Winter Apples

bberry_gwNovember 8, 2006

In colonial days each little farm in the cold north had a winter apple tree that the apples would never ripen on but would be put into storage and ripen there. I have one of those old timers and it produces loads of large fruit that are great for cooking and not bad fresh after storage. Any other time they are sour and hard as a rock. They need to have several very hard frosts and are actually frozen briefly. They bounce back and then can be put into storage. I am wondering if some of the late apples like fuji and pink lady might react similarly and ripen in storage. Anyone out there in the north have these apples and actually get something out of them? Any other thoughts on this concept of ripening apples in storage.

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Alas, Fuji, Pink Lady, and most supermarket varieties will never be as good as they were on the tree, and start degrading the moment you pick them. Their corpse is kept in suspended animation in atmospherically controlled storage, and they decompose quickly when taken out.

True winter keepers as you mention were valuable to those in the South that didn't have cold winters. The champ is Terry Winter, which kept well without refrigeration for months and still were good for fresh eating.

There are some apples that improve dramatically in storage. Esopus Spitzenburg is mediocre off the tree, but much better after three months on the shelf. Arkansas Black is inedible off the tree, but softens up after a few months (but doesn't approach Esopus Spitzenburg).

You have to wonder why some of these aren't marketed- probably because they're small, russeted, or ugly. Do you have any idea of what variety you have?


    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 9:44PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

My theory about the demise of the keepers is that the advent of CA storage allowed growers to produce only apples they could sell either right away OR later in the winter - kill two birds with one stone kind of thing. A winter apple could only be sold later and so provided less flexibility. Also the "new" apples that were being put in CA storage such as Red Delicious were commanding more money (compare the Pink Lady vs Red Del today for example - back then it was the same deal except Red Del was on the top and not the bottom of the heap). So: why would any sane grower keep a tree of a winter apple which they could not sell to stores right away, and which is commanding a much lower price anyway? Once the "keepers" got to be unfashionable even people with backyard orchards wanted Red Delicious and other then-trendy varieties.

Applenut, I would not agree with your comment that supermarket varieties degrade from the moment you pick them. Most apple varieties are improved with some mellowing time after picking. I find store Fujis around here are nearly always under-aged and I let them sit for a week or so if I want a good taste.


    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 11:04AM
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I am more or less in the Scott camp here. I regard Fuji as near the top for apple quality, and it is one of best keeping apples I grow. I have had Fujis keep with excellent quality till late February in an extra refrigerator I keep in the basement. And a refrigerator is not perfect storage for apples.

You have to define your storage. It is a humid outdoor rootcellar, or a refrigerator like mine? Stored apples like low temperature, but also high humidity to prevent shriveling. I keep an electronic thermometer/humdity indicator in the refrigerator, and while I can easily keep the temperature at 34 or below, humidity normally runs about 35% or less. Ideally, humidity would be closer to 70%. And there is nothing I can do about it. Even if you put pans of water in the refrigerator, the modern, self-defrosing refrigerator will simply condense that moisture on the cooling coils, freeze it, then melt it off twice a day when the defrost timer applies heat. At that point, the moisture runs out the bottom and evaporates into the atmosphere. One way to get around the humidity problem, if you bag your apples in ziplock sandwich bags as I do, is to leave the fruit in the bags when you store them.

A real, underground root cellar (which practically no one has any more) might keep the temperature somewhat higher, but the humidity level would be close to ideal.

Finally, bberry, I think your focus on varieties like Fuji or Pink Lady is misplaced. Any apple has to reach a certain level of maturity before it acquires the sugars and flavor necessary to go into storage, and these long-season apples will not do that in Maine. You would be better off turning your attention to the many fine apple varieties that can be grown well in Maine, such as Northern Spy, Black Oxford, Sweet Sixteen, Spartan, Honeycrisp, and so many others. The places for you to shop for apple tree stock are nurseries like Cummins in Geneva, NY, Fedco Trees of Maine, and St. Lawrence Nursery of Potsdam, NY. These nurseries sell varieties that are well adapted to your climate.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 1:01PM
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Thanks Guys,
Your insights have been very helpful. Unfortunately I already have the Fuji. It may not do much here. I do have the honeycrisp and am looking forward to having a couple more. At one time maine was the largest shipper of apples in the nation. The varieties that have been lost number in the hundreds. Some continue to grow but no one knows what they are. I have a few of those old trees that I am slowly bringing back by pruning and grafting. Skills that I have learned by trial and error and from you guys. This is a good forum to learn on. I will try to post pics of the winter apple. It was an old tree when we moved here in 1960. It has always had a good crop even without care. After they sweeten up I make large amounts of crisp apple chips and add a little nutmeg and cinnamon to the jar. Very nice during our long cold winter.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 9:30PM
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geraldo(Cent. WA z6b)

