I’ve found an apple that I think has potential for hard cider. It’s growing wild along the railroad tracks behind a Chinese restaurant. Fruits are about quarter-sized, abundant, and show no obvious disease problems, other than some rot here and there. Flesh is crisp and juicy. The flavor is a little bitter, very tart (but still very much in the edible range), and has a lingering flavor that I’ve had in other apples, but this is kind of dialed to 11. I don’t have a refractometer or brix meter, but it tastes sweet to me. Also, I’ve never had a chance to sample cider apples before fermenting and get a real feel for sharp vs bitter vs bittersharp vs bittersweet, but this is just about what I picture a bittersharp tastes like. In summary, this is a strong-flavored but decidedly edible apple (the owner of the restaurant saw me looking at them and said he eats a few every day). So, I’m wondering how one would assess apples for cider potential? As I said, I don’t really have any real experience with fresh cider apples, but I’ve eaten a decent variety of other apples and have a good head for flavors. If you can describe what you look for in cider apples, I can probably get a decent idea. I’m considering going back in late winter to grab some scion wood.
I’ve only really tasted a couple true cider apples myself, as the cider apple trees I’m growing only a couple had fruit for the first time this year (and even then I probably picked them a little too soon), but I think if you can taste the acid and tannin it probably has potential. If it is still somewhat palatable raw, (like my Hewe’s Crab) it may have a decent acid/tannin balance and need little or no blending with other varieties for a good cider. If it was definitely unpalatable, a true spitter, it can still be a good cider apple but will probably be better for blending with other sweets, bitters or sharps for a balanced cider.
Also keep in mind depending on the sugar level, the sweetness may make it hard to judge the acid/tannin levels. It may not taste how you expect once all the sugar is fermented away. Get a refractometer, they can be purchased pretty inexpensively online!
I think you’ve got a winner. I have an identical looking wild crabapple here that I add to cider or perry to improve the taste. I want that dry, puckering, tart, yet sweet taste in a crabapple for hard cider/wine.
@sparty @ncguire That’s good feedback. Thinking about it some more in the context of your advice, I’m pretty confident I’m on to something here. I also need to give myself some more credit, as I taste a lot of wild and ornamental crabapples, bradford pears, etc. and I haven’t tasted one that’s struck me like this. Usually I get something that’s just plain bitter with no dimensionality or something that just says “yep, that’s an apple alright.” There’s a tree with nearly identical (appearance wise) fruit about 40 feet away that is more like a red delicious in flavor, so I know it’s not just my imagination that I’ve got something different. I also need to remember that I know what good fruit tastes like instead of worrying about how something stacks up in a category I’m not familiar with (I have the same hangups with promising mulberries I find).
Back to the apples themselves, I’m thinking that they have both Siberian crab and cultivated apple in their parentage. They have the red color and clustering of Siberians, but they’re larger than any Siberian crab I’ve seen.
Definitely sounds like you’re on to something to me! Do they shake easily from the tree? Otherwise, the main downside with crabs is that they can take more work to harvest if they tend to hang on tightly to the tree.
Make cider out of it and see how it tastes?
One issue with crabs for cider is that it takes a whole bunch of them to get much juice. They also don’t get chopped up that well in traditional apple grinders. You need to go with a garbage disposal motor set up instead. Probably not a big deal, but I’ve wondered about arsenic levels when pulverizing all those seeds in a garbage disposal.
That’s a consideration I hadn’t though of. I’ll probably just be using a juicer at the scale I’m operating at, so hopefully it wouldn’t be an issue.
@ncguire I’ll have to double check on how easily they fall. I had to actually pick them, but I think at least some were falling as well. They’re pretty easy to pick as a cluster, though, so it shouldn’t be too bad.
@ribs1 Yeah, that’s the obvious test. I’d feel guilty about picking enough to do a batch of cider, though, since the restaurant owner clearly enjoys them as well. I’ll have to graft a stick and see what happens. I don’t have a variety picked out for my second rootstock anyway. Worst case scenario, I end up topworking the tree.
Picking enough crabapples for cider is a real chore. Actually, picking enough regular apples for cider is a chore. The tricky thing about hard cider or wine apples is the best ones are probably spitters…don’t taste good.
Bitter is good for hard cider.
It’s a blending art of Sweet Apples
Tart Apples and Bitter Apples.
The% of each is up to you and your preference.
