Sweet Sixteen

Whenever we give someone a Sweet 16 to eat for the first time, we know they'll be surprised. The fine-textured, crisp flesh contains an astoundingly complex combination of sweet, nutty and spicy flavors. Take a bite, and see if you can taste cherry lifesavers, a hint of licorice, vanilla, or even bourbon.  The bronze-red fruit that is striped and washed with rose-red is excellent fresh eating. Although it may be too sweet for some palates, we love Sweet 16 season. Some people like to cook with it as well. It cooks into a sauce somewhat slowly, but the skin softens and the flesh dissolves nicely. See what you think. Although it ripens relatively early, the apple keeps pretty well.

For the first 250 years of European immigration in North America, most apples originated as seedlings in farmers’ orchards and pastures. Every seedling is unique, and most farmers planted all apples from seed. Every year new discoveries were made, and the best were named and then propagated by grafting. By the mid-nineteenth century, there were thousands of named American apples. All the classic American varieties originated by this method, including McIntosh, Delicious, Golden Delicious, Baldwin, Northern Spy, Golden Russet and many many more. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, farms became less diverse and more specialized. The practice of propagation of apples from seed declined, and the new land grant universities took over the plant breeding from American farmers.

These days, most of those university programs are gone and, especially in the north, very little plant breeding is being done. One bright exception to that trend is the University of Minnesota. They are recently famous as the place where “Honeycrisp” was bred, and they are also responsible over the past hundred years for many other well-known apples, pears, cherries, plums, small fruits and vegetables. Chestnut and Sweet Sixteen are two of our favorites of the Minnesota (UMN) introductions. Minnesota’s most famous apple, Haralson, originated at the University. Sweet Sixteen’s parentage includes Northern Spy and MN 447.   Sweet Sixteen’s unusual flavor comes from MN 447, now known as “Frostbite”. Sweet 16 has not gotten the widespread attention we think it deserved because it was never patented. Without the patent, UMN did not have much incentive to promote the apple.