The Greenville News from Greenville, South Carolina on December 31, 2014 · Page D6
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The Greenville News from Greenville, South Carolina · Page D6

Greenville, South Carolina
Issue Date:
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Page D6
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W EDNESDAY ,D ECEMBER 31, 2014T HE G REENVILLE N EWS 6D paste and fluoride rinses to “cool things d own.” “ There are only so many bites you can tolerate in a day,” he said. “I can do about six hours, then I get sick of them and have to stop. The worst thing is to keep going, like using a tool that’s out of calibration.” Bedford’s finely honed palate for apples has shaped the choices available at orchards and in grocery stores — in Minnesota, across the country and even across the globe. “He’s one of the elite breeders for apples in the world,” said grower John J acobson, whose Pine Tree Apple Orchard in White Bear Lake and Preston, Minn., is a test site. “One of his strengths is his ability to take an apple, bite it and project what’s going to be popular — that texture, that crunch, that juiciness. He’s done a fabulous job being able to put all those characteristics together.” B edford doesn’t do the job alone, h e’s quick to point out, but as part of a team. He and Jim Luby, the horticultural science professor who directs the university’s fruit-breeding program, h ave been collaborating on apple select ion for three decades. During their p artnership, the program has released six new varieties: Honeycrisp; Zestar!; SnowSweet; Minneiska (better known by its brand name, SweeTango); Frostbite; and most recently MN55, which h as yet to be christened and won’t be a vailable commercially for several y ears. But Bedford is the guy who does the day-to-day cultivating, grafting and cloning and who personally tastes all t hose mediocre apples in hopes of finding “the next Honeycrisp, or something e ven better.” “He’s our front line, making the decisions about what gets thrown out,” said Luby. “And 99 percent gets thrown E XCELSIOR, Minn. — On a crisp late fall afternoon, David Bedford plucks an apple from a young tree, chomps into the fruit and chews thoughtfully. “Perfectly good. Not excellent. Not a wow.” He tosses the apple to the g round, and renders his verdict with spray paint, a stripe of orange down the trunk that tells the orchard crew to take it down. “You’re going to the firewood farm,” he tells the tree, with a wry grin that creases the smile lines framing his planed cheekbones and salt-and-pepper goatee. Bedford, mild-mannered and event empered, is ruthless in his quest to p roduce the next great apple. “I used to be more benevolent,” he said. He’d give a merely OK tree a few m ore years to “get its act together.” But a fter decades as an apple breeder, Bed- f ord knows what he’s looking for. And this apple isn’t it. If the tree stays, “I’d have to taste that same mediocre apple again next year,” he said. So the tree has to go, to make room for other, more p romising varieties at the University of M innesota’s Horticultural Research C enter in Excelsior. As research scientist for the university’s apple-breeding program, Bedford tastes a lot of apples. About 500 to 600 a d ay, every day, during peak apple season, until his gums hurt. “ It’s hard on the teeth,” he admitted. Even though he spits out the pulp, the acidic juice inflames his mouth to the point that he has to use special tooth- o ut.” O f the surviving 1percent, Hone ycrisp is the program’s rock star. Introduced in 1991, it’s now the sixth- largest apple in production in the United States, according to Mark S eetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs for the U.S. Apple A ssociation. Honeycrisp’s rapid rise is “extraordinary,” Seetin said. “It has exploded in the last five years. It’s a doggone good apple.” T he university’s apple operation, one of the nation’s three major b reeding programs, is more than a century old, with 27 apple introduc- t ions to its credit, but Honeycrisp put it on the map, in Jacobson’s opinion. “When they released Hon- eycrisp, they hit it out of the park.” N ow Honeycrisp and its follow-up releases are major players in the s tate’s apple industry, said Charlie Johnson, president of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association and owner of Whistling Well Farm, near Aft on. “If it wasn’t for the U’s breeding program, we wouldn’t be in business. T he apples they’ve developed are really popular with consumers.” H oneycrisp, for example, “has the taste it’s supposed to have when it’s grown here. Consumers have fig- u red that out and do try to buy from Minnesota growers.” Bedford didn’t breed the first Honeycrisp tree; that was done before he came to the university (app le-breeding is a decades-long process). But he and Luby rescued the apple from oblivion. “ Here’s a little-known secret of Honeycrisp: It got thrown away by the original breeder — it had some w inter injury,” Bedford said. That first tree was destroyed, but four clones survived. His first taste of the “explosively crisp” fruit left an indelible memory. “I’ve tasted millions o f apples, and I can still remember my first Honeycrisp and my first SweeTango.” O ther apples evoke less fond memories. Bedford isn’t shy about trash-talking Red Delicious, the “ pathetic” variety he grew up eating in North Carolina. The big red apples, tough of