***COMPARISONS between Jonagold and Honeycrisp go beyond flavor. Both have a distinctive, light-crisp texture. Both are exceptionally juicy, especially Jonagold, with drip-down-your-chin juiciness. Both are mostly sweet, although Jonagold has a little more apple flavor, just the hint of a tang. Both are large apples. Both Jonagold and Honeycrisp have their roots in the 1960s — Honeycrisp at the University of Minnesota in 1961, the product of a cross between Keepsake and an unnamed variety, Jonagold at Cornell University’s New York Agricultural Experiment Station in 1968, a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious. Jonagold is a late-season apple, slightly conical in shape like both of its parents, and a striking red-and-gold color (although like Honeycrisp, Jonagold’s color is variable, and can be nearly solid red). Jonathan dates back to New York state in the early 1800s, and is still popular in parts of the Midwest today. It supplies Jonagold’s rich red color. Golden Delicious, discovered in West Virginia in 1890, gives Jonagold its yellow shades.
***THE NAME Jonagold is botanical, a simple, shortened combination of its parents. It lacks the cache of heirlooms like Cortland and McIntosh, which have been staples for so long that people associate them with apples even though the names say nothing about the eating experience. New, trademarked varieties like Jazz and Envy have generic names that say nothing about an apple; they could describe any product, from sponges to spaghetti. Time will tell if the varieties are special enough to overcome this and become synonymous with apples in future generations (if these varieties survive at all). Honeycrisp has a name equal to its quality, with each half, “honey” and “crisp,” descriptive of the apple. No one can confuse it with a music genre (Jazz) or “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck” (Envy). New England Apple Association’s idea was to reintroduce Jonagold with a new name to encourage consumers to give it a try. The name would help shoppers identify a locally grown New England Jonagold as opposed to one from outside the region. After months of research and vetting, last fall a marketing consultant came up with a new name for Jonagold: JuicyGold. “Juicy” says something about the experience of eating the apple; “Gold” is a double entendre, referring both to its Golden Delicious parent but also suggesting something of great value, appropriate for this exceptional apple. Putting the two words together followed a recent trend in apple names, like CrimsonCrisp, PaulaRed, and RubyMac, giving the new name a contemporary feel. JuicyGold is close enough to Jonagold that it would be less likely to confuse consumers, unlike Mutsu, for instance, a 1930 apple from Japan rechristened Crispin in 1968.
***WHY is the issue of trademarked names so important? New England’s medium to small growers are prohibited from growing and selling most trademarked apples. These new varieties are controlled or managed by growing “clubs,” with strict limits on who can grow them. In some cases the trademark is owned by a single company or grower, typically from Washington state, which grows about half the United States fresh apple crop. Examples include Lady Alice (owned exclusively by Rainier Fruit Company) and Piñata (Stemilt Growers), although the latter can still be sold under its original names, Corail or Pinova. Some apple clubs raise promotional funds through their licensing programs, giving them an advantage in the marketplace. SweeTango was introduced amid much fanfare several years ago — its consortium is even named Next Best Thing — but so far its performance has failed to match the hype. More recently, some apple-growing states are using trademarks to identify apples as their own — and restricting their cultivation accordingly. Two new apples from New York state, SnapDragon and RubyFrost, fit this description, as does EverCrisp in Ohio. These varieties can only be grown and sold by licensed orchards in their respective states. The jury is out on these new apples — to date, none of them appears to have the potential to become the next Honeycrisp, as their developers hope — but it does create competition for shelf space with locally grown New England apples. There is only so much room in the produce aisles. Only so many new varieties can be accommodated, and trademarked varieties from beyond the region can squeeze out local apples on the strength of their marketing funds. New England’s apple industry is the “David” among corporate farm “Goliaths.” New England grows less than 2 percent of the nation’s fresh apple crop. Its orchards, most of them family owned, are denied the chance or lack the resources to get in on trademark clubs — even if there were a new variety to merit it. New England has no apple breeding program of its own. The only way it can develop new varieties is through nature, a chance seedling which might not emerge for decades, if at all. The strength of the New England apple industry is its varieties — more than 30 grown in commercial quantities, and dozens of rare heirlooms. There is a reason that popular apples like Cortland, Macoun, and McIntosh have been around for a century or more: they have better apple flavor, and the trees produce more consistently and reliably than most of the sugary sweet trademarked varieties.