In 2008, while trying to find the perfect apple cider blend, Bill Mayo of Franklin, Vermont mixed in some juice from the fruit of a wild apple tree that just happened to be growing on his property. "This tree right here for a long time was just an apple tree. And I started using it, blending it in my sweet cider, at the Franklin General. And we found that it added wonderful complexity to it," says Mayo. He found that hard ciders made with this apple had a dry finish, a characteristic of quality ciders. The product was so good that he sent the apples to be tested at UVM. "Out of 44 different varieties or samples, it ranked fifth for highest total polyphenols" says Terence Bradshaw, UVM tree fruit and viticulture specialist. "That’s behind the traditional cider apples, ‘Dabinett,’ ‘Foxwhelp,’ and ‘Nehou. It’s ahead of another sample of ‘Dabinett’ – the next 10 below it are traditional hard cider apples from Europe.” He says the apple also ranks third highest for sugars among his 44 varieties tested, and according to Mayo the juice measures anywhere from a 17.5 to 19 Brix. According to Bradshaw's lab analysis, the overall acid, tannin, and sugar balance of the Franklin is closely comparable to the English bittersharp Kingston Black, renowned for both the quality of its single vintage juice and for its difficulty in the American orchard. "To find [a bittersharp] that is native to the US, that we already know will grow with northern New England growing conditions... is exciting," says Bradshaw. The wild apple tree also has some other things going for it. "It's scab resistant, which you don't often find with the European types of cider apples, either on the leaf or the apple," says Mayo. And Bill's yields have been large. Last year that single tree produced more than 30 bushels of apples. Mayo says the tree was harvested in a few hours by shaking, and the apples hang well on the tree, as opposed to dropping early as some hard cider varieties are prone to do. Which, he says, will make it a good candidate for mechanical harvesting. As well as being a good producer, Mayo says this past year’s harvest yielded 2.74 gallons of juice per bushel. Since the ‘Franklin’ tree is a chance seedling tree that has been around for approximately 60 years, it’s safe to say the tree has been exposed to disease and cold winters. But both Mayo and Bradshaw say they’ve seen no traces of apple scab or cedar apple rust. “We live on the Canadian border,” Mayo says. “This tree is 60-plus years old and has shown no winter damage. It was put to the test in several winters of -32°F to -35°F.”
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