Two apple taste tests

This year we had two opportunities to hold apple taste tests. The first was on September 19, and the second on October 7. Each time we asked participants to rate apples individually on a scale of 1 to 5, considering flavor, sweet/tart balance, complexity, aroma, texture, and juiciness. Then participants were asked to pick their top three favorites, assigning them 1, 2, or 3. All apples were grown in our orchard. About a dozen people participated each time.

In September, the top finisher in both categories was Autumn Crisp. On the 1-5 scale, Autumn Crisp also had the highest score at 3.6. It picked up the most votes for #1 apple.

On average score, the apples finished in this order:
Autumn Crisp
Connell Red
Striped Harvey
Kidd’s Orange Red
Hubbardston Nonesuch
Steepslope Redstreak (a wild apple growing in our woods)

There were strongly differing opinions among the participants. In addition to Autumn Crisp, other apples garnering votes for #1 were Liberty, Mother, Kidd’s, Striped Harvey, Macoun, Hubbardston Nonesuch, and Connell Red. Even though Hubbardston and Liberty received #1 votes, they were among the lowest scoring in average rating.

The results the October apple taste test included some of the same apples, but many later ripening varieties. There was a much closer consistency among these participants. The clear winner was the Northern Spy.

Northern Spy garnered a 4.75 in the average rating and was picked most often as #1 favorite apple. Other apples getting an average of 4 or above were Starkey, Macoun, and Chestnut Crab. Autumn Crisp, the previous top finisher, finished nearly last.

Northern Spy
Tompkins King
Chestnut Crab
King of Pippins
Autumn Crisp
Wassail (another wild apple tree on our property)
Roadside Jonagold (a tree that may or may not be a real Jonagold)

There was much more consistency in the second taste test for top favorites. Only two apples received votes for #1: Northern Spy and Starkey. Macoun received no #1 votes, but did get the second most votes for Win, Place, or Show.


I like your sense of name-giving: Steepslope Redstreak & Wassail. I checked to see that Wassail was not a name already in use on Nick Botner’s list (most complete in my possession.) Looks like your name choice is legit!
There seems little chance of Steepslope being redundant.

Interesting to find Connell rating so high early in the season, as I grafted it this year. My climate is so different from its homeland, where lakes abound and humidity is high, I hope it will still pack some flavor.

So very glad to see that some of the apple varieties I grow made your top list (Macoun, Kids orange, Northern Spy). Connell Red came from the Tom Connell orchard in Western WI. I have been there. Very popular variety in Minnesota and in Western WI. I have some bare-root Connell Red’s ordered for next year.

Years ago I grew Connell Red at one of the orchards I worked at. I would thin them to 12" apart in June. They got so big that sometimes they were too big to eat for just one person! Neat orange blush to the sunny side of the apple when ripe.

I wish I had chestnut. Tried to order them for the nursery I work at but was unable to convince co-workers that it really is a great tasting crabapple. It was deemed a no sell much to my dismay. Sometimes it is hard to educate people that some of these old or unusual varieties really are something to savor.


Wassail was so named because we use it for our Old Twelfth Night wassail celebration. Apples from it have been dropping for a couple weeks, but fruit on it only now is getting ripe. Interesting about different people’s taste buds. Most find it too tart, but one friend last year likened it to watermelon-flavored Jolly Ranchers.

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Lodidian: Sounds like Wassail keeps well enough into the first half of January. Softens/sweetens in storage?

BTW, good to know Connell can be a winner. I grafted it onto D’Arcy Spice (which is low vigor and stands on Bud118) to act as an interstem and check Connell’s vigorous growth. The Bud118 roots have stood in the same place 8 years, so Connell threw three leaders, all up to 6 1/2 feet, in one season. I’ll need to trim two of 'em away in spring to create a central leader bush - although the height gained makes me wonder if it may eventually grow bigger than Rambour Franc (another high vigor) on Geneva30.

We used up the last of the Wassail apples in our last cider pressing in late October. It has sweetened in storage, but to my taste, not all that much.

Macoun is our state apple but the “good” timeline is very short here. When it is perfectly ripe it is a “good” apple to me but not a great apple. Then it gets mealy after that very quickly. I am glad it does well in your location. I agree about the Northern Spy being a great apple. I have one young tree and I have had only one apple this year and last year. However, it was delicious and so tasty. Maybe next year I will have more apples, like two!!

