Jonagold combines the Jonathan red color splashed over a Golden Delicious background, but some strains are so red they cover the yellow completely. 

Jonagold combines the Jonathan red color splashed over a Golden Delicious background, but some strains are so red they cover the yellow completely.

Jonagold is one of 76 named offspring of the Jonathan apple and one of at least 25 named offspring of Golden Delicious, but the only other variety with both those parents is Hatsvaki, a variety developed in Japan.

Obviously, breeders think highly of these apples as parents, and many consider their Jonagold offspring one of the finest ­commercial varieties in orchards today. It is widely planted, all over the world, and its popularity is still increasing. In Europe, it is the _dominant variety in some areas, especially northern Europe, and it’s very well-liked by growers in Japan.

Ten years ago, there were an estimated 319,000 Jonagold trees in New York and about the same in Washington State. Worldwide, production of Jonagold apples was estimated at about 57 million bushels (excluding China), ranking it sixth in world production.

In 1988, it received the Outstanding Fruit Cultivar Award from the American Society for Horticultural Science, recognizing it as a modern fruit introduction having a significant impact, and that impact has grown since then.

Jonagold was bred by Cornell University breeder Richard Wellington at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva in 1943, selected as promising in 1953, and evaluated for 15 years before its naming and introduction in 1968 by Dr. Roger Way.

Way, now 92 years old, retired, and living in State College, Pennsylvania, ten miles from Way Fruit Farm where he grew up, introduced 11 varieties during his career, none more famous than Jonagold. Empire was his second best.

After his retirement in 1983, he said, he was invited by apple growers in Japan to tour that country, where Jonagold is highly regarded. He was presented with a Samurai warrior’s helmet—something his frien Dr. James Cummins remembers as contrasting with his “laid-back and ­gentle friend.”

Red fever

Cummins, who was breeding rootstocks at Cornell University as a contemporary of Way’s and now owns Cummins Nursery, said of ­Jonagold: “It was a dud here in this country. Back then, growers wanted redder apples and bigger McIntosh.” But it caught on in northern Europe—even though “red fever” almost destroyed it there as well, Cummins said.

Jonagold has the background color of Golden Delicious, flushed with large amounts of red. Many high-colored sports—more than 100—exist, including Jonagored, one of the most popular. Many of these were discovered in Belgium, where Jonagold is widely planted and accounts for nearly 60 percent of apple production. It is the third most popular ­variety in Canada.

Jonagold managed to avoid some of the worst traits of its parents. Unlike Golden Delicious, it does not develop finish problems when grown in cooler climates. And unlike the smallish Jonathan, Jonagold is a large apple with a small core. Processors like that feature.

It does lack one very desirable trait that its mom has. Golden Delicious is valued as a good pollinator of other apple varieties, but Jonagold can’t ­pollinate itself or any other variety. It is a triploid.

Jonagold ripens midseason and stores only a couple of months in ­regular storage, but will hold up to ten months in CA storage.

Jonagold’s sweet-tart flavor makes it good for eating fresh and in salads, for cooking, for juice, both for fresh and for hard cider. The creamy, yellow flesh is juicy and aromatic. It is breaking in texture. It is a moderately vigorous, heavy cropper, a semispur type ­considered easy to manage.

The fruit is susceptible to bitter pit and to sunburn in hot climates. Calcium sprays, five to eight per season, are recommended for control of bitter pit and are considered essential on younger trees.

Susan Brown, the apple breeder at Cornell, keeps tabs on Jonagold, although exact statistics aren’t kept by anybody. She lists Jonagold among the five best-known Cornell-developed varieties, the others being Empire, Cortland, Macoun, and Liberty. Cornell released 62 named varieties during its century of apple breeding.  Empire has had a larger impact in its home state, where it is the second leading variety behind McIntosh.

Jonagold is considered a grower-friendly tree. “Jonagold branches freely, and develops nice side branches and thus fits nicely in a vertical axis training system. It responds well to renewal pruning of fruiting branches,” says Cornell horticulturist Dr. Steve Hoying.

As an apple that was deliberately bred and not discovered, there are no shrines to Jonagold or veneration of the original seedling. As Dr. Way put it, “The original tree is long since gone.” It is “routine,” he said, for seedling trees in breeding programs to be destroyed after being selected and bud wood taken for propagation through grafting.