But the Red Delicious was a relative latecomer. It was discovered in the late 1800s by Jesse Hiatt, an Iowa farmer who reluctantly let a Red Delicious tree grow on his property after several unsuccessful attempts at killing it, according to various accounts.
In the early 1890s, Mr. Hiatt entered the fruit, which he had named “Hawkeye,” into an apple competition and won, ultimately agreeing to sell the rights to the contest’s hosts, the Stark Bro’s Nursery, in Missouri, according to Mr. Burford’s book.
The Stark brothers, whose nursery is still operating more than a century later, renamed the apple “Delicious” and, later, “Red Delicious” to differentiate it from a yellow apple from West Virginia that they began to sell under the name “Golden Delicious,” according to the book.
It enjoyed relative popularity for decades, but took off in the mid-20th century, with its distinctive elongated shape and five-point base becoming an American symbol, according to the book “Apples of Uncommon Character,” by Rowan Jacobsen. Then things started to change.
“We left the farm,” Mr. Jacobsen said in an interview. “As more and more people became city people and national supermarkets arose, you were no longer getting your own apples and you were no longer getting local apples.”
To meet the demands of consumers who began to associate the color red with ripeness, apple growers and supermarkets produced and sold ever-redder apples at the expense of flavor.
“We started eating with our eyes and not our mouths,” Mr. Burford said.
In recent decades, the trend has started to reverse itself, as consumers have begun to pay more attention to the provenance, variety and quality of goods, such as coffee, tomatoes, beer and, of course, apples.