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Sunday, December 22, 2013


The Golden Delicious Apple, A West Virginia Success Story
Ever since my childhood, I have loved good, fresh apples and my favorite apple has always been the Golden Delicious.  I love the sweet, fresh, crisp, but somewhat mealy texture of the Golden Delicious.  I firmly believe it is exactly what an eating apple should be.  It is also a great apple for fried apples which I love at breakfast.  I suspect I must have been an adult before I realized that the Golden Delicious is a product of Appalachia, specifically West Virginia.  This apple is well known to nearly everyone who loves apples and is grown, sold, and eaten all over the world.  There could not have been a finer contribution to the world than this sweet treat.  The apple related website Orange Pippin  lists the Golden Delicious as the parent, grandparent, or possible ancestor of more than 40 other apple varieties.  There is probably no more popular apple for orchardists to grow, sell, and use as breeding stock when attempting to produce new and useful apples. 
The Golden Delicious was a chance seedling discovered on the farm of L. L. Mullins about 1891 in Clay County West Virginia and the original tree and the earth surrounding it were sold to Stark Brothers Nursery which first marketed it about 1914.  The rest, as we say, is history.  The Golden Delicious moved on to take over the apple world.  The story of how the apple tree was found and saved in the middle of a field being mowed is a wonderful little vignette in the history of West Virginia, food culture, and the world when we consider how much this particular little tree changed life and food culture and might just as easily have never grown to maturity.  I do not currently own a good history of apples or fruit trees and am forced to rely on Internet stories in order to compile a story of how the tree was found, saved, sold, propagated, and disseminated worldwide.  The West Virginia Archives and History site run by the West Virginia Culture Center has published a story by Adrian Gwinn of the Daily Mail from 1962 which contains a first person interview about the apple's history.  That story can be found at Daily Mail Story About The Golden Delicious .  J. M. Mullins at age 87 gave the mail this account of how the tree was found and saved by him on the farm of his father.
I was born in 1876 on the farm where that apple tree later became famous. My dad was L. L. Mullins, who owned the farm. "Now one day, when I was about 15 years old, that would have been about 1891, dad sent me out with a big old mowin' scythe to mow the pasture field. "I was swingin' away with the scythe when I came across a little apple tree that had grown about 20 inches tall. It was just a new little apple tree that had volunteered there. There wasn't another apple tree right close by anywhere..."I thought to myself, 'Now young feller, I'll just leave you there,' and that's what I did. I mowed around it and on other occasions I mowed around it again and again, and it grew into a nice lookin' little apple tree and eventually it was a big tree and bore apples." Charleston Daily Mail 1962.

Stories like this about any kind of wonderful, world changing discovery are few and far between.  They deserve to be told repeatedly and, in this case, West Virginia deserved perpetual credit for the discovery and propagation of the Golden Delicious.  The official website of the Stark Brothers Nursery gives only this brief account of the tree: " In 1914, Paul Stark Sr. discovered an apple with an outstanding flavor that was sweet and juicy with a hint of zest."  The Stark Brothers' side of the story can be seen at this address: The Stark Brothers' Story .  The official story of the Golden Delicious Apple can be found on the website of the Clay County Golden Delicious Apple Festival .  I am sure that somewhere in all the differing versions of the story that the real story lies waiting to be written firmly in stone.  But the one thing on which the world seems to agree is that the Golden Delicious Apple was a product of Clay County West Virginia and is one of the greatest products Appalachia has ever produced.  It is a story of which every Appalachian should be proud.

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