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I have a Macoun (M7) that’s been in the ground for two seasons, I hope to get something off of it in a couple of years, I think it’s still too small to do any fruiting next season. It has its own unique growing habit, that’s for sure.

What did your Northern Spy taste like? I know a sample of size of one isn’t enough, but I’m curious. Mostly because I planted a Novaspy last year, which is a NS and Golden Delicious cross developed in Canada.

I got it because it sounded interesting and has a good lineage. But, I don’t know if anyone on the forum grows it. It has put on some decent growth (on G16), but I’m not sure it’s ready just yet to produce.

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I really like the taste of the Northern Spy apple. It tastes likes apples did when I was a kid. Not that my parents ever bought Northern Spy apples in a store. Probably ones I had “borrowed” off the neighbors trees that had fallen on the ground. Somehow that is what they remind me of. They are very pretty apples as well. Deep red. I would buy them from a local fruit farm for a number of years. They had issues with their not producing ( they never said why) for a couple of years so I planted my own. I think that orchard was going through ownership/selling the farm so to speak issues and they were pulling out a lot of older standard trees and planting newer varieties on smaller rootstocks- Honeycrisp, IdaReds, Galas, etc… Things people were more into at that time. Now I think the swing is back towards older varieties.
I am not sure about the NovaSpy apple. I am leery of any hybrids with a Yellow Delicious as one of its parents. The Golden Delicious is horrible with scab if not sprayed often and very thoroughly. I only have G Delicious scattered among my trees as pollinators until my regular apple trees get bigger. I maybe wrong about the Nova Spy apple. I hope it does not get scab. At least here it is a big problem with as much rain, humidity, and temp swings we get. In Canada, where it was developed, it may not be a scab problem.


I agree aboutNorthern Spy having an old-fashioned taste. It is much tarter than most modern apples. I like its complexity. One of the tree’s challenges is it is definitely the opposite of precious, although on B9, ours first produced after 5 years. Mike, I’m wondering if your Spy was a Red Spy, sport of the original Northern Spy, which has several shades of red, but often more pale yellow and green.

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Novaspy is supposed to be a disease resistant version of N Spy and more precocious. Says here it’s very resistant to fireblight and has good resistance to scab.

@Lodidian, regarding Red Spy, the orchard we frequent in central KY, grows this variety. But they only have a few trees, and we’ve never been there at the right time to try one. I wanted to sample one to see what my Novaspy might taste like. Guess we’ll see in a couple years for any off of our tree. I don’t think it’s ready to produce yet.

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I am glad it has good scab resistance. In SW Ohio we get such hot/humid/damp conditions the scab can be pretty bad at times. Different years not too bad. I hope that the Novaspy does well for you. I’ve never tasted one from around here. Keep us informed as to how well it does and how it tastes for you and your family.

The NSpy I have completely red, remember I only had one apple to grow the last two years, but had a tiny bit of yellow at the stem. The remainder was very red, and delicious! The nursery I bought it from only had NSpy and no other variations or sports listed.

In conjunction with the Ithaca Apple Festival, we participated in Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Showcase of Agriculture. We brought only selective types of produce and sold lots of garlic and some apples.

One of my complaints about previous Apple Fests was that there were no actual apple-related activities. Therefore, when we became part of the Apple Festival, we offered an apple tasting survey of the nine varieties we brought. Fifteen surveys were completed, some completed by multiple people together, so more than two dozen people participated. Many others sampled apples, but did not have the time or mind to taste and evaluate all nine varieties in writing.

We asked people to rate each apple from 1 to 10. In another column, they were to select in order their top three favorite apples, In a third column, they could offer comments about the apples.

These were the apples we included:

Chestnut Crab

Connell Red

Grimes Golden







Almost no one had heard of any of the nine other Jonagold and Macoun.

The results are in.


The highest rated was Smokehouse with 8.4.

In second with 8.15 was Hubbardston Nonesuch.

Grimes Golden finished at a close third with 8.1.

Chestnut Crab was fourth at 7.9.

