EMPIRE AND JONAGOLD apples have a lot in common.
They are mid- to late-season apples with outstanding flavor and texture.
They will be at farm stands and ready for picking at most New England orchards this holiday weekend (the weather looks perfect for a visit to the orchard!).
Empire and Jonagold were both developed in the 1940s at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.
They were released commercially more than 20 years later, just two years apart: Empire in 1966, Jonagold in 1968.
Their names have been more a hindrance than a help to their commercial success.
About the lengthy time between their discovery and release: it takes years to prepare a new apple for the marketplace.
Dozens of field trials are needed first, at the original site and in a number of orchards, to determine the apple’s reliability, productivity, disease resistance, hardiness, and other horticultural tendencies.
When a variety finally passes these many tests, young trees must be grown in great quantities by commercial nurseries to supply growers. This all takes time.
About the names: Empire and Jonagold were christened in more innocent marketing times, before the widespread use of demographic studies and focus groups.
Their names are simple and straightforward: Empire, the nickname for New York, where it was developed, and Jonagold, combining the names of its two parents: Jonathan and Golden Delicious.
Neither name says anything about the qualities of the apple.
Of course, that’s true of many varieties. But heirlooms like McIntosh and Cortland and Macoun are so familiar that by now they have become synonymous with apples.
Mid-20th century varieties like Gala and Fuji are also old enough to evoke apples as likely as a social event or Japanese mountain, respectively.
New, market-driven names like Jazz and Envy are calculated to pique consumer interest rather than describe the fruit inside.
Empire and Jonagold are neither old enough nor sexy enough to stand out among this fruitful nomenclature. It’s a shame, because as apples they truly stand out.
Watch these one-minute videos to learn why:
Better yet, get out to the orchard or farm stand and taste them for yourself! Visit the Orchard Finder on our website, newenglandapples.org, to find an orchard near you.
Here’s an easy recipe for a lazy Sunday morning or a quick and satisfying dessert.
Apple Upside-Down Cake
3 T butter
½ c packed brown sugar
2-3 New England apples like Empire, Jonagold, cored and thinly sliced
½ c flour
½ c whole wheat flour
¼ c sugar
1 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
½ t cinnamon
5 T cold butter, cut into pieces
½ c buttermilk (or substitute ½ c milk + 1½ t lemon juice or white vinegar)
Preheat oven to 425°F.
In a cast iron or other ovenproof 10-inch skillet, heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides. Stir in brown sugar and remove from heat. Spread mixture evenly in skillet and arrange apples, overlapping, in a single layer.
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry knife until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk, stirring just until mixture is moistened.
Spread batter over apples, leaving a one-inch border to allow cake to expand.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until cake is golden brown and firm to the touch. Cool in skillet on a rack for three minutes, then invert onto a large plate or cake platter.