Wickson Crab – The Little Apple with a Big Profile

Apple Tales with Darlene Hayes

The highway north from San Francisco winds its way through car dealerships and commercial districts, eventually opening up to vineyards, narrowing from eight lanes to two as it passes out of farmed land and into the shadow of giant redwoods. Known chiefly today as the southernmost end of the largest cannabis growing region in the United States, Humboldt County, Calif., was also once the home of one of America’s most innovative plant breeders, Albert Etter, creator of the little powerhouse apple, Wickson Crab .

Albert Felix Etter (1872-1950) was one of 10 surviving children born to Swiss immigrant Benjamin Etter and his German-born wife Wilhemina (née Kern). Young Etter showed an interest in plants from an early age, beginning his first breeding experiments at age 7 and creating a new line of dahlias by age 12. In his mid-teens he abandoned formal schooling, inspired by biologist/geologist Louis Agassiz (1807) -1873) to learn from nature instead of books.

In the 1890s, Etter and several of his brothers staked a homestead claim to 800 acres in California’s Upper Mattole Valley wilderness, at least two days away from pretty much everything. It was densely forested, so the first order of business was clearing the land and setting up a sawmill to make their own lumber for building homes and barns. They had to hand-build a road to the nearest small town, Briceland. To improve and sweeten the soil they brought in goats, though the expert at the University of California, Berkeley, had lime suggested amendments were required and was more than a little dismissive when Etter rejected the idea.

Etter’s breeding experiments expanded. He had early success with strawberries, crossing established varieties with wild beach strawberries. Though common today, introducing wild plant genes into domesticated varieties was a radical notion during Etter’s time. The prevailing wisdom was that the best new cultivars came from crossing the best current ones, continuing the march to perfection not slipping backward into uncultivated savagery. Etter, however, had not come up through the formal university system and the narrowing of the mind that can come with it. He was willing to try unconventional approaches especially after they proved successful.

It is this mindset that he took with him into the breeding of new apples. He had particular goals in mind including scab resistance, fine juicy/crunchy flesh, and an apple that would can well. He was also looking for the next great variety for making “champagne” cider, according to the late Etter champion Ram Fishman. Etter had 450 trees in the ground by 1900, eventually testing at least 600 different cultivars. He wanted to know which would perform well there and be useful breeding stock, using those that didn’t make the cut as scaffolds for grafting later on. He had a host of well known varieties, but the ones that excited him most were the more obscure — Manx Codlin, Ananas Reinette and Northfield, for example.

It is anyone’s guess when the seed that became Wickson Crab was first planted. Though he frequently described his new creations in the many articles he wrote about his work, Etter didn’t name them in those articles, and what breeding notes he may have had disappeared in the 1990s.

The first written record of Wickson is a plant patent filed in June 1944 where Etter stated that it was a cross between “Newtown and Spitzenberg Crab.” Many have assumed that what was meant was a cross between the well known apples Newtown Pippin and Esopus Spitzenberg. Recent DNA analysis (unpublished) in fact shows that Wickson is not only unrelated to either of these apples, but does not, in fact, have a close genetic relationship to any apple sequenced to date. This is not a complete surprise given Etter’s known open-mindedness in selecting breeding material, but it does raise some interesting questions. What did Etter mean by “Newtown”? Did he really use Spitzenberg Crab, an obscure variety that seems to have principally been planted in the late 19th century Wisconsin?

It should be said that the other possibility is that what Etter wrote in his patent was simply wrong. Even in well-funded large breeding programs mistakes can be made or lost records. Etter was working alone on a shoestring budget more or less in the middle of nowhere, and may well have been more focused on the end results than on how he got there. He says as much in a 1922 article on apple breeding written for the Pacific Rural Press. “Truly, if I had more time to look after this work, I could keep better records, but as it is, it is more important to the great majority that they get these improved kinds than it is as to where or how they came into being.”