I picked Connell Red too soon for it to mellow into its glory, so it was tarter and less flavorful than they should be in a couple of weeks. Even so, someone called it sweet and another compared it to Red Delicious.

I picked Mother too late, and it was not as crisp as it had been in prior tests, when it finished much higher overall. Someone split their rating and gave it 10 for flavor and 2 for texture.


Every variety received at least one vote for First, Second, or Third. The overall winner in in my weighted ranking was Hubbardston, followed by Smokehouse, followed by Grimes. Macoun and Chestnut Crab tied for fourth. Oddly, Smokehouse received the most votes, but was given no No. 1. ranking.

If money speaks, Grimes won. We sold more Grimes than any other variety. Hubbardston was next, and Northfield Beauty sold better than several higher rated varieties.

These were a few of our favorite comments:

Smokehouse: Yummy. Harry Potter [rated 9 and 3/4]

Chestnut Crab: Ineffible [sic]

Hubbardston: tannic, lemony

Jonagold and Smokehouse: easy to eat

Chestnut: Not what you’d expect from a crab

Jonagold: soft flavors [explained as full of competing flavors but mild overall]

Connell Red, from three different people: tart, sweet, bitter

Northfield Beauty: WOW


Love the test tasting! Do you plan to do a taste test with the late fall apples too?

Sad to think about a Apple festival with no apple activities especially with Cornell involved.

Lots of normal folks seem to be interested in exploring apple varieties. I’m surprised that a lot more apple tastings don’t occur during events all over the country.

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We usually do a few a year. We will do one at a cider pressing party we host later in October after Northern Spies have been picked. NoSpy almost always wins.


:smiley: You heard what I was thinkin’.

There was an old orchard tended by an old bachelor who had graduated from Purdue in the early 1900s just outside my little hometown in west central Indiana, and he had some kind of spy. My folks would buy “falls” to chop up for cooking and then feed the scraps to the chickens.

I don’t taste anything much any more, but I remember tastes, and I remember the tastes of the apples from that orchard. I have Northern Spy in my backyard, now, and it reminds me (dimly) of those days.

Like @Lodidian said, it took Northern Spy on B9 a long time to come into production for me. It hasn’t yet been what I’d call a reliable cropper, but, out of about 25 different varieties that I grow samples of, it does stand out. It’s a late-maturing one, and I’ve had my doubts whether I should leave it on the tree to ripen or bring it in anyway before it freezes.

Odious comparison: Like Wolf River, it’s best in baking. Northern Spy has normal size and density, though, and is not so huge, fluffy, and absorbent as Wolf River.

More odious comparisons: Northern Spy doesn’t get as sweet as the kind of Fireside I have, but both are good keepers. Northern spy doesn’t have the anise overtone that Milo Gibson has, but I imagine it holds its own as a cider apple just as well.


like I’ve said on a few other posts, most of the ol’ timers here wouldn’t even consider picking a fall apple unless it got hit by at least a few frosts first. they claimed the frosts ‘‘sweetened’’ the apples. there are a few places i get my corts and macs and I’ve got to say they are right. but it could be because our short cold growing season, that the longer on the tree the better. might be something to experiment with, leaving a few apples on to see how it turns out for you.


Can you please post the results of the taste testing on the late apples?

I have heard many folks compliment Northern Spy. I would love to try one but I have never seen one in Va or NC.

Monticello used to have excellent Apple tastings hosted by Tom Burford. Some different varieties than your area. Sometimes the tests matched fresh apples against apples from refrigerated storage which I did not think was a fair comparison. Grimes from storage against Goldrush from the tree for example.

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I wish we knew where you were at the Apple Fest. We were there yesterday. We’d have visited you.
Aside from a few apple stands, most were food stalls, apple cider/wine at the Festival. I did not buy any apple at the festival.

I bought the ones I was interested in at the farmer’s market next to the lake. This grower had several interesting apple varieties for sale. I bought Cox’s Orange, Sweet 14, Hudson’s Golden Gem and Freyburg from him and will do a taste test tomorrow.

I still did not understand why the lines at the two cider donut stalls were so long. I like cider donuts but I’d not wait 30-40 people deep in line to buy them!!

We plan to go to the Apple Fest again next year. Maybe, we’ll see you then.