American Bitter Apples

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Martin Thoburn

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Feb 28, 2021, 12:10:34 AM2/28/21
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So, I'm curious

How many truly bitter American apples are in production?  I'm talking Bitter/Sweet and Bitter/Sharp but not crab apples with tannin.

There are so many known french and English varieties, but how many new chance seedlings spawned in the new world actually are out there for sale, either tree or fruit?

Stark Bros has the Franklin Cider™ Apple promises a "game-changing" apple as an American bittersharp and Fedco has scion for Bitter Pew also a newer American Bittersharp apples.

Undoubtedly there are many other heritage apples that also have some tannin and were used for cider, but have stood the test of time other than Virginia (Hewe's) Crab? How many new chance seedlings found and grafted in the wild since the cider boom have shown up?  

A list of the ones you know of would be appreciated. And if you have some scion wood, I'd be interested.  

Cheers,

Martin



Les Price

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Feb 28, 2021, 3:48:39 AM2/28/21
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In my experience, during my tenure at WSU Mt Vernon mid 1900-2000s, I was tasked with this very question you seek. I secured some scion wood from reputed American cider varieties for grow out and testing, a few that i remember are:
Haralson, Roxbury Russet, Harrison, Campfield, Golden Russet, Gilpin, Raven. I also spent countless hours on the subject trying to find an actual bittersweet or bittersharp American apple other than crab. The results were 0. 
We were able to successfully import and grow dozens of English and French varieties, many of which are still there at the research station today. Since the main point of our trials was looking for successful bittersweets we did fairly soon reject most of the "American cider varieties" as we already had established sharp varieties. The only exception to this for me is Golden Russet which seems to have a lot of popularity so i do grow it in my cider block.

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Claude Jolicoeur

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Feb 28, 2021, 8:50:46 AM2/28/21
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Le dimanche 28 février 2021 à 00:10:34 UTC-5, gra...@gmail.com a écrit :
How many new chance seedlings found and grafted in the wild since the cider boom have shown up?  

There are a number of them...
Myself I have introduced and distributed a few, also John Bunker, Andy Brennan, Eric Shatt, and probably others that I am not aware of.
None however that has been introduced at the level of the Franklin which has been backed by the Stark Nursery, and propagated in large scale.

moo...@gmail.com

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Mar 4, 2021, 9:29:21 AM3/4/21
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I ordered some scion wood this year from Matt Kaminsky (Gnarly Pippins). These aren't proven varieties in production, but for a hobbyist / experimentalist, I'm looking forward to seeing what they produce.


I've marked hundreds of wild trees and found about 3 that I'm excited about grafting back into my home orchard—only one of which I would describe as a real bittersharp. I think they're out there and there's nothing I enjoy more than driving through the countryside searching for a true bittersweet in the middle of Fall.

Matt



Nick MacLean

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Mar 4, 2021, 11:49:22 AM3/4/21
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Hi Martin,

Depending where you are, some American apples fall under bittersweet or bittersharp. For example, I'm in a drier part of Oregon, and these are the measurements for two American apples I recorded last fall.
1. Roxbury Russet
pH - 3.4
Brix - 16.5
Tannin - 0.21

2. Harrison 
pH - 3.7
Brix - 14.5
Tannin - 0.23

These were grown with minimal irrigation, which I believe led to the higher Brix and Tannin.

As far as "newer" varieties go, I have two others to report as well. Puget Spice and "Kronebush" - which is a apparently a chance seedling from MN or WI (I forget). Both seem very promising, and I actually have a 50:50 cider of Puget Spice and Muscadet De Dieppe fermenting away. I didn't have enough Kronebush for a single variety, so it went in with a variety of apples.

3. Kronebush 
pH - 3.8
Brix - 15
Tannin - 0.34

8. Puget Spice
pH - 3.4
Brix - 17
Tannin - 0.45

Thanks,
Nick

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Vince Wakefield

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Mar 4, 2021, 12:36:16 PM3/4/21
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You may find info on American cider apples here,

 

https://pomiferous.com/applebyuse/cider

 

Vince

Martin Thoburn

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Mar 5, 2021, 1:27:10 PM3/5/21
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Thanks to everyone for the context and input.  

