Red Delicious Apple Has Deep Roots in Central Iowa

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They’re synonymous with hot pies and were the perfect reward for your favorite teacher.

Those who know the fruit best, however, see the red delicious apple more for where it came from than for its many uses. Hint hint, the first ones weren’t grown in Washington.

“I just like to have that story so I can tell people that the red delicious did originate in Iowa,” said Jerald Deal, owner of Deal’s Orchard in Jefferson.

Specifically, in Madison County.

“We are in Peru, Iowa. It is the birthplace of the red delicious apple tree,” said Jarod McDonald, manager of the Madison County Historical Complex.

In a no stop light town sits an apple tree that looks out of place in an Iowa hay field.

McDonald will tell you there is nothing random about the tree at all.

“You’re looking at a sprout of the original red delicious apple tree,” McDonald told Channel 13 News.

The original red delicious apple tree was first planted on the Madison County farm of Jesse Hiatt. When he picked the famous fruit back in 1872, he already had two apples, the Hiatt sweet and Hiatt black to his name.

“Nobody thought they were anything worthwhile,” said McDonald.

Neither had the flavor of the small apple with a yellow tint he first called the “Hawkeye”.

“He (Hiatt) bit into it and decided it was the best tasting apple he ever had,” McDonald said.

The “Hawkeye” was so crisp and sweet that a decade later, Hiatt entered it into a fruit competition in Missouri. One of the judges, C.M. Stark agreed with the flavor but not the name.

“He had never found something to call delicious. As the story goes, he bit into this apple and decided it was delicious. It was the apple that was going to be called the delicious,” McDonald told Channel 13 News.

Hiatt eventually sold the rights to his apple to Stark only making enough money to build a new home on his property.

“It became a major business venture for the Stark Brothers Nursery,” said McDonald.

At the turn of the 20th century, the red delicious apple was so popular in Iowa, Maury Wills with the Iowa Department of Agriculture says the crop gave corn a run for its money.

“Back in 1911, we had 9.5 million apples produced. That was our peak year,” said Wills.

9.5 million is more than 40 times the amount of apples produced in Iowa today.

Once second in apple production to Michigan, Iowa no longer cracks the top 25 with the leading apple growing states spread across the United States.

“In 1940 we had a major freeze in November. That knocked out a lot of apple trees, a lot of apple orchards. In 1941, we really dropped off. Over 80% of our orchards were lost,” said Wills.

While the apple isn’t a king crop in Iowa, you can still find them at orchards across the state.

The red delicious has been part of the family business of Gerald Deal for 90 years. He operates the Deal Orchard in Jefferson with his wife Cindy and once owned some of the original wood from Hiatt’s trees.

“It was mainly for the customers when they come to the orchard,” said Deal.

Deal has enjoyed an apple or two in his day and in his expert opinion, when you bite into an Iowa apple, you’re getting the best.

“When you pick them off the tree, they’re nice, hard, and crisp. You want to try one right away. They’re nice and juicy. They have a lot of flavor,” said Deal.

According to the United States Apple Association, the red delicious remains as one of the ten most popular apple varieties in the world.

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