The true Harrison

Detail: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705

At the Chicago Cider Summit in February we shared a botanical print of a rare and recently rediscovered apple and asked folks to identify what that apple was.

Most swung valiantly with golden delicious or pippin or russet, but a few apple cider nerds knew the apple immediately: That apple was the Harrison.

— The Harrison was spawned accidentally (as many great apple trees are) within the orchard of Samuel Harrison in the early 1700s. The timing was perfect: The apple was born into a large and thriving Newark cider industry, which made great quantities of syder, exseeding any that wee have in New England, Rhode Island, or Long Island, as the then governor described New Jersey cider production in 1682.

— Single varietal Harrison cider was historically blended with Graniwinkle and/or Canfield apples to create a sparkling beverage known as the Champagne of Newark, which fetched a fairly steep price: In 1817 William Coxe described Harrison Cider as: A high coloured, rich, and sweet cider of great strength, commanding a high price in New York, frequently ten dollars and upwards per barrel when fined for bottling.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705 (you know about this resource for stunning botanical prints, right?)

— Once thought lost to history, the Harrison was rediscovered in 1976 by Paul Gidez, an orchardist and fruit collector from Vermont. He retrieved scion wood from a tree that was leveled several weeks later to make way for a vegetable garden. Gidez has since grown over 250 Harrison trees from that collected-in-the-nick-of-time scion wood.

— The Harrison makes an appearance in Foggy Ridge First Fruit Cider, featured in the February 2017 cidrbox curated by Foggy Ridge cidermaker Diane Flynt. Flynt describes the juice from the Harrison as:

A thick, almost viscous juice with intense apple flavor. In our orchard I taste ginger, cooked apple and other spices in the fresh juice. For hard cider I find that the flavors in the fresh juice often carry through fermentation, which is not always true for other apples, even cider apples.

— Since its rediscovery the Harrison remains highly prized and exceedingly rare, because the propagation of true cider fruit takes time. On average a cider apple tree takes four to twelve years to start producing apples, depending upon the method in which its grown. Only 4% of the apples planted in North America last year were cider apples, and a small percentage of those cider apple trees were Harrisons.

And something to watch for: During a recent trip through the American Southeast we encountered several small cider producers who are working on a single variety Harrison cider for release within the next year — as we catch word of that cider reaching the market, we’ll be sure to share that word with you.


Cidrbox.com connects people seeking orchard-driven cider with the artisans who make it. Each month we visit a single, distinctive American heritage orchard — where small producers grow, harvest, press, ferment and refine their cider — and we ship their cider to our subscribers. We also sit down for a tasting with the maker, which we share with you at cidersessions.com.

p.s. When we say cider, we mean hard cider: Artful fermentations of heirloom apples by master cidermakers. You must be at least 21 to drink what we deliver, and you will be asked for your ID and signature at the door.

cidrbox.com