Claud thanks for info on who to follow up with.  
Nick, Great tip on Kronebush and Puget Space that is a good amount of Tannin.  I'm going to try it out
Matt, I ordered some scion from Gnarly Pippins this is the kind of stuff I was looking for!

Nick MacLean

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Mar 5, 2021, 2:10:03 PM3/5/21
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Hi Martin,

Just an FYI, the Puget Spice apples are small (a tad smaller than Wickson), especially when grown without a lot of water. However, they are highly productive and fruit every year. IIRC they tannin really sneaks up on you when eating the apple, a sort of "oh that's not too bad" then Bam! full on dry pucker. I can't recall the tannin flavor in the kronebush, but I recall them being fairly bracing as well. Here are some photos from last October for reference.

IMG_3899.jpg
IMG_3894.jpg

Martin Thoburn

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Mar 5, 2021, 2:41:52 PM3/5/21
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From what I read on Cummins Nursery’s new website that Puget Spice shake easily off the tree so harvesting should be easy even if small.  I’ve tried to hand pick Wickson and it takes forever to fill even just a bushel of fruit.  There is a unique crab at my dad’s place that has tannin off the chart, but the fruit sticks to the tree so you have to pull it off by hand and it usually rips off with spurs and leaves attached.  But man if you add 10-20% of that juice in with your blend it will blow your mind.  Only works at Carboy scale would not put into a comercial orchard or even a hobby cider orchard for that matter.  Sounds like Puget Spice is more usable despite the size.

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Nick MacLean

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Mar 5, 2021, 3:19:31 PM3/5/21
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I picked my Puget Spice a bit early because I was leaving town ( I would expect even higher brix as they continued to mature), so I can't give evidence for shakeability. I know what you mean about picking small apples, it's like picking cherries. I ended up doing 5 gallons of a 50:50 blend of Puget with Muscadet De Dieppe, I think it will be a pretty bold cider (i'll hopefully remember to update everyone this summer). 

Hopefully the end up easier to harvest, I plan on letting them fully tree ripen this year, and will report back I can confirm that Kronebush shakes off the tree very easily, but it has a very goofy growing habit - almost like a bush. Below is a pic of Kronebusch, planted on 3/2015, on G11 I believe. It's very small due to low water and no synthetic nutrients.

IMG_3703.jpg

Wes Cherry

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Mar 5, 2021, 6:05:58 PM3/5/21
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We have a number of puget spice trees.  They do shake off when ripe   If not harvested the apples hold long after leaf fall, making a self ornamenting Christmas tree.   Trees produce good crops, slightly biennial. It’s a bushy tree that looks good and would be good in a landscape.

We made a small batch single varietal puget spice cider a few years back.   Fairly simple, not a lot of aroma, with only minimal tannin structure and very high acid.   It sold slowly but had its fans.

Now it’s mixed with low acid apples at press time.

Muscat de Dieppe is a great blending choice.

They are also really good picked a bit early, sliced into wedges and pickled.

Finally, RIP, Dr. Bob Norton who was involved in the breeding and naming of PS, a cross between Akane and Priscilla.   He passed away early last month at age of 95.

Bob helped us get started with our orchard, including helping plant many of our trees.   I learned grafting and gained a ton of other orchard knowledge through him.


-'//es Cherry
Dragon's Head Cider
Vashon Island, Wa US

On Mar 5, 2021, at 12:19 PM, Nick MacLean <mnic...@gmail.com> wrote:



