Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Dan Wheat/Capital Press
WENATCHEE, Wash. — Ambrosia is one of the oldest proprietary apple varieties grown in Washington state and the first to have enough volume to garner its own listing in monthly industry storage reports.
Until November, it was listed in the “other” category by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association along with numerous other managed varieties or varieties that sell in small volumes. In November, Ambrosia was listed by itself at an estimated 1.5 million, 40-pound boxes.
Braeburn was 1.15 million boxes that month, and Jonagold was 500,000. “Others” were 5.6 million boxes, and seven varieties were 5.7 million boxes and greater, led by Red Delicious at 33.5 million and Gala at 33.4 million. Granny Smith was 18.9 million, Fuji 17.4 million and Honeycrisp 12.4 million.
Ambrosia was a chance seedling discovered in the mid-1980s by Wilfred and Sally Mennell in their Similkameen Valley, Keremeos, B.C., orchard about 30 miles northwest of the U.S.-Canada border. It’s believed to be the offspring of Golden Delicious and either Jonagold or Starking Delicious.
McDougall & Sons Inc., of Wenatchee, responded to a request for proposal from a Canadian company, now Summerland Varieties Council, in 2005 and received proprietary rights to grow, pack and sell the fruit in North America with certain times of the year for export into certain countries. Companies in Italy, Chile, New Zealand and Australia also received domestic rights and export rights into certain countries at specific times.
“It’s our No. 1 apple that we pack. The franchise has proven to be a profitable part of our business for sure,” said Scott McDougall, president of McDougall & Sons.
Ambrosia has come down in price as it gained in volume but is still wholesaling this year at close to $40 per box, he said.
As of Feb. 9, USDA tracking of average asking prices among Yakima and Wenatchee shippers for extra fancy (standard grade) medium size 80 and 88 apples per packed box was $13 to $15 for Red Delicious, $20 to $25 for Gala and $58 to $64 on premium 80s Honeycrisp.
“It’s a great apple. Cosmetically, it’s one of the prettiest apples, a very beautiful bi-color of red and golden background,” McDougall said. “It has a sweet, unique, honey-like flavor with a hint of a snap.”
Other newer managed varieties have more snap, a touch of tart on top of sweet. That’s created by a higher ratio of acidity to sugar. “Ambrosia basically has no acid. It fits well in your stomach,” McDougall said.
But acidity increases storability and density and gives apples a crunch when you bite into them.
Ambrosia needs to be raised at elevations higher that 1,400 feet for best coloring, McDougall said, declining to disclose the acreage.
“People think it’s a no-brainer apple. But it’s one of the most difficult to manage from a harvest standpoint,” he said. “It ripens very quickly and harvest timing has to be exact for it to store well.”
It requires multiple color picks within a very narrow window of about five days around Sept. 20, he said.
Color and starch levels are the best indicators of when to pick. Managers cut open apples and use an iodine test to determine how rapidly starch is disappearing.
“We have to have a large labor force to pick it in the proper amount of time,” he said. “If you don’t get it just right, it won’t store.”
To that end, McDougall & Sons has increasingly turned to hiring H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers in recent years for enough dependable labor.