Latest Minnesota-Born-and-Bred Apple Variety Debuts

There is a reason the term “nursery” is used for both plant and human baby upbringing. Both species take a lot of nurturing and loving care. The human baby, however, may be grown and off to college before the plant baby is ready to make its debut. So it is exciting to share the “birth” announcement of the latest apple variety from the University of Minnesota: First Kiss, a variety decades in the making. 

The MN55 apple, now known as First Kiss, dates back to the late 1990s when University of Minnesota’s apple breeders David Bedford and Jim Luby set out to breed an apple with the taste and texture of a Honeycrisp that would be ready to harvest by Labor Day weekend, several weeks earlier than that popular variety and others developed for cooler climates—the “first kiss” of autumn, so to speak.

To accomplish this, the First Kiss apple was developed through traditional breeding (not GMO) from a cross between Honeycrisp, known for its juicy texture, with an early ripening variety from the University of Arkansas known as AA44. After years of rigorous trials at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Horticultural Research Center, First Kiss emerged as a clear winner. The First Kiss apples ripen on average in mid-to late August in Minnesota, kicking off Minnesota’s apple season almost a full month earlier than Honeycrisp. 

“With First Kiss, we got the best of both worlds,” Bedford, who is also a research scientist in the UMN’s Department of Horticultural Science, says in a press release. “Its crisp texture and spritely flavor make it an excellent choice for fresh eating and its early harvest date means Minnesota apple lovers can enjoy their favorite Minnesota grown fruit sooner than ever.”

With harvest possibly beginning today, you may get an opportunity to check out this new apple at the Minnesota State Fair, which starts Aug. 23 and runs through Labor Day, Sept. 3. Pine Tree Orchards in Dellwood, Minnesota, will be supplying apples for the fair and at this time—based on their harvest projections for this year—they plan to have First Kiss starting with the first days of the fair as long as Mother Nature cooperates. How many they will have each day is harder to say at the moment, says Shelly Gustafson, communications specialist with Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. At the State Fair, First Kiss will be sold in the Fruit Wing of the Agriculture/Horticulture building at the apple stand. While Pine Tree Orchards expects to have First Kiss throughout the fair, the new apple might go fast each day.

First Kiss features a scarlet red color and has a lively, tart flavor. While they will be available this fall, supply will be limited but will increase over the next few years as the trees mature and bear more fruit. The First Kiss brand name is reserved exclusively for fruit produced by apple growers located in Minnesota. Apples from the MN55 variety grown outside of Minnesota are being marketed as Rave.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have been developing and evaluating apple varieties since 1878. First Kiss marks the 27th apple to be released by the breeding program, and 18 of those 27 are still available today, including Honeycrisp. Find more information regarding UMN’s apple varieties here.

“We’re excited for Minnesotans to get their first taste of First Kiss this fall,” Luby, who is also a UMN Professor of Horticultural Science, says in a press release. And hopefully you can get a First Kiss of the season at the State Fair—not that we Minnesotans want autumn to come early. We just love our apples! 

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.