Golden Delicious Apple: First Discovered by Chance in W.Va.

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PHOTO: Golden Delicious Apple, courtesy, United States Dept. of Agriculture
PHOTO: Golden Delicious Apple, courtesy, United States Dept. of Agriculture

There are few things as refreshing as a sweet tasting apple, and there are few apples that are as sweet to the taste as the Golden Delicious — which is why this apple is the sixth most sold variety in the entire nation according to the US Apple Association.  This statistic is really impressive when you consider the fact that approximately 31 billion apples are harvested each year.

Despite its popularity, the Golden Delicious is actually a newcomer to the block — in fact, just about every American apple is an emigrant.

When European colonists first arrived in the new world they were disappointed to discover that their newfound continent did not contain any edible apples; the only apple trees in America were crab apples.

Soon, seeds from Europe were soon being planted throughout the colonies and in the years ahead, American settlers would begin to perfect the art of grafting — merging two separate plants in order to create a new type.

Among the nation’s founders, Thomas Jefferson was fascinated by the science of grafting apples and experimented with several apple varieties at his Monticello plantation.

In the century that followed, grafting apples would become a newfound hobby of civilizations of nearly every continent.

Rowan Jacobsen, author of Apples of Uncommon Character, says, “Every Granny Smith stems from the chance seedling spotted by Maria Ann Smith in her Australian compost pile in 1868.”

At the turn of the 20th century, new apple trees were turning up across the nation and West Virginia was no exception.

On October 18, 1962, the Charleston Daily Mail published an interview with an 87-year-old man, J.M. Mullins, who claimed to know the real history of the Golden Delicious apple tree.

“The true story of that first Golden Delicious apple tree never has been told. But son, I’m here to tell it now, for the first time. There are a lot of facts about that tree that haven’t been told before. Told straight, that is… What I’m telling you is fact. I was there.”

“I was born in 1876 on the farm where that apple tree later became famous. My dad was L. L. Mullins, who owned the farm.

“Now one day, when I was about 15 years old, that would have been about 1891, dad sent me out with a big old mowin’ scythe to mow the pasture field. I was swingin’ away with the scythe when I came across a little apple tree that had grown about 20 inches tall. It was just a new little apple tree that had volunteered there. There wasn’t another apple tree right close by anywhere.

“I thought to myself, ‘Now young feller, I’ll just leave you there,’ and that’s what I did. I mowed around it and on other occasions I mowed around it again and again, and it grew into a nice lookin’ little apple tree and eventually it was a big tree and bore apples. Now my dad later gave that piece of the farm in a trade to my brother, B. W. Mullins, and later still he traded the farm place to Uncle Anderson Mullins.

“Uncle Anderson had a brother-in-law named Gus Carnes, and one day Gus and Uncle Anderson decided to send some of the apples to the Star Brothers nursery to tell what kind of apple it was. And that was when the tree became famous and started the Golden Delicious apple line, for it was that tree that has produced every last one of the Golden Delicious apple trees that have ever grown anywhere.”

In 2010, an Italian-led consortium announced they had decoded the complete genome of the Golden delicious apple. It had the highest number of genes (57,000) of any plant genome studied to date.

On February 20, 1995, the Golden Delicious was designated the official state fruit of West Virginia by a Senate resolution and in 2013 the United States Postal Service issued a set of four 33¢ stamps commemorating apples, including the ‘Golden Delicious’.

West Virginia is the originator of many vegetable and fruit crops, including the apples Grimes Golden, and the Guyandotte, which is believed extinct.

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