The mystery of Wickson’s parentage notwithstanding, it is a remarkable little apple that from its obscure beginnings has found its way into the hearts of cidermakers across the country. Etter’s patent describes it as “brilliant red, oblong in shape, and sugary sweet, highly flavored, and juicy.” He was absolutely right, though he could have also added bright with acid to balance all of that sugar. Its small size, less than two inches across, has kept it from being of much interest to large-scale growers. But if the many examples I tasted are any indication, Wickson is following in the footsteps of the famous Harrison and well on its way to becoming the next great American cider apple.

dry; honey, almonds, lemon juice, dried apples, almonds, toasted nuts, candied orange peel; sparkling
2014 | 7.5% ABV

dry; lemon curd banana melon lemon zest green apple skin fresh thyme white flowers apricot quince; sparkling
2018 | 6.9% ABV

dry; Meyer lemon juice, honey, baked apple, toasted almond, pear skin, anise; sparkling
2019 | 8% ABV

dry; lime zest, lemon zest, apple skin, green plum, salt, VA; sparkling
Undated | 7% ABV

dry; lemon curd, just ripe apricot, ripe apple, ripe pear, lemongrass; sparkling
Undated | 7.7% ABV

Dry, Meyer lemon curd, spruce tips, apricot, pear skin; sparkling
Undated | 8% ABV

dry; ripe cantaloupe, lemon juice, lemon zest, lemon curd, apricot, ripe apple, pineapple, mango, white flowers; sparkling
2017 | 9.5% ABV

dry; lemon, pear skin, grapefruit, dried twigs, VA; sparkling
2018 | 9% ABV

dry; Meyer lemon, lemon pith, plum skin, apricot, VA; sparkling
2019 | 9% ABV

dry; lemon peel and pith, lemon blossom, apricot, dried thyme, grapefruit peel; sparkling
2019 | 9.5% ABV

dry; rose, lemon curd, apricot, grapefruit, green herbs, pear, honeydew melon; sparkling
2020 | 9.1% ABV

dry; lemon peel, lemon curd, grapefruit peel and pith, fennel, just ripe apricot, green pear; sparkling
2021 | 9.5% ABV


Woodinville Ciderworks’ Red Flesh Hard Apple Cider

This past weekend was a shining example of how gorgeous Fall can be. I hiked and gardened and didn’t forget to include cider and apples in my enjoyment either. Making apple macaroni and cheese from scratch with cider, and pairing it with cider has to be one of my favorite Autumnal treats.

To celebrate, I reached into my store of ciders from the NW Cide Club. I get the Discover shipment four times a year, and I love it. Getting to try ciders that would otherwise never become available to me is crucial to understanding the breadth of flavors happening in cider right now!

Check it out here:

My curiosity was drawn to Woodinville Ciderworks’s Red Flesh Hard Apple Cider this week.

I couldn’t find out a lot about this company aside from the location: Woodinville, Washington. The ciderworks is just gearing up, so there’s not yet a full website, and this is an early release.

I found the most up-to-date information on Woodinville Ciderworks on Facebook:

I don’t have a full description of Woodinville Ciderworks’ Red Flesh Hard Apple Cider, so I’ll be informed only by what I see, smell and taste.

Appearance: coral, brilliant, bubbly

The Red Flesh Cider pours with wonderful effervescence. Even after a few moments, a hint of mousse remains, as the picture shows. I’ll call the color pastel coral; it’s almost more a shade of peach rather than pink. The cider is totally brilliant as well.

Aromas: malic acid, woody, ripe apple, apple skin

This cider smells astonishingly like malic acid! I can definitely expect something tart here. The scent reminds me of apple skins and seeds; it’s both fresh and woody. All of the apple notes do smell mouthwateringly ripe.

Dryness/sweetness: semi-dry, but difficult to determine

Puckeringly tart acid and strong bubbles

I found it hard to tell how sweet it is! You’ll see why as you keep reading. My best guess would be a semi-dry.

Flavors and drinking experience: tart, tannic, fruity, crabapples

This cider tastes tannic like crabapples with that special juicy concentrated astringence that stay completely melded with it’s fruitiness. I find this to be a very different tannic profile than what I get from ciders made with European traditional cider varietals. This is tannic and sharp and fruity rather than austere and structured. I’m interpreting here, but that has been my experience.

