Judging ripeness of cider apples?

windfall_rob(vt4)September 12, 2013

So this year my browns apple and my Kingston black finally have decent crops.
The browns is supposed to be a mid season apple...comparable to say honey crisp, which would put it two weeks out or so.
The Kingston black is a late seaon apple and should be more like mid October.

And yet, the browns has been dropping fruit steady for the last week plus...perhaps as much as a third of the total crop. They are nicely colored but the seeds are only half dark. Taste is ok, but I have no real experience evaluating cider apples and do not expect them to taste good off the tree. Normally if I see dropping like this one is I assume its time is come, but those seeds....

The Kingston black is holding its fruit for the most part. A few large ones have dropped. And those seeds are fully colored, but the fruit is holding quite firm.

My problem is that I really will need the full crop from the browns to press enough to fill out my carboy. I have been keeping the drops, but their life is going to be limited in this heat. I am tempted to pick the tree clean this weekend and crush the load. Even then it may be marginal for a full batch, and i am tempted to pick the small crop on the Kingston black to fill it out....but are they ripe?

Any insight or experience on judging the ripeness of English cider apples appreciated.

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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Good cider apples should taste good except they could be too bitter. The texture can be bad so ignore that. Browns Apple is a big one and my guess is you are getting early drops due to the load; it should not be ripe for some time. Cider apples need to be harvested as late as they can hang (or later, harvest off ground), the cider will be much better that way.

I would plan on filling out the carboy with random other apples if you don't have enough cider apples.


    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 4:36PM
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that's interesting to hear Scott, I have always been told that most cider apples are marginally palatable as fresh fruit.

I have been doing cider (hard and sweet) for years from random apples, almost exclusively feral or abandoned trees which are plentiful here. (We save the nice clean fruit from our orchard for fresh eating and storage). Over the years you get a fairly good feel for what makes for a good mix, and including some fruit that is flavorful but pretty hard to take by itself usually improves things...although truth be told, I am much better at crafting a really first rate sweet cider than anticipating the final product after fermentation.

But I was looking forward to trying my hand at a "vintage" batch, that was one reason I choose these 2 trees in particular as they are known to produce a good single variety cider....perhaps next year.

I really don't know what is causing the large premature drop. The tree is certainly not overloaded, and fruit is coming down even in calm conditions. Structurally the tree is having no problem with the carrying the weight. I do feel like I have seen this in some other trees during their first real crop so perhaps it is just one final growing pain.
I will say this, the Brown's apple has certainly lived up to it's reputation of being a vigorous grower slow to come into bearing...It's the biggest tree in the orchard and it must be over 10-12 years now...I am sure allowing it to self root didn't help matters on that front.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 7:21PM
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Scott, it sounds like you have some familiarity with the browns. Other than notes as a mid seaon apple I am having a hard time pinning down it ripening period. If your growing it, any chance you can give me a reference point or two....say relative to RdR which I know you grow as well.

My understanding on the Kingston black is essentially seasons end.

I think I need to get out to poverty lane in the northeast kingdom this year. They grow a bunch of these heirloom cider apples. It would really broaden my understanding of the categories (sharps,bittersweets,and bitter sharps) and their flavor profiles to have examples of known cultivars from each to try.
It would be really nice to take some of the guesswork out of our efforts on hard cider. That was some of the appeal in working with varieties that did not require blending.....seemed more user friendly for the amateur.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 10:33PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Rob, I'm not growing any Euro cider apples anymore, they have too many problems in my climate. My knowledge of Browns comes from an orchard an hour or two west of me called Distillery Lane Ciderworks. Last fall I picked a bushel of Browns there and my recollection is it was early October. It was the same time as the Golden Russets were ripening. This guy is in the cooler hills and he does a full spray program. The apples still don't get any perceptible tannins since they ripen too early, all the tannins get baked out in the heat. Hopefully your climate is better for them.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2013 at 8:43AM
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