Les Price

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Mar 6, 2021, 6:16:22 PM3/6/21
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WSU Crab - 2011.jpgWSU Crab - Hunter 2011.jpg
Well I hope these pics come through, this is the first time ive tried posting any. These "Puget Spice" trees are being harvested in October 2, 2011 here on our farm. They werent called Puget Spice then and have gone through a few name changes since we found them. I too had the great privilege of knowing and working with Dr. Norton or boss hog as we all affectionately called him at the research station. Dr Norton retired soon after planting the seeds of this trial and wasnt involved in the selection, Gary Moulton was actually the person who kept this program alive for the many years it took to see it through. This is a cross of Akane and Prima and although we werent looking for a crab apple or cider apple or even allowed to officially have a plant breeding trial we were in hopes of finding a new disease resistant eating apple.
Out of the thousands of seedlings that had to be evaluated each year in the nursery for further propagation we only ended up with 1 real winner and the Puget Spice is it. Its actually a miracle that it even survived evaluations to advanced trials considering that one of my priorities for rejection during trials was fruit size. I rejected hundreds of similar sized fruiting trees just based on that alone.
Years later though we found this selection, had a very special flavor, not just overpoweringly bitter/tart as in most crab crosses but all the qualities expected in a crab at a level that was balanced enough for a varietal (speaking in culinary uses, jellies, etc). Then when it turned out to be scab immune, what more could you ask for?
On our farm, where we have been growing it since 1998, we also freeze a lot of juice in gallon bags. When picked early in maturity the pectin content is very high and the juice makes a great pectin source in difficult to thicken subjects.
As far as the trees habit, you may notice from the pick that the variety is a narrow, upright grower. Lots of small diameter, brittle branches that want to go straight up. I imagine that harvesting the fruit will depend on your location but here, aprox 69" rainfall, zone 8, its been my experience that the fruit does not fall off the tree except when over ripe. By over ripe I mean split open and mealy, they will hold on to the tree until mush. We sell all our apples on the farm as u pick but occasionally I will do custom picking for a cider maker. If they want the "Puget Spice" I double the price over the other cider apples just for the extra effort of picking.
I'm not trying to discourage you. It is an Excellent apple!!! Very versatile in uses and for cider I use it for a blender to boost other bittersweets or bittersharps that for me just turn out a little too flat in flavor.
There was varietal data on it available that we did at WSU but it has probably mysteriously disappeared like most the other trials of the 1990s - 2000s.

Nick MacLean

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Mar 7, 2021, 1:41:25 PM3/7/21
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Thank you Les and Wes, it’s interesting to get some real history on the tree, rather than the 1 sentence blurb that is copy and pasted on every nursery website.

I can see your Puget Spice fruit are much larger than mine, probably due to rain. So far, I agree with the growth observations. Luckily for me, the small size of the fruit has not snapped any limbs, despite being loaded with fruit every year.

I look forward to using this tree in coming seasons. To me, in my hobby orchard of 100 or so trees it has been a no-fus champ.

Nick
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Stephen Buffington

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Mar 8, 2021, 12:46:41 AM3/8/21
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RIP Bob, what a great guy. My favorite Bob quote was the first time he came over to my house and I said, “I don’t spray Glyphosate”. He said “yeah, I can tell”. My orchard was quite the jungle before I got the chickens on the job! Though only a year later he had me over to his place to show me this unknown disease on his apples, which turned out to be glyphosate uptake through his B9 roots. Never too old to learn new things!

Nick I’m glad you brought up terroir and tannins. Wes and I always agreed that my apples on my poor, rocky soil had more tannin than his from richer, heavier soil across same varieties, even dessert varieties. WSU Mount Vernon is pretty rich and I would expect it to be on the lower end. Also a fair amount of vintage variation in flavor, tannin and of course sugar. Some years the Russets would make delicious cider and some years not. Some years the Goldens would be better than the Roxbury, some years the opposite. Perhaps this will lessen as the trees get more mature. More consistently Harrison makes delicious cider and Puget Spice makes a fairly awkward cider, probably best as a blender (25% or less at my house, where they are quite bitter/sour).

That was the point I wanted to make when this conversation was started, seeking American bitters. As a cider blender I am looking for varieties that have great flavor, aroma, mouthfeel and contribute to a balanced cider. Substantially bitter varieties can help with this, especially mouthfeel, but they aren’t the end all, be all. Roxbury, Golden Russet and Harrison check all the requirements I mentioned earlier, though you might be flirting with too much acid, especially if not fully ripe or if you don’t want to sweeten. They can provide a pretty good mouthfeel compared to many dessert varieties and their flavor and aroma can be great. I would highly recommend, as well as Puget Spice, though they have their agronomic peculiarities. P Spice is a twiggy, low vigor, sweet little tree on my low vigor site, Harrison is a frustrating upright, mostly tip bearing with lots of blind wood, G Russet is a willowy, tip bearer, and R Russet is a widely branched, high vigor, nice tree, especially compared to the others.

