There is a saying in many English speaking countries that summed up my weekend apple picking experience. That saying is “like a kid in a candy store”. This year, I have been searching southern Arizona for new and unique apples. It has taken me to several new orchards and so far, I have found 6 new varieties and used them to make hard cider. As always, I record as much information about them that I can gather. This includes, sugar, pH, total acids, pick dates, location, and cross-sectional photos of the apples. I thought 6 was pretty good given southern Arizona isn’t like Washington, Michigan, or New York in the prevalence of apple orchards and wild seedling on every country road.
There is one apple orchard I had read about in some old information, but had not been able to connect with them. I found a rough geographic position on the orchard and using Google Maps, I identified a potential location. We loaded up the truck Saturday and headed out. I was hoping maybe they were open or at least approachable since I hadn’t had any luck with previous messages. Unfortunately, as we drove by there was no sign out front saying apples available or open or anything close to that. Behind a screen of other trees and bushes, I could see beautiful globes of apples and pears hanging from trees. I knew I had found the location, but my hope of finding it open for business was dashed. It was time for one more try so I called an old number I’d found. My prayers were answered when someone picked up the phone.
That call led to an amazing afternoon of wandering around an old experimental orchard with more apple and pear varieties than I could count. I was dumbstruck. It was my apple paradise. The owner, who was initially trying to put me off, realized how much I appreciated all the work he’d put into his orchard over the years. Here was an apple geek, in apple paradise! My wife said that it was like walking around in a fairytale. My problem was that I wasn’t as prepared as I needed for the world that had been opened to me. I needed tape, dividers, and a marker. I had to make do with a doughnut bag (yes, I do occasionally indulge in things like doughnuts), some rubber bands, and my old drafting pencil (6H) that I use to mark the aluminum tags for tree grafts.
With these Tools, we set out picking apples that seemed ripe. We first looked for trees with a lot of apples on the ground. This was followed by a taste test and even a sugar test with my refractometer. Many of the trees had a metal tag so we were able to record the names but when the names are things like Co-op#33 and CQR10T17, it brings home the true meaning of experimental orchard. However, there were also some I knew or ones that sound familiar. Apples like Winter Banana, which originated from Indiana in the late 1800s or Pumpkin Sweet, which is even older. All told, I was able to gather 11 varieties that I’d never had before. This was only a small sample of all the varieties, but some were already well past ripe, like the Red June, while others still needed to ripen, like Airlie Red Flesh, as known as Hidden Rose. So you can imagine how I felt when the owner asked me in an uncertain voice whether I thought I might come back. I said, is two weeks okay!?! Now, I am wishing I would have said next weekend. 😂 To say I am excited to go back and pick more apples is a given, but I’m even more excited to talk with the owner and learn about his research and efforts. To say I found a kindred spirit or kindred apple geek would be an understatement. I keep thinking about questions that I want to ask him. Until that time, I will have to settle for researching the unique apples that I picked and checking how my cider with it is doing. Here is the apple data that I recorded from the varieties we harvested.
Smokey Mountain Limbertwig
Co-op#33 (now named Pixie Crunch)
|Smokey Mountain Limbertwig||12.6||1.049||3.57||78.2||8.375|
Believe it or not, one of our favorite apples that we sampled while processing them was the Pumpkin Sweet. It was a good size apple with a lot of juice but it really wasn’t that sweet. It also wasn’t that acidic. What it had was a lot of aromas. It also had a pretty nice crunch and texture is a big factor for my wife and me. Overall, we loved it, and I can’t wait to go back and talk to the owner and explore more apple varieties. It will be another day in apples paradise. Some of these, including Pumpkin Sweet are very promising for hard cider as they appear to have tannins. The Lord Lambourne is my most interesting variety to try for cider. I need to find that tree again!
Do you enjoy data about apples? Check out my book, it has my complete apples data base and will provide you ideas and information on making and enjoyng hard cider. It will explain everything from making hard cider to pairing cider with food. I even include my favorite food recipes along with recipes for making your own hard cider. You can find it as an ebook and a 7×10 paperback on Amazon or a 7×10 paperback on Barnes & Noble. Click on these Links to check them out.
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