One out of our three tasters found it too much in terms of acidity but two of us loved it. I loved the tart Blueberry notes. The cider has a quick clean finish. I found that the tannins build as you sip. The Red Flesh Hard Apple Cider goes beautifully with cheese like aged Manchego. I paired it with my apple mac and cheese and I even used a splash or two when creating my cheese sauce. It was wonderful as an ingredient and as a pairing. What a treat!


Cozy Up with these Cider Glazed Apple Cinnamon Rolls

‘Tis the season for delicious treats, whether you’re curling up and watching the snow fall or you’re hosting a holiday brunch. To match the cozy season, you’ll need an equally cozy sweet. And we have just the recipe for you: cider glazed apple cinnamon rolls.

Whip up a batch of cinnamon rolls from-scratch at home this holiday season and add honeycrisp apples to the mix. To make them that much better? Top your cinnamon rolls with a cider glaze for the perfect pairing, adding a unique depth of flavor. They’re soft, gooey and the ideal addition to your holiday breakfast plans — or for any time of year, for that matter.

Cider Glazed Apple Cinnamon Rolls

Recipe note: Be sure to choose a cider on the sweeter side for your glaze. This will give better structure and depth to the glaze.

Makes 8 cinnamon rolls


For the dough:

1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1 egg
2 tablespoons softened butter
¼ teaspoon salt
3¼ cups flour

For the filling:

4 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1½ tablespoons cinnamon
1 honeycrisp apple, cored and diced

For the glaze:

2 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons cider (use a semi-sweet or sweet cider)

Pour the warm water and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast on top. Let the yeast mixture sit for five minutes to allow the yeast to activate.

Turn the speed on the mixer to low and gradually add half of the flour. Mix in the egg, softened butter and salt. Continue to gradually add in the remaining flour, and then turn the speed up on the mixer to medium. Knead the dough for three minutes.

Once the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, turn off the mixer. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl, spray the bowl with cooking spray and place the dough back in the bowl. Set the dough aside and allow it to rise for one hour, doubling in size. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees while the dough rises.

To make the filling, add the brown sugar, white sugar and cinnamon to a small bowl. Mix to combine.

Once the dough is ready, remove it from the bowl and transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough to about ¼ inch thick.

Brush the dough generously with the melted butter and sprinkle it with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Using your hands, pat down the mixture. Sprinkle the diced apples on top.

Use your hands to roll the dough into a tight log. Cut the uneven ends off, and then slice the log into eight slices.

Place the prepared cinnamon rolls in a greased 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Set the dish aside to allow the rolls to rise for an additional 15 minutes before placing the dish in the oven. Bake the cinnamon rolls for 20 minutes until golden brown. Once baked, remove the cinnamon rolls from the oven and make the cider glaze while they are cool.

To make the glaze, pour two cups of powdered sugar into a large bowl. Add in the cider and continuously whisk until the mixture is smooth. Put the glaze in the fridge for 10 minutes to thicken before drizzling over the cinnamon rolls.


GoldRush – An Apple Born of Research

Apple Tales with Darlene Hayes

So many of the apple varieties that come up in conversation when talking about cider have long histories, occasionally well documented, but more often not. GoldRush is different. It is a thoroughly modern fruit, the product of focused 20th century science.

Up until fairly recently, new apple varieties arose by chance, created at random by busy insects. Although humans have for millenia been singling out and perpetuating plants with traits that they liked, the idea that one could selectively new breed cultivars didn’t arise until the 18th century in the wake of the Scientific Revolution. As science came to a better understanding of the mechanism of inheritance, that knowledge was enthusiastically applied to the creation of new and improved apples. GoldRush came out of a program seeking to create cultivars resistant to apple scab.

Apple scab is caused by a fungus. It lights both the fruit and the leaves; the latter die and fall off while the former become blemished, unsightly and unsaleable. Cosmetics might not be such a big deal for fruit that is intended for the cider mill, but if the leaf drop is severe enough over successive years scab can end up killing the tree. There are sprays, of course, but fungicides have their own potential issues, notably costs for both the grower and the environment.

