Choosing an apple tree

clengmanOctober 5, 2012


I'm new to the forum. Not sure what the level of interest is here for cider apples or heritage apple trees, but I thought I'd try my question here and see what info I can get.

I live in the city of pittsburgh, but with a nice-sized backyard. Along with the lot I inherited three very nice, mature apple trees. Two are red delicious, not my favorite apples, but mine are certainly better than the hard, tasteless, red delicious apples common at the grocery store. My pride and joy though is a tree that produces beautiful round, delicate but very crisp, golden fruit with a little bit of russeting. They vary from green in the shadier parts of the tree to yellow with a pink or red blush for the fruits that ripen in full sun. They are intensely sweet and tart and have a slight astringency in the skin. I don't know apple varieties well, but from what I've read I think it is most likely a "golden russet" tree. I understand that it is one of the better cider apples and I am interested in trying my hand at cider-making. I'm still in the process of acquiring the necessary equipment for pressing and brewing.

The reason for my inquiry is that my wife and I would like to plant a few more (not necessarily apple) trees to fill up the yard a bit. I figure if I'm planting trees I might as well put in another apple tree. I'm looking for input regarding an apple variety that would be a good compliment to my golden russet for cider. I'm thinking something on the bitter-sweet end of the spectrum would be good. It would also be nice if it was a good stand-alone cider apple as my golden russet tree is tending towards a pattern of biennial bearing and I don't a get a large crop every year. It'd also be nice if it was pleasant to eat as a dessert fruit, or useful for cooking or for some purpose other than cider.

My soil in western PA is heavy and a little acidic, and my lot is exposed at the top of a largish hill. Disease resistance is always a plus, but I have had very few problems with pests or fungus in my location. I've never had to spray for anything.

Can anyone recommend some good apple varieties to consider? Thanks for your input.


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dmtaylor(5a (WI))


I share your interest in cidermaking at home. I have already done literally hundreds of hours of research on the web regarding good English cider apple varieties, and what it all has come down to for me is really just a small handful of options. If you are like me, I think what you'll really want is a bittersharp apple. I mean, with the Red Delicious and Golden Russet, you have three trees already with very sweet apples, which will provide all the sweetness you need for your cider. So I think what you'll want is a bittersharp, which can be made into excellent cider on its own, or blended with your sweeter apple cider for a sweeter, higher alcohol result.

The most reknowned English cider apple is a bittersharp variety called Kingston Black. It is available from U.S. nurseries such as Maple Valley. So you might want to start there. I've never tasted it, but it is regarded as the very best for cider, although you wouldn't want to eat it fresh or in pies. Unfortunately, this one supposedly makes for a small, sickly sort of tree and is not a strong producer. But, they say it's the best if you can get it to grow. My grafts of it all died, unfortunately.

Another good English bittersharp is Foxwhelp. This one is available from Fedco and others. I have successfully grafted it onto one of my trees, but no apples yet unfortunately -- probably next year. Fedco says it is primarily tart, not very bitter, so you can actually eat it and make pies with it if you want. But should be a great apple for cider.

And that is basically all the options available here in the U.S. commercially as far as traditional bittersharps. You could also try various crabapples, which have tendencies of being more tart and astringent. Wild crabapples are great for cider. But of course you wouldn't want to eat these -- strictly for cidermaking. You could also go non-traditional, and try Jonathan, Golden Noble, or Liberty. These are tart varieties that juice well, and you can also eat them and cook with them if you wish.

If you do want to try a bittersweet variety, there are dozens to choose from. The most popular and available ones include Dabinett and Yarlington Mill. I think Arkansas Black would also make an excellent cider, as it is slightly astringent, although I have not tried making cider with it yet. Mollies are also astringent but extremely sweet. I don't know if you'd agree, but I think you've got enough very sweet apples already, so you'll want to try something different.

All this being said... you might seriously just want to plant some unknown crabapple. I know it might sound crazy, but random crabapples usually make some really great cider.

Whatever tree you get, you'll most likely want to get it on dwarf rootstock, so that it will start to produce in 2-3 years. If you plant a tree on semi-dwarf or full-size rootstock, it could take 7-8 years to start producing fruit, and if you're like me, I doubt you'll want to wait even 2-3 years, much less almost a decade!!

Best of luck to you. There's a few of us cider geeks hanging around if/when you have more questions.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 4:04PM
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Thanks for the ideas. I might just follow your advice and go with a crabapple. I remember my grandmother using crabapples (and quinces too) for their pectin to make jelly. That might be something fun to try.

I had a recommendation on another forum to try ashmead's kernel. Sounds like an apple I would enjoy, but also sounds very similar to the golden russet I already have... but if I decide against crabapples, I'll probably try ashmead's and maybe try some grafting to add some crabapples or other bittersharps, or bittersweets to the mix.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 6:37PM
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megamav(5a - NY)

Im not experienced with cider apples, but I have eaten Golden Russet and Ashmead's Kernel, and I dont find them *that* much different from each other in flavor makeup OFF THE TREE. In storage they are a bit different. I dont think you'll be making cider in December.

The thing that makes cider so great is the mish-mash of flavors.

I will say, Golden Russet makes just about ANYTHING taste like cider. We have a Hamilton Beach Big Mouth Juicer and we put in Pink Lady, Fuji, and Gala, and it was a sweet apple tasting juice. We put in 1 Golden Russet for those 8 ounces and it tasted like award winning cider.

I do know there is an award winning cider in England that uses Dabinette, Yarlington Mill and Orleans Reinette.

What im trying to say is, if you have Golden Russet, keep it! It'll make any cider taste great.


    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 8:56PM
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I'm really just guessing that it's golden russet. I wish I knew how to tell for sure. I only have web images and my mostly inexperienced palette to go by.

I wish there was a grower close by that had more varieties to taste. There are several very nice orchards close by, but they seem to stick to the modern standby dessert, cooking and sweet cider apples. If anyone knows of any places within a couple hour's drive of Pittsburgh that grows a lot of specialty cider apples I'd love to hear about it.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 10:32PM
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bob_z6(6b/7a SW CT)

You may want to check out the orchards listed in OrangePippin. Maybe you can find one which specializes in antique ciders.

A good place to find the trees would be Cummins. They have a number of old varieties. Just looking through the top of the list, I see: Arkansas Black, Bedan, Binet Rouge, Black Oxford, and Browns Apple (a bittersharp). I've bought trees from them for the last 2 years (and next year) and have been happy.

You could also check out the cider apples section at Grandpa's Orchard. They've gotten good reviews and I've just ordered a couple trees from them this fall for the first time.

Scottfsmith lists quite a few recommended varieties, which he has labeled with "(c)" for cider.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2012 at 12:18AM
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