I have planted some other more bitter Americans like Hewes and Yates and I’m excited to someday have enough to try them on their own, since they are delicious. Also important for me with all of the acidic apples are sweets like Hudson’s Golden Gem, which is quite rich and low acid and I sure wish I had more Granniwinkle. And of course for those non-purists the English Bittersweets are so helpful for blending in with everything else for structure. For those that don’t have the varieties that they want for mouthfeel and finish should make sure to take advantage of cultural practices, like fully ripening (sweating)  and yeast strains that promote mouthfeel (makes a huge difference). I guess I’m just suggesting you can make a great cider without fully bitter apples, though you can’t make an English style.

Stephen Buffington
Shawnee Hill Farm
Vashon, WA USA

Nick MacLean

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Mar 8, 2021, 5:25:11 PM3/8/21
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Stephen,I agree about the terroir and cultural practices having a big effect on the apples. For instance, here is last years data on my Dabinett vs some commercial ones grown only 20 miles away (with fertilization and irrigation):

1. My Dabinett (fresh off the tree)
pH - 4.2
Brix - 15.5
Tannin - 0.51

2. Commercial Dabinett (1 week of sweating) 
pH - 4.4
Brix -  14
Tannin- 0.29

Pictures for comparison attached.

Besides the obvious difference in numbers, my dabinett were the size of crabapples while the commercial ones were only slightly smaller than supermarket apples.

I also agree with the notion of growing a mix of "good apples" rather than focusing too much on the class designations. Although I don't have a ton of data, what I do have suggests trying to apply strict categories to apples doesn't work too well when we are growing traditional apples in new environments. For example, last year's Roxbury Russet numbers almost put it as a bittersharp, but I certainly wouldn't call it that. I am very excited about the P spice, for me it's a no hassle tree.

IMG_3904.jpg
IMG_3901.jpg

Nick M

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Apr 26, 2021, 6:47:31 PM4/26/21
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Hi Everyone,

Sorry to dig up an old thread, but I have some new information to share regarding "american" cider apples.

For a few years I have been following a youtube channel called Skillcult (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFZ-LGULm1gGhd3uOjiZr-A). The gentleman who runs the channel, has a whole series on breeding apples at home. His focus has been primarily on improving the red fleshed apples, and continuing some of Albert Etters apple work. Along the way, he has found a few of his crosses show promise for cider apples ( in terms of aroma, tannin, sugar, texture etc.). He didn't have a ton of scion material this year, but I was able to purchase a few pieces of some of his varieties. The one that interests me the most is wickson x golden russet cross (i think), called sugar wood. Although his seedling is still young, he noted the small fruit was woody and juicy with noticeable tannin, and considerable sugar (one apple tested at 28 brix!). Besides that seedling scion wood, I was able to get a few others and graft them over in my small orchard here in the gorge. Its too early to say, but it looks like most of them took. Of course, its too early to say if these apples will be valuable in cider, but it is very exciting. If I can grow these out, I would be happy to share the scion wood with others.

His videos actually inspired me to do my first crosses this year. So far I have done Wickson as the pollen parent with many traditional European cider varieties and a few American varieties, in hopes of producing something that does well in my climate. I also have 4 or so Malus Sieversii seedling I started a few years ago that I am hoping will flower next year.

I don't know if any of these will ever be useful in a commercial operation, but I think its a very worthwhile pursuit for the hobbyist.

Nick

Gloria Bell

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May 13, 2024, 6:29:48 PMMay 13
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well I may not have any American Bittersweet/bittersharp apples, but I have bred a couple of bitter sweets and have had one bitter sharp get a couple silvers at GLINTCAP but I guess those would be Canadian Bitters then hahaha.  I do not have fireblight here so can't saw much in that department and how well they would manage.
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