It is with these things in mind that a group of scientists got together to breed new scab-resistant apples. It started in 1945 as a collaboration between scientists at Purdue University, the University of Illinois and, later, Rutgers, the University of New Jersey. Apples developed by the program are known by the acronym PRI. It started with the observation that the crabapple, Malus floribunda produced progeny that were resistant to scab. The scientists made hundreds of crosses with M. floribunda, and then with its children, and came up with any number of apples that were then released commercially.

The seed that became GoldRush was first planted in May 1973 at Purdue’s research farm from a cross made with Golden Delicious and Co-op 17, a great-great-grandchild of one of the original M. floribunda cultivars (new varieties deemed worthy of additional study were given the identifier Co-op plus a number. GoldRush was Co-op 38). It took seven years to determine that the seedling was interesting enough to pursue further and released for advanced testing. By the time it was finally introduced to commercial nurseries in 1994, GoldRush, as it was now known, had been evaluated at Purdue and Rutgers, and by private growers around the country, as well as in Bologna, Italy.

GoldRush, named for its golden color and “rush” of flavor, had, and has, a lot going for it. It bears fruit every year if not overcropped, and it’s a good size, an important consideration for an apple destined for the fresh market, as is its ability to store for up to seven months without losing quality. It has a firm, crisp texture, and what has been described as a spicy, rich, full flavor and sprightly acid, both of which are attractive to cidermakers. Though its intended destiny was the local supermarket, GoldRush has found a home in many a cider program as well, especially on the East Coast where it is the most widely grown.

That acid and rich flavor was on full display in the ciders I tried recently, all of which exhibited a range of tropical fruit notes in amongst the flavors of citrus and flowers. A few had been aged in oak, and while the notes of vanilla were a nice touch, the oakiness did seem to play down the primary fruit flavors a bit. Two ciders in the group were at least five-years-old and still going strong, all that acid helping them to age quite gracefully. For those of you thinking you want to avoid a cider with any residual sugar, keep in mind that a little can be just what an acidic cider needs to achieve the right balance.

semi-dry; pine, pineapple, lime, lemon, green herbs, honeysuckle, passionfruit; sparkling;
2019 | 6.7% ABV

dry; lime, grapefruit, lemon, pineapple, green apple, pear, ripe peach, nutmeg pine; sparkling
2017 | 9.9% ABV

dry; vanilla, pine, pineapple, lemon, lime, cedar, green apple, sweet orange; sparkling
2019 | 7.3% ABV

semi-dry; vanilla, pineapple, rose, lemon, slightly feral, VA; sparkling
2016 | 7.4% ABV

dry; vanilla, coconut, lemon, lime, wood, apple skin, pith pineapple; sparkling
2019 | 8.5% ABV

ANXO Cidery – Imperial Blanc – Washington, DC

Dry lemon lime pineapple lychee melon VA; sparkling
2020 | 8.3% ABV


Dutton Cider Co.’s Carbonated Hard Apple Cider

Today, I’m writing as I watch my cat Thistle wash her paw in the bright winter sunlight. It’s not warm, but I’m so happy to see the sun, even if I appreciate it from indoors. Many of my cider friends are traveling to (or already at) Virginia for CiderCon right now. I hope they’ll have safe trips and wonderful times at the conference; the program certainly looks amazing!

If you want to read more about this sold-out event, check out the American Cider Association’s website:

Just because I’m staying home this year, doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about and loving cider. I’m trying another new-to-me cidery this week: Dutton Cider Co.. I’m pairing a Dutton Cider Co.’s Carbonated Hard Apple Cider with Penzey’s Smoky 4S and the start of Home Fires Season 2. I may not be having the most exciting winter on record, but I’ve got cozy all figured out. My thanks to Dutton Cider Co for sending me samples for review.

Here’s what I was able to find out about Sonoma County’s Dutton Cider.

THE MAKERS Dutton Ranch farms 200 acres of CCOF certified organic apples in addition to 1200 acres of vineyards in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. Joe and Tracy Dutton founded Dutton Estate Winery in 1995 and grew up farming apples alongside vineyards. Their combined multi-generational family history inspires the crafting of hard apple cider.

