What Illinois schoolkid doesn't know that the white-tailed deer is the official state animal or that the Tully monster has been designated the state fossil?
Memorizing the state symbols just got a little more difficult for students with the addition of a new one: The GoldRush apple -- a yellow sweet-tart variety -- is Illinois' official state fruit.
Public Act 95-0328, which elevated the GoldRush to the top of the bushel, became effective Aug. 21.
"I got a phone call in January from Mr. (Mark) Richardson, a fourth-grade teacher at Woodlawn Elementary School in Jefferson County," said State Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon, the bill's primary sponsor. "He said his kids were studying the state handbook and noticed Illinois didn't have a state fruit. So he had them do research, and they were amazed to find we were one of the few states that didn't have one."
The children went on to study varieties of apples and learned that the GoldRush was developed through the Disease Resistant Apple Breeding Program, a cooperative run by the University of Illinois, Purdue University in Indiana and Rutgers University in New Jersey.
According to program researchers, GoldRush is a cross between a Golden Delicious and another apple known in the lab as Coop 17. The name refers to the apple's golden color and bronze blush combined with its "rush" of flavor. The cultivar has a complex, rich, spicy flavor with a high degree of acidity and sweetness.
But two of its best qualities are disease resistance and long storage.
Largely, it's resistant to apple scab, fire blight and apple mildew. And it can keep its firm, crisp texture for up to seven months if stored properly.
Lee Elliott of Apple Hill Orchard in Winchester grows the GoldRush, along with more than 350 other varieties of apples.
"It's the longest-keeping apple in the orchard," Elliott said. "It's kind of like a Golden Delicious but more tart, more acid. It's good to eat or cook with, and a real nice apple to raise. It's a vigorous, healthy tree. I have people that buy them by the bushel to keep for the winter."
To store, Elliott recommends placing each apple, individually, in a plastic sandwich bag. Press out the air, seal with a twist tie and place all of the apples in a bigger bag. Store the bag in a refrigerator at 32 degrees.
"They won't freeze at 32. There's enough sugar in them to keep them from freezing until 27 or 28 (degrees). I've had them till June."
The individual bags prevent one bad apple from spoiling the whole bunch.
"If they're in the sack, they won't poison each other," Elliott said. "One can go completely rotten, and it won't hurt a thing."
Only one other type of food has been venerated by the Illinois General Assembly: Popcorn was named the state snack food in 2003. Other symbols include the square dance (state dance), bluegill (state fish), white oak (state tree), violet (state flower), cardinal (state bird) and my personal favorite, drummer silty clay loam (state soil).
There aren't a lot of GoldRush apples to be had this year in Illinois because of the spring freeze. But the fourth-graders of Woodlawn Elementary School managed to find at least 59 at the Mount Vernon Kroger supermarket. On the day their bill passed the Senate, they took a field trip to Springfield and gave an apple to each senator.
"I can assure you," said Jones, who grew up working in his grandparents' apple orchard, "for an eating apple, there is none better."
Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at email@example.com.