11/07/2014

Apple Science, From American Beauty to Zestar

22:17 minutes

The humble apple wears many faces, from the crisp and crunchy Honeycrisp to the soft and tannic Mac. How did apples get so diverse? Apple breeder Susan Brown explains the ins-and-outs of apple reproduction and reveals how modern plant genetics allows her to “stack the deck” in favor of crisp and sweet offspring. Plus, orchardist and apple historian Dan Bussey introduces us to some weird and wonderful heritage breeds. (Click here for an apple recipe.)

  • A Baldwin apple, painted by Ellen Isham Schutt in 1913. Image via Special Collections, National Agricultural Library

  • Before the Red Delicious, the Ben Davis was the dominant American apple variety. Dan Bussey calls it “durable, with decent flavor.” Painted by Amanda Almira Newton in 1912. Image via Special Collections, National Agricultural Library

  • The Black Oxford apple can get as dark as a plum. Painted by Amanda Almira Newton in 1913. Image via Special Collections, National Agricultural Library

  • The Esopus Spitzenberg,reportedly one of Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apples. Painted by Bertha Heiges in 1905. Image via Special Collections, National Agricultural Library

  • A Golden Russet apple, painted by Ellen Isham Schutt in 1913. Image via Special Collections, National Agricultural Library

  • The Grimes apple, by artist Mary Daisy Arno. Image via Special Collections, National Agricultural Library

  • The Pumpkin Sweet, a large apple commonly fed to livestock. Painted by Amanda Almira Newton in 1912. Image via Special Collections, National Agricultural Library

  • The Yates apple is a smaller variety and makes great cider. Painted by M. Strange in 1915. Image via Special Collections, National Agricultural Library

Segment Guests

Susan Brown

Susan Brown is an apple breeder and professor of agriculture and life sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Dan Bussey

Dan Bussey is author of The Illustrated History of Apples in North America (JAK KAW Press, projected 2016) and orchard manager at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa.

Meet the Producer

About Annie Minoff

Annie Minoff is a producer for Science Friday. She’s visited Olympic ski jumps and a nuclear reactor, all in the name of science.

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