Gale Gala is a sport of Royal Gala discovered by Wally Gale in Wenatchee, Washington, and patented in 1997. Inset: The Pacific Gala is a red mutation of Royal Gala discovered by Dick and Larry Olsen at Prosser, Washington, and patented in 1996.

Gale Gala is a sport of Royal Gala discovered by Wally Gale in Wenatchee, Washington, and patented in 1997. Inset: The Pacific Gala is a red mutation of Royal Gala discovered by Dick and Larry Olsen at Prosser, Washington, and patented in 1996.

Gala was developed more than 70 years ago by a New Zealand grower who saw a need for new and better-tasting apples.

James Hutton Kidd, a grower in Wairarapa, was impressed by the appearance of North American varieties such as Delicious and Jonathan but less satisfied with their flavor. Kidd, who was born in England, thought that crosses between high-yielding North American cultivars and attractive, sweet English cultivars with better-flavored fruit might generate the ideal apple and began making crosses in his orchard in the late 1920s.

His first success came from a cross of Delicious and Cox’s Orange Pippin. He sold the propagation rights for 2,000 New Zealand pounds to a nursery that marketed it as Kidd’s Orange Red. Encouraged by this success, he continued to make crosses into the late 1930s, producing several hundred seedlings from crosses of Kidd’s Orange and Golden Delicious. He died in 1945 before seeing his vision become a reality.

During the Second World War, he had transferred seedlings from his own apple-breeding plot to a New Zealand Department of Scientific and Industrial Research orchard near Nelson for evaluation. Most proved too russeted to be of commercial interest, but one of them, Kidd’s D8, looked promising and was planted in further trials along hundreds of other apple varieties around the world. Deemed outstanding, it was released in 1962 and named Gala. Commercial plantings began in New Zealand in 1965.

The original Gala was a distinctive golden yellow color with an attractive red blush. The fruit was described as small to medium, oval to round, with a sweet, aromatic flavor and fine, crisp flesh.

Gala proved to be prone to color mutations, and many sports have been discovered. New Zealand fruit grower Bill ten Hove discovered Royal Gala, which was less susceptible to bruising and has dominated plantings in New Zealand since its release in 1973.

Gala was one of the first “new varieties” to be planted in Washington State beginning in the 1980s when Red Delicious dominated both production and new tree plantings.

A survey of planting trends conducted by Lindsay Buckner at Tree Top, Inc., showed that Gala plantings took off in Washington in the 1980s and rose to about 25 percent of nursery trees planted in the state in 1990. By 2000, there were concerns that the variety was being overplanted in Washington, but plantings have continued at a brisk pace, as growers replace older Gala orchards with newer strains. For 2010 plantings, Gala was third behind Fuji and Honeycrisp.

The U.S. Apple Association first listed Gala as a separate variety in 1993, when the U.S. crop was estimated at 4 million boxes. By 2010, U.S. production had grown to 30 million boxes, with more than 20 million boxes coming from Washington, where it is the second-ranking variety after Red Delicious.

Gala is the top apple variety in New Zealand, where it makes up just over 25 percent of the apple plantings. New Zealand will produce about 6 million boxes of Gala for export this year, representing about a third of its exports, according to Pipfruit New Zealand, Inc.

Former New Zealand apple breeder Allan White wrote in 1991 that Gala and its many sports had confounded experts by their popularity. Many believed the fruit would be too small to appeal to consumers and the trees too difficult to manage.

“It seems, however, that Kidd’s theory that eating quality is the most important marketing characteristic an apple can possess has been proved correct by Gala,” White wrote. “Unfortunately, this new cultivar is being drawn into the same cycle that caused the demise of Delicious. The quest for redder selections by nurseries, anxious for something that will provide them with a competitive edge, is under way without any consideration being given to eating quality.”

Sources for this article include: A biography of James Hutton Kidd by Gareth Winter from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and A History of Fruit Varieties edited by David ­Ferree for the American Pomological Society, which is available from the Marketplace at www.goodfruit.com.