Patten’s Greening is an old Minnesota apple that I discovered by accident recently on Ebay–in a listing, not for the apple , but its image. The lithograph (right) dates to the turn of the 20th century and comes from an old plate book carried by traveling fruit tree salesmen. I had never heard of Patten’s Greening before seeing it on Ebay, so I checked some reference books to see what other information I could turn up about it. Hedrick notes in the Cyclopedia of Hardy Fruits that the tree originated from seed of Oldenburg (a Russian apple) planted by C.G. Patten in Iowa around 1885. How the apple made its way to Minnesota is unclear. But Hedrick notes further that by 1922 it held the “highest standing of any of the newer apples in Minnesota, where it keeps from November to February.”
Alas, further research suggests that Patten’s Greening may now be extinct. It is an oft-repeated story: not every apple that enjoys success for a time will stand the test of time and continue as a fixture in the American orchard.
Now to the second apple in our title, the Honeycrisp. Here too is a Minnesota variety of the highest quality. Indeed, it has received almost unqualified praise from every quarter under the sun. The Association of University Technology Managers–whoever they are–named Honeycrisp one of the top 25 innovations that has changed the world. (Perhaps the thing Honeycrisp has changed most is the price that Mr. Shopper will pay for a high-flavored keeping apple.)
Was that a crack of lightning I just heard in the sky? Now an eagle swooping down with an apple in its beak? Could be, for Honeycrisp, despite it recent success, is not a young apple; it was developed in 1960 at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station’s Horticultural Research Center at the University of Minnesota. In crass layman’s terms, this means that the patent on the apple (filed in 1988) has now run out, and that any old tanned and broganned farmer can now propagate the Honeycrisp without having to pay for the right to do so. You might say that Honeycrisp is something of a late bloomer. The question is whether the bloom will go off the apple altogether.
It is hard to imagine that a variety as good and successful as Honeycrisp could ever fall into disuse. But did you know that Honeycrisp has a daughter named SweeTango (Honeycrisp x Zestar)? Truth is, ST has been taking center stage recently–ripening two weeks before her mother–and pulling down accolades at apple tastings left and right. Thus, U.S. New and World Report writes that some Minnesota apple growers are now wondering if SweeTango will one day cast a shadow over her mother. As David Bedford, inventor of the SweeTango brand puts it: “We’re very excited about our newest apple, SweeTango. I think that it’s one of the best apples…we’ve discovered in 100 years of breeding at the University of Minnesota.”
And so the story goes: of the highest and best Minnesota apples ever grown. It has me wondering if maybe an old tree of the Patten’s Greening is lingering on in some rural pasture field, waiting for a budding pomologist to happen by and take cuttings. Grafted onto dwarf rootstock, we could have a Patten’s Greening fruiting in a few years. And if you crossed it with something like…SweeTango. Now that would be an apple to write home about, a world changer, maybe the best apple to come out of Minnesota in the last 125 years!