that website again, people can go to to find more information.
Karen: Evercrisp.com and also on Instagram, there's Evercrisp site and then, maiaapple.com is our grower site, but there's also a lot of information there and a guide to all the grower members by state that you could kind of find and maybe find somebody that has some Evercrisp.
Eric: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Karen: Thank you for your time.
🛒 Before You Checkout
What you need to know before you checkout at the grocery store or market:
If you're in the store shopping and come across an apple variety you've never had before, then head on over to my [email protected]. And search for that variety in the search box. I reviewed a ton of different apple varieties on the blog. If you don't find it, then reach out to me at [email protected].
Or message me on Instagram at eat. Like no one else or at each shop waste not. And I will add that variety to the blog and get you some information.
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🎧 Listen to More Episodes
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