There are varieties of Fuji that mature about one week after Honeycrisp. They don't keep as long as a common Fuji, but they do taste like Fuji.
Interesting, just today I was thinking of a rootcellar for apples. Probably because I was standing in a big hole about four feet deep repairing a six inch irrigation pipe.
I remember root cellars from when I was young. A good rootcellar would be a fine thing to have. I wonder how much it would actually have to be dug back into the hill. I mean, how much of the roof could be exposed, so to speak.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 1:55AM
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Looks like you have a lot of different fruit. I have a friend that lives here now that is from Wenatchee. He also worked in the fruit business there for many years including your state research station. Fruit here can be problematic because of the insect pests and deseases. Since I have all of the equipment for the commercial growing of wild blueberries I would like to expand into other fruits. Plums do well here for the most part. I am experimenting with oriental pears and hope to hear from others in my area growing different fruit. Even peaches(reliance) will grow here. I am excited about growing some of the hardy sweet cherries. Do you have any suggestions on what might be the hardiest fruit to grow in my area.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 6:59AM
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geraldo(Cent. WA z6b)

I don't know, bberry, I would think it best to consulate with extension agents and such in your area. Get out and talk to everyone in your area. I will say this, though, be very careful about other people telling you that something can't be grown in your area, unless they can actually show it to you. It is best to just try it yourself and see. Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are not right.
There are three varieties of apple that "experts" continually tell me don't do well here. I have grown them successfully enough for over ten years; one for thirty.
I have never grown Tieton cherry on my place, but I know it would be a dud variety for me.
Just plant a bunch of stuff. One or two trees of each.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2006 at 1:29PM
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I agree with geraldo. Almost every apple book I read says that Southern California is too warm to grow apples, that we don't get enough chilling hours (250-400). If I had listened to them, I would have missed out on some great apples.

Push the envelope and don't be afraid to fail now and then.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 11:56AM
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heart_of_a_tree_2(z4 WI)

We have a Scott Winter apple tree. It is an old Vermont seedling we got from St. Lawrence Nursery in Potsdam. We planted the tree in Spring of 05 and last year we havested a 1\2 dozen apples and this year approximately 1/2 bushel.
It bears at a young age and is very prolific. We made a pie tonight and found it to be similiar to a Dutchess for cooking. It is tart and melting if you like that kind of cooking apple. We found it to be better than a Dutchess for it's lovely bouquet and spiciness. We rate this apple with the best for mid-season and cooking. We have other old varieties. Does anyone know about Liveland Raspberry apples?

    Bookmark   September 14, 2007 at 10:47PM
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wetclayz5(z5 Ohio)

There really are some strange and uncommon apple varieties, like some of the old cider aple varieties that are almost extinct.

Just one serious comment - fuji's as the ideal apple ? No way! Fuji's like some other japanese apples are all sugar with low flavor, no acidity. I find them obnoxiously bland & sweet. The NZ braeburns are a much better apple along the same lines IMO. Both have excellent crisp texture, the braeburns have plenty of sweetness without the candy-like levels of sugar in fuji. The brae's have some flavor and a good acidity.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2007 at 11:41AM
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geraldo(Cent. WA z6b)

heart: if you are talking about Dutchess of Oldenburg then any apple will be superior to it.
wetclay: finally someone who somewhat agrees with my perspective on Fuji. I like it, but the high sugar is its main positive attribute. Well, it stores well and is easy to grow. New Zealand Braeburns can't hold a candle to the Braeburns I grow. I let them hang a long time. Fortunately we don't have to settle for one apple and can have many. My ideal apple this week is Sonata. Last week it was Honeycrisp. Next week it will be Empire. At Thanksgiving it will be COP. In January it will be Pink Lady. etc., etc.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2007 at 8:38PM
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heart_of_a_tree_2(z4 WI)

wet clay: Dutchess of Oldenburg is a wonderful apple and I would put it up to a pie baking contest anyday and also the Scott Winter. I also find Paula Reds to be great for pies too. As far as eating apples there are plenty of old varieties that are not commonly grown any longer that are fantastic.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2007 at 9:02AM
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Does anyone know of a winter hardy apple (zone 3b) which will hold its fruit into December?

    Bookmark   November 8, 2007 at 1:25PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

I also don't care for Fuji. My wife's favorite apple is Granny Smith!!! I love a "good" McIntosh the best. Too bad that once the season gets under way, they turn to mush pretty quickly.

Interesting discussion here.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2007 at 5:55PM
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Our winter apples can last into Dec but that is variable since we can have them freeze solid for a few days. After that they will go bad quickly. I find it amazing that they can freeze solid overnight and thaw to become normal and still crunchy. This year they are riddled with maggots which is not typical. I sprayed but apparently not enough. Many of the late wild apples were blown off this year by the recent hurricane. We also have the duchess and find it very early here. It has about a 2 day window when it is good. It has been very prolific though. I do hope to have a good sized root cellar soon. With a minimum usage of energy one might be able to keep fruit for much longer.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2007 at 7:30PM
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alan haigh

I don't think a discussion of winter apples is complete without the mention of Goldrush. If you keep this apple from shriveling it becomes an absolute world class tart to sweet-tart in about six weeks of storage and holds it's crispness for several months even in a root cellar.
I manage a couple hundred varieties of new and heirloom varieties and nothing surpasses this one to me. It can obtain about 19% soluble solids- same as Fuji but has the acids to make it interesting.
Unfortunately this won't help our friend up north. I've got just enough growing season to ripen it here. He should try all of the releases from the Minnesota breeding program. Two were already mentioned but Zestar and Snowsweet were not.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2007 at 3:51PM
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