You can learn more about Dutton Estates from the website:

Here’s a bit more information from the cidery about the apples and cider making.


The blending of the beloved local heirloom Gravenstein variety with Golden Delicious fashions the perfect cider… fruit-forward, like biting into fresh apples, with a touch of tartness and sweetness.


Cold pressing, cold settling, cold fermenting, and cold storage ensure that crisp apple flavors are retained and acidity is smooth and bright.

This cider has an ABV of 7.4%

Appearance: brilliant, shining, cool toned gold, tiny bubbles

This is a very pretty cider; It seems a shame to hide it in a can! I poured mine into a rocks glass so I could appreciate its brilliant shine and almost cold-toned gold. I barely know how to describe the color; it’s mature yellow with a memory of green like wheat tips. I can see just a few tiny visible bubbles.

Aromas: golden raisins, overripe apples, minerals

Oh! This cider has some fabulous power in its aromas. The cider smells like overripe apples; the notes are concentrated like golden raisins. I also get a vibrant base of minerals.

Sweetness/Dryness: Sweet

This is a sweet to semi-sweet cider. The sweetness is balanced by both bitterness and acidity, but it’s definitely integral to the cider.

Flavors and drinking experiences: sweet, green apple, bitter, mineral finish

Dutton Cider Co.’s Carbonated Hard Apple Cider starts with a splash of bright magic acid that makes me think of green apples. The minerals are a bit sharp and the acid feels angular in my mouth. The cider isn’t funky, but it’s profile is different from most high acid and sweet ciders. Perhaps it’s that this cider is also tannic and bitter, but I’m not entirely sure yet.

What an interesting cider. I like how Dutton’s Cider has of Maple with a bit of bitterness that fills out the tasting experience. For a sweet cider I was surprised by the minerality of the finish. My co-tasters disagreed about the mouthfeel: hearty vs light. I can understand the divide. Tannic ciders and sweeter ciders can feel full but acidic cider with strong bubbles feel light. This cider is all of those things.

Overall, Dutton’s cider comes across as wonderfully interesting; It’s a clean polished cider that definitely has winemakers’ roots. It makes for a quite nice pairing with popcorn and excellent TV.


Foxwhelp – The Mysterious Apple with a Big Reputation

Apple Tales with Darlene Hayes
Written by Darlene Hayes

There are a few apple varieties originating in England whose names revive the heart of the rice maker. One of these is Foxwhelp. It was a huge disappointment, then, when we discovered that apples kept under the name “Foxwhelp” in the official USDA apple collection in Geneva, New York—the source of grafting wood for many new orchards—were found to be something unrelated: a Fauxwhelp . There have been mutterings for some time about it not quite matching what was to be expected from the old descriptions; DNA analysis confirmed this.

It is a very old apple, cited by name in a number of English treatises of the mid-17th century on the tobacco industry, something that is reserved only for the best. As it seems to happen with all the popular apple varieties, 200 years later there were a number of newcomers named Foxwhelp: Bulmer’s Foxwhelp, Broxwood Foxwhelp, Black Foxwhelp, Red Foxwhelp, and Rejuvenated Foxwhelp. It wasn’t clear how closely they were related to the original, although it seemed like they all found their way into some farmers’ cider barrels.

Foxwhelp first arrived in the United States thanks to William Ellwood (1859-1946), professor and deputy director of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station (1888-1904). He was sent on a research trip to England, France, and Germany in the late nineteenth century to learn about the European trade industry. He returned with enough information to write several treatises and a set of grafting wood for some of Europe’s most famous cider apple, including Foxwhelp. Sadly, all of Alwood’s research work has been nothing with Prohibition on the horizon. He moved on to other business, and the apple varieties he collected moved to another research orchard in Maryland, and mostly disappeared from people’s minds.

Foxwhelp then arrived in 1939 thanks to the Gloucestershire Hopwood & Sons Nursery, joining hundreds of other varieties grown at the USDA Plant Industry Station in Beltsville, Maryland. By 1963, Foxwhelp was being grown at agricultural experiment stations in Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, sourced from Join in Maryland, but also independently of the New York Nursery (Kelly Brothers) and Long Ashton Research Station in the UK. In the early 80s, it was advertised in the catalogs of many commercial nurseries, although who grew it and why is not clear.

