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Homemade Apple Cider

Grow and blend your own cider. Enjoy a special treat on a cold day!

Cider apples
Cider apples may not look pretty, but they have intense flavors.

The most special tree in my family’s apple orchard grew alone in the nearby pasture. It was a wild apple tree with old and gnarly branches. The apples were small but their flavors were intense. We called it “The Cider Tree.”

We mixed apples from this wild tree with our ‘Honeycrisp’ and ‘Honeygold’ apples to make a sweet cider that was rich and flavorful.

Homemade apple cider is delicious! There is nothing better on a cold day in winter. After sliding down snowy hills or shoveling snow as a boy, I can recall the aroma of hot cider in the kitchen and the warmth of the mug comforting my frigid fingers. 

You can grow your own cider (sweet or hard). It’s one of the most popular trends in fruit growing today.

Cider trees can be ordered now for 2019. There is a shortage of cider apples in the USA and many cultivars of cider trees will be sold out before spring. You won’t find these trees at your local nursery. They need to be ordered from fruit nurseries as bareroot trees. A sampling of nurseries includes Cummins, Fedco, Grandpa’s Orchard, Maple Valley, Raintree, Stark Bros. and St. Lawrence.

Mug of apple cider
A mug of hot apple cider is a special treat on a cold day.

Know your Hardiness Zone (3 or 4). Standard rootstocks are usually used in Zone 3. Semi-dwarf rootstocks are often used in Zone 4 because they bear crops earlier (4 years compared to up to 8 years for standard rootstocks). 

Russet cultivars are known for their sandpaper skin, sweet flavor and outstanding cider. The hardiest russet is ‘Minnesota 1734’. Other good cidermakers for Zone 3 include ‘Whitney’ and ‘Chestnut’ crabapples and ‘Frostbite’ apple. ‘Frostbite’ is a grandfather of ‘Honeycrisp.’

Gardeners in Zone 4 have additional options. ‘Golden Russet’ has been called the “champagne” of ciders. ‘Redfield’ has red flesh that will make your cider turn blood red. Wow!

‘Ashmead’s Kernel’ is famous for its pear-like flavor and rich aroma. ‘Liberty’ resists diseases and is easy to grow. ‘Cortland’, ‘Yarlington Mill’ and ‘Fameuse’ will make great cider.

If you have room for a cider tree, I encourage you to try one. It will fill your home with warmth and wonderful memories.

Written by Tom Kalb, Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University.

Sources: Online catalogs of Cummins, Fedco, Grandpa’s Orchard, Maple Valley, Raintree, St. Lawrence and Stark Bros. nurseries. Accessed September 2018.

Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: Rebekah Dickman and wiki.how.com.

The information given herein is for educational purposes only. References to commercial products, trade names or nurseries are made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by North Dakota State University Extension is implied.

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