skin a nd mealy in texture, dominated the marketplace during his childhood and convinced him he didn’t care for apples. He remembers opening his metal lunchbox to “the overpowering smell of an overripe Red Delic ious.” He couldn’t trade it away. “It was the lowest thing on the scale. A nd the lowest thing on Halloween w as getting an apple, a Red Delic ious.” B ut as a student at Wheaton College in Illinois, where he went to study biology — and experience s now — Bedford had an apple epiphany. A friend brought a bushel of Michigan apples and invited Bedford t o try one. “It was crisp. That’s what Inever had. Crisp and juicy. I ate half a bushel myself.” After college, Bedford worked at a nursery for a few years and found plants so fascinating that he decided to go back to school to study horti- c ulture, earning his master’s degree f rom Colorado State. A propagation j ob opened up at the University of Minnesota, and Bedford took it, in- tending to stay only a few years. But soon he got the opportunity to do some b reeding, and he was hooked. “My universe just exploded — there was so m uch potential. I realized apples could be so much more.” Sampling apples with Bedford is a bit like tasting wine with a sommelier. A s he shares each slice, he points out apples that taste like cloves or cherry L ifesavers, fruit with floral notes or earthy, herbal undertones. He looks for 20 characteristics when sizing up apples, but some traits carry m ore weight than others. “Our priority is to make an apple that’s a memorable e ating experience,” he said. Appearance is secondary. “Texture and flavor a re the two most important things.” He learned that lesson through his own experiences as a grower and seller. H e and his wife, Shilon, own a small orchard in Carver County. The apples grown there are now sold wholesale, but for years, Bedford sold them himself at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Mark et. “There’s no better school in the world,” he said. “Minnesotans are so p olite. They rarely say, ‘That’s a terrible apple.’ But it became clear that what registers with people is texture a nd flavor. That’s seared into my brain.” To achieve that perfectly textured, flavorful apple, Bedford pairs different parent trees in pursuit of superior offs pring. It’s always a long shot, but DNA testing has taken breeding a big step forward. MN55, the latest release, is t he child of Honeycrisp and an Arkansas variety, resulting in an apple that tastes much like Honeycrisp but is m ore heat-tolerant and ripens earlier. Jacobson was convinced that MN55 was a winner when he spotted a red, r ipe apple in his orchard in mid-August. “Holy cow! I ate it, and thought, ‘This is really something.’” He shared his enthusiasm with Bedford — who was his usual, laid-back self. “He just told me, ‘We’ve gotta do a l ittle more testing on it.’” Bedford also was the voice of calm r eassurance when nervous growers p eppered him with questions during l ast year’s polar vortex, Jacobson said. “ We hadn’t had a winter that cold since (Honeycrisp’s introduction), and people were asking, ‘Do you think these are g oing to make it?’ David said, ‘Everything should be OK, because of the genetics.’ He was right. He doesn’t get r attled. He knows his stuff.” Bedford, 63, has no desire to retire anytime soon. “The intrigue, that last cross you made. It keeps you coming b ack,” he said. “We are nowhere near reaching the limit of how far we can go.” So he hopes to keep breeding app les — “as long as I’m physically able,” h e said. Then he smiles. “If an apple a d ay keeps the doctor away, I’ll live forever.” Looking for the next ‘rock star’ apple RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER/TNS David Bedford is pictured at the University of Minnesota apple orchard in Excelsior, Minn. He has helped determine the choices of apples available at orchards and grocery stores. Minnesota br e eder help ed bring Honeycrisp to market By Kim Palmer Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS) “Our priority is to make an apple that’s a memorable eating experience. Texture and flavor are the two most important things .” DAVID BEDFORD The Supper Swap Girls are getting the New Year s tarted right with a tasty appetizer recipe that is perfect for any party. The f lavors burst with the tang of the pickled okra and the olives and the spice of the r ed pepper, all of which is mellowed by the sweetness of the balsamic vine- g ar. Enjoy it with good friends and in good health. W herever you celebrate the New Year, and however you celebrate t onight, may this year be a happy one for you! Get more Supper Swap G irls recipes at Greenvil- girls. Steph’s Warmed Olives 3tablespoons olive oil 2 bell peppers (yellow), cut i nto chunks 5 cloves garlic, peeled and h alved 1 teaspoon crushed red p epper 1/2 can small pitted black olives 1jar almond-stuffed green olives 1/2 jar kalamata olives 1/2 jar pickled okra 1 /2 jar capers 3 sprigs fresh rosemary 2 tablespoons good q uality balsamic v inegar Heat olive oil in skillet. Add bell pepper, garlic and red pepper a nd saute for 10 minutes. Add olives, okra, c apers and rosemary and saute for 10 more minutes. Turn off heat a nd add balsamic vinegar. Serve warm. Kim Eades and S tephanie Burnette .......................................................... The Supper Swap Girls Ring in the New Year with this foodie App

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