Honeycrisp Apple Parentage, An Uncanny Gene Theme

This post is dedicated to my parents, because yesterday was their 69th wedding anniversary. I know, that’s a lot. So many years that I mistakenly wished them a happy 59th, and my mother had to correct me. If they’d been married only 59 years ago, both my sister and I would have been born out of wedlock. But they’d still be our parents because genes are genes.

As it turns out, this post is about parents, but the genetic parents of…an apple. Honeycrisps, my favorite. They are also the favorite apple of my Other Worldly protagonist Rowan Layne, wherein in the opening scenes of the first novel, Alienable Rights, Rowan dreams of none other than Honeycrisp apples.

It’s been an ongoing topic woven into six novels and counting, and it turns out it’s a downright uncanny one, as Rowan would say. Because a major focus of the Other Worldly novels is hybrid genetics, as in extraterrestrial aliens mating with humans. Solving a real-world mystery of genetic codes and DNA combinations.

I took full literacy license to create hybrid people in my novels, and all along my favorite apple was a mystery hybrid too, because it took decades for scientists to determine the Honeycrisp’s accurate parentage. I learned this yesterday while doing research for my work in progress, Aliens Watch.

In this seventh novel of the OW series, Rowan will visit a friend in Minnesota, just as I did last October. She’ll also finally be visiting the planet Saturn aka Cultura, where a great deal of Earth’s fruits, vegetables, and flowers originate, so there might just be a Honeycrisp twist therein. You can do that when you write fiction, make stuff up that’s often based in reality—or not.

I already knew that Honeycrisps were created at the University of Minnesota, because when I lived there for five years I had this delectable apple for the first time—and never looked back in terms of my apple consumption. Since then, I’ve also told anyone within ear shot (usually grocery store checkers and baggers) that this apple originated in Minnesota.

Hence, for my latest book I thought I’d dig deeper. Here’s what I found. And, spoiler alert, quite a bit of these details are likely to appear in Aliens Watch.

Honeycrisps are what’s known as an apple cultivar, meaning a cultivated variety. An apple cultivated at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station’s Horticultural Research Center at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Quite a mouthful, as is the apple itself, and deliciously so.

This apple was created as part of a cold-hardy apple tree breeding program. Developed in the 1960s, it wasn’t released to the market until 1991. It has since been designated Minnesota’s official state fruit. Also, it’s considered to be the first brand name apple.

Here’s where it gets cool for me. The first cross of this apple was made in 1961, the same year I was born. As previously stated, I know who my parents are, and they also feature in my novels as Rowan’s parents (Rowan’s dad’s name is Gene.) But, due to a recordkeeping error, the parents of the Honeycrisp apple were mistakenly originally recorded as the Macoun and Honeygold apple varieties.

In Alienable Rights, alien DNA was erroneously recorded as Indigenous American for millions seeking their ancestral lineage because the company engaged in this lucrative business did not know what it was. And instead of admitting that, it perpetrated a fallacy that led to a class action lawsuit.

That didn’t happen in real life, or with the Honeycrisp. But because it’s lineage was being questioned by scientists, the parentage of this apple was subjected to further scrutiny once DNA technology was developed. The search was on for the family tree of the Honeycrisp.

Early on the first Honeycrisp parent was determined to be the Keepsake apple. Decades later the second parent was identified as Minnesota 1627, a variety that is apparently long gone. Rowan would fine this apple name disappointing, as she does car names that are merely numbers and letters rather than a fun name like Honeycrisp.

Also, the name Honeycrisp is inherently descriptive of its actual taste, unlike the dubious red apple dubbed Delicious. I don’t hardly think so. Seems more like false advertising that might be as bad as claiming alien genetics are really human to hide the truth. Maybe I should have Rowan comment on this apple atrocity in Aliens Watch.

Scientists engaged in finding the Honeycrisp lineage sought to determine just what it was that made this apple so crisp—they evidently already knew why it was sweet as honey. In attempting to uncover this mystery of genetics, the answer turned out to be genes hidden in previous generations. Just like the alien and other genes discovered in humans in my Other Worldly novels.

One additional juicy tidbit I learned is that the University of Minnesota is still breeding with Honeycrisps. Its apple children are the SweeTango, First Kiss or Rave, and Triumph. When I visited my friend LL in Minnesota last year, a friend who will also have a character based on her in Aliens Watch, she obtained several apple varieties for me to taste from autumn’s bounty. One of them was my absolute favorite, though I didn’t know why at the time. Now I do. It was a First Kiss. Uncanny. But not really.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad. I’m glad you had your first kiss that ultimately led to becoming my parents.


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