I grow Hewes Crab, Harrison, Goldrush, Orleans Rienette, etc., which are super excellent for cider and the Goldrush is wonderful to eat and keep as well. Commercial cider makers in the valley also use Golden D and Grimes for cider. Unless you want to sell your cider, almost any apple will make passable cider if properly blended.
Check the brix. It will be a good sign if sugar is near 20% I’d think. Anyway, those apples look a lot like Siberian crabs that should make an excellent addition to cider if they also taste like them. They are even good when added to sweet cider- some even like their juice straight.
I definitely need to get a refractometer. From my taste testing, I’d say they have a strong sweet component. About as sweet as the MaCouns I’ve been getting from a local orchard, and enough to feel a little sticky on the lips. Not sure what that means for Brix, but there’s definitely some sugar in there.
Agreed on the Siberian crab appearance. They’re quite a bit larger and taste better, but I’d be shocked if there wasn’t some Siberian in their parentage.
It’d be unusual to find an apple that makes a good univariate cider. It’s more common and realistic to search for varieties with the right tannins and/or acids to blend with a sweet or sweet/sharp base variety. Also, tannins can be bitter or astringent depending on the size of the molecule. As you know from persimmons, the mouth can take only so much astringency! Good bittersharp cider apples are sometimes called “spitters”, which tells you what they taste like unblended.
The fact that you will almost certainly blend the juice from this apple will mitigate the problems of picking a sufficient number and pressing enough juice. You may need only 10% from these apples.
I think @Boizeau is right – try it! My best suggestion would be to buy some sweet cider (no preservatives) from a nearby orchard. If possible, find out what apples were used. No doubt they’d be sweet/sharp rather than bitter/astringent. [I did this twice and got Liberty and Roxbury Russett.]. Press your crabapples, blend with the purchased sweet cider, then ferment. [I don’t know if you’ve fermented before – but if not, master that art before trying to judge the apples.] Or just taste the blend and imagine it without the sugar, if you can.
Also you want to be sure that your apples are fully ripe. Yours look good. But if you’re picking in Sept / Oct then you’d probably want to do an iodine starch test just to make sure that sugars have been optimized.
Really, bigger and better tasting than a Siberian crab. Sounds like a winner- Siberian is often grown for its fruit.
That’s all good advice! Unfortunately, I don’t have a juicer much less a press, so trying it in a ferment isn’t in the cards this year. I’m confident enough that it will at least be a useful blending addition to risk a graft on it. I’d definitely say these are the bitter tannins, with very little astringency.
I am pretty experienced with fermenting. I’ve mostly done beer, but I have done a few batches of cider with store-bought cider. I like the idea of the iodine test. I didn’t taste a hint of starch in these apples, but even the best taste buds can be deceived…
@alan maybe it’s just the Siberians I typically encounter, but most of what I’ve seen have been quite small and astringent-sour. The base flavor is similar, but this seems to have a better balance. There’s another one about 40’ away that has the taste and texture of a red delicious with a little more zing. The fruit size and appearance is identical, though.
Maybe there are several strains of Siberian out there because it is often used for ornamental purposes, including at one site I manage where about 20 of them were planted- they must have come from same scionwood because they appear to all be clones from the same tree. I’ve only tasted the fruit very late when it is shriveled and been frozen a few times. Not too astringent then and really quite a pleasant but tart piece of fruit. They sometimes use it for culinary purposes. The two other sites I manage that have it bought them for eating.
@jcguarneri – I’ve never done beer, but I have done lots of mead and some cider. My advice would be to get a good wine yeast, kill any wild yeast (e.g., KMB) before starting, keep your juice fairly cool (e.g., 60ish, and be patient. If you’ve done beer you should find cider easy.
I keep questioning myself on this one, so I went and sampled a bunch of crab trees (feral and planted) targeting those that are probably all or part siberian (judging by general fruit appearance and retained calyxes) as well as re-sampling the fruit of this tree. The other trees ranged from “meh” to one-dimensionally bitter or astringent or dry. They did all share that same finish flavor, to varying degrees. The fruits from the Chinese restaurant tree were definitely larger (though some others had similar sized fruits) in easy to pick clusters. They’re also juicier, better-balanced flavor wise, with more total flavor (especially that finish flavor, which is the real stand-out quality). Again, I don’t have a refractometer, but I would say that these are noticeably sweeter. Not syrupy sweet, but sweet enough to leave my lips and hands sticky. At the very least, I’m pretty sure they’d be a useful addition in a blend to add a satisfying finish. So long as that finish flavor carries through in the finished ferment, that is. I’m definitely going back for some sticks over the winter.