Where did Fauxwhelp come from, then? Honestly, no one has any idea. There has been a state-supported agricultural experiment station in Geneva since the 1880s, and Foxwhelp was listed as part of that group in 1963. However, trees die, orchards are moved or signs switched. It is clear that at some point when the collection came under USDA control and was moved to its current location in 1986, mistakes were made.

Misidentification is common when dealing with very old apples. The hands of the orchards change, memories fade, records are lost. If cider made from the fruit still finds a place in the market, the grower may not be so reckless about perfectly tracing the name of the original variety. This fact has been brought home again recently. Several versions of Foxwhelp were imported from the UK in 2015 after Fauxwhelp was discovered. As they were about to leave their quarantine state, they also underwent a DNA analysis where it was discovered that one of them was a completely different type of cider apple (Ellis Bitter) and the second could not be Foxwhelp because one of its parents was a 20th century apple, Gla.

Why all the fuss about Foxwhelp? Historically, the cider made with it has been admired, albeit not without its complications. Robert Hogg, in his 1886 book Apple and pear as a vintage fruitOne of the seventeenth century writers quotes him as saying. “Apple juice for strength and a long-lasting drink is best made from a young fox…but it is not drunk until he is two or three years old.” Hogg goes on to say, “It will retain its full flavor for twenty or thirty years.” The secret to this amazingly long life wasn’t tannin, but acid, and plenty of it.

It’s Foxwhelp’s acidity that UK nominees claim, even today. It’s extremely useful in the mix, adding subtle brightness even in small amounts, and its ability to lower the pH aids in stability, a useful trait for a bell maker who uses little or no microbe-killing sulfurs during fermentation.

The size of Foxwhelp apples grown in the United States is still relatively small, so there are a few examples of a single varietal wine sold under the Foxwhelp name. It seemed reasonable, then, to include some sources in England for comparison. All of these were made from English ciders with what winemakers believed to be Broxwood Foxwhelp, and they were all as acidic as ancient writers would have led one to expect. Common flavors were lemon, pit fruit, apricot, peach and plum. The example from Little Pomona takes clear smoke from its years in a used Islay whiskey barrel, and its acids are somewhat more rounded, possibly due to the modified solera in which it was made starting in 2015. One American cider was similar in acidity profile to its British counterparts, but more Generic with the most ripe fruit flavours.

The second American example was quite different. Fruit flavors were more ripe and spicy, and the acid level, while perfectly balanced, was medium rather than high. This is not particularly surprising, as one can deduce from the source of the grafting wood that the apple used in this cider was not Foxwhelp, but Fauxwhelp. However, it is a very good wine, which I was happy to drink. In the end that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? The miscellaneous name on the bottle may give you clues as to what to expect, but the true measure of pleasure comes from what’s in the glass.

Sweet medium lemon, apple peel, pear peel, yellow apple. brilliant
undated | 6.6% ABV

dry; lemon, lime, green plum, ripe apricot, tart green apple; Batilant
Harvest 2019, packed 2021 | 5.6% ABV

Oliver Cedar and Berry – Great Parton Farm Single Orchard – Ocle Pychard, Herefordshire, UK

dry; lemons, green plum peel, barely ripe apricots, barely ripe peaches, green tart apples, lime, lemon peel; Still
2020 | 5.1% ABV

Little Pomona – Bromyard, Herefordshire, UK

dry; smoke, lemon, green plum, ripe apricot and peach, vanilla, cedar, sour orange; 2015 still reaped,
Bottled 2020 | 7.0% ABV

Eden Siders – Oliver Twist – Newport, Vt.

dry; lemon, green plum, green herbs, thyme, lemon peel, only ripe apricots; brilliant
Fruit grown in Lebanon, New Hampshire
2018 | 7.5% ABV

dry; bread seasoning, ripe apples, orange juice, orange peel, ripe peaches, apricots and hazelnuts; brilliant
2016 | 6.9% ABV