Pippin season: hunting wild apples.

wild apples

A pip is a seed, and a pippin is an apple tree grown from a seed.

What’s so special about an apple tree grown from a seed? Well, for one thing, every time an apple seed sprouts and grows a tree, it makes a new apple variety that’s never existed before.* Really. All those Granny Smiths (or Yellow Transparents or Wolf Rivers, etc.) are clones of one original tree, grown from cuttings grafted onto different rootstocks.

So every fall, the boy and I go traipsing around old fields, tasting all the pippins we can find. It’s quite an apple education — every sort of texture and flavor you can imagine. This year, we found an especially good one in the high pasture behind our house. It’s a little green apple with a really bright flavor. To my taste, it was perfect for eating right at the end of August — crisp and tart and just sweet enough (I like my apples on the acid side). This week it’s a lot sweeter, but a little less crisp — it would be perfect for cider. (Now if we can just hunt up a cider press to borrow…)

Good places for pippin hunting:

Old pastures
Old hedgerows
Old housesites
Old farm roads

If you find a pippin you really like, you can take home a cutting and graft it onto another tree. (Call your local apple grower to help, or go to a “fruit school” like this one, held in Asheville last spring.)

* Remember Johnny Appleseed? All those pippins he planted? Most of them wouldn’t have been any good for eating. He was planting them for cider — for hard cider. They left that bit out of the girl scout song!

17 Comments »

  1. Herbwifemama said,

    September 12, 2008 @ 11:09 am

    OOooh! We found a stand of wild apples.Right next to some old railroad tracks (the tracks are no longer there, and they’re covered with grass- I bet someone tossed an apple core out the window on the train once.) That explains why I couldn’t figure out what kind of apple it was. There’s a green apple tree, and three red/green streaked apple trees. Kind of tart, kind of sweet. We picked a bucketful in about 5 mins and didn’t even make a DENT in the tree. And then we took a friend, and she picked a bucketful for her family, and STILL didn’t make a dent! (And we snacked on wild grapes while we were at it.) I’m about out of apples, so I’m planning on going back soon (but not today, as it’s a steady gentle rain here). I made apple pie and apple butter. And there’s a tree by the highway that I see whenever we drive by, and it kills me that I can’t get to it! 🙂

  2. hank said,

    September 14, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

    Nothing wrong with hard cider! If you find some of these trees the cider will be FAR better than if you use eating apples — there is significantly more malic acid in cider apples, which ferments out into a mellower, more mouth-filling drink than if you used Grannys or some such…

  3. The Herbwife's Boyfriend said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 11:26 am

    Yes, we are keen on the pippin cider. If only wild grapes made such good wine! We grow the wild grapes well here, but the good wine doesn’t start growing until a couple hours east, down in Virginia. Virginia wine, though, is so much better than California wine, six days a week, that I am determined not to be jealous of your backyard-Zinfandel. And if that rings a little hollow, remember that I am three thousand miles closer to France than you! Ha!

  4. crabappleherbs said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 12:11 pm

    Herbwifemama: Sounds glorious! There are so many things to be done with apples. I think I’m going to make some apple habanero sauce later today.

    Hank: Yes, indeed, pippins are perfect for hard cider. We’re scheming to do a bunch this year…

    Boyfriend: Settle down, now. Settle down.

  5. LB said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

    Va wine is pretty good, actually!
    If it weren’t for the price I would pick it over Cali wine most of the time.
    That is a subjective thing,though.
    Also, You guys have any muscadines? They make the most ridiculously delicious juice.
    We’re heading down to Bristol this coming weekend and they always have some for sale.
    yum!

  6. crabappleherbs said,

    September 15, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

    No muscadines around here that I’ve found, though I heard a rumor someone has a vine in their yard. Last year we did find some scuppernongs at the Blacksburg farmers’ market — big as tomatoes, and so good!

    (And yeah, we’ve really liked some VA wine, too — Cab Franc especially. Kind of out of our price range most of the time, though.)

  7. hank said,

    September 16, 2008 @ 10:12 am

    I used to live in Fredericksburg, so I am well aware of Virginia wine. It can be better than California wine, but it can also be truly wretched. That’s the price you pay for an Eastern climate. Just like France, you have epic years and nasty years. I would also note that you probably have not had the kind of CA wine I can get locally — much of what is exported is so-so, until you get to the really spendy stuff.

    Incidentally, I made the most amazing red wine from damson plums I picked in Culpeper, VA, and the most amazing white from dendelion blossoms outside my house in FredVegas…

  8. The Herbwife's Boyfriend said,

    September 16, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

    The most memorably bad bottle of wine I’ve ever had was from Virginia. It was an aglianico that tasted like pineapple and ham. I think it’s more the winemakers than the climate, though.

    Next year, I will ferment everything.

  9. crabappleherbs said,

    September 16, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

    Hank: Yes, we’re at the mercy of the weather here. I’m curious about the locally available CA wine — we might spend some time in SF this winter with family, so maybe we’ll do some “research.” (And damson wine? We’ll have to try that…)

    Boyfriend: Everything?

  10. LB said,

    September 17, 2008 @ 9:06 am

    Yeah, we are a lot smaller than CA and we live in VA, so here we are lucky to able to taste it all. That means we have easy access to some real stinkers! Everything good is over $15 a bottle, by a lot in many cases. That is probably cheap to a lot of people but not to me. I keep wishing one of our producers would start letting you come fill a jug and get a discount but I don’t think it is very likely to happen. I tasted a bunch of non grape wine a few weekends ago. I was curious esp. since we don’t see much at the store, wine people totally turn there nose up. It isn’t anything like what you can do with vinis vinifera but that doesn’t mean it is bad. They were pretty good, actually.

  11. Mrs. B. said,

    September 17, 2008 @ 11:21 am

    I had no idea that sprouted seeds made new varieties! That’s so interesting!

    Just stumbled onto your blog. It’s really great!

  12. hank said,

    September 18, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

    if you come to San Francisco, email me and I will give you some names and places to go that will not cost a zillion dollars…general rule is to avoid Napa/Sonoma and head to Lodi, the Delta or the Sierra Foothills (Gold Country).

  13. crabappleherbs said,

    September 19, 2008 @ 2:11 pm

    LB: Yes, fruit wines can be quite good, as long as you think of them on their own terms, rather than as a substitute for traditional vinifera wines. I really like honey wine, too. (I just posted about it.) Oh, and the boy says if he ever gets around to making proper wine, you’re welcome to come fill up your jug at our place.

    Mrs B: Isn’t it fascinating? (And thank you!)

    Hank: Oh, wow, thanks! We’ll do that. (Makes sense to me to avoid the hyped places.)

  14. SMB Weber said,

    September 24, 2008 @ 1:31 pm

    I have some old apple trees that my grandparents planted in the 1920s and would like to identify them? How can I find someone who might be able to? I have a few contacts from the extension service, but wondering about other sources?

    Also, will be putting in more apple and other fruit trees and would like to plant antique varieties. In contact with someone else way ahead on this, a big help, but would welcome any other suggestions.

  15. Heidi said,

    September 27, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

    Oh lovely! And I’m with Mrs. B. I had no idea that pippin’s were new varieties. Cool!

  16. glennwobblie said,

    September 9, 2009 @ 11:28 pm

    North East Washington State, in the mountains between the Cascades and the Rockies, is a paradise for wild apples. Along the shores of Lake Roosevelt ( the Columbia River) up to the Canadian border and beyond, there are thousands and thousands of nomadic, homeless, and left behind apple trees. Old varieties and new grow hidden in birch and pine stands, along the edge of pastures and meadows, and sprinkled throughout the evergreens.

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