Column: This apple is WV’s ‘golden’ ticket to deliciousness

By Candace Nelson - 1:21 PM

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My latest column ran in the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

A bright bushel of red apples may include a Honeycrisp, RubyFrost, Cosmic Crisp, Gala, Fuji, Jazz, Pink Lady or even a Red Delicious.

But if you find a glittering yellow apple amongst the sea of rouge, there’s a pretty good chance it’s a Golden Delicious apple – which originated right here in West Virginia.

The Golden Delicious apple was discovered in 1912 in Clay County by Anderson Mullins and can now be found across the world in orchards, farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree Its story started on a steep hillside towering over Porters Creek in Bomont, W.Va.

The Golden Delicious is described as a “chance seedling,” according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, and is believed to have sprouted from a seed carried by bird or other animal because there was no other yellow fruit growing in the family orchard.

The apple is thought to be related to the Grimes Golden, another popular variety from the Mountain State that originated in the early 1800s in Brooke County and grew from a seed planted by Johnny Appleseed, according to legend.

The sweet, yellow Golden Delicious apple was first named “Mullins's Yellow Seedling and Annit apple.” Mullins sent three of the apples to Stark Brothers Nursery, one of the largest mail-order nurseries, in Missouri with a note that read: “I am sending you a small box of apples for inspection by mail. They are off a seedling tree in my orchard. The tree is such a nice tree and bears such fine apples. We like them so well that we think them all most as good as Delicious. No one here has any thing like it. The apples are so rich that they will make apple butter without sugar. Please try them and write and tell me what you think of them.”

Paul Stark, of Stark Brothers Nursery, traveled to the area after the promising taste of the apple and purchased the tree, property and propagation rights for $5,000.

He erected a fence and took a bundle of cuttings to graft the tree in the company’s orchard. The nursery then began marketing the apple as the Golden Delicious and as a companion to their Red Delicious apple in 1914. The apple was an instant hit.

By 1918, Stark had to turn down hundreds of orders because he could not produce enough supply to match the nationwide demand, according to Clio. By 1921, the Golden Delicious apple became the leading variety of apple tree both in the United States and abroad, according to Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 7 in 1995 that named it the official state fruit of West Virginia.

Additionally, the resolution noted that the apple had been planted on every continent in the world and close to 200 billion pounds of Golden Delicious apples are grown annually in the United States.

How ‘bout them apples?

The original tree lived to produce Golden Delicious apples for nearly 50 years until it died in the 1950s. A historical marker is located nearby the spot that indicates the history. The famous apple continues to be celebrated each fall at the Clay County Golden Delicious Festival.

This year will mark 110 years from the Golden Delicious’ discovery in Clay County. And, on Feb. 20, this Appalachian specialty will have been our state fruit for 27 years. There’s no better time to reflect on its impact, not only locally, but globally.

There’s no better way to celebrate this fact than baking a delicious apple pie with local apples. Or make apple butter. Or try apple bacon pancakes.

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