Thursday, November 2, 2017

Frostbite vs. Wickson smackdown

This head-to-head became inevitable the moment I first tasted malty Frostbite. Wickson has some similar flavors and qualities, and both make weighty historical claims.

One thing that might not be obvious from my photo is that these apples are both small. Frostbite is about 2 inches in diameter, and Wickson is a large crabapple.

But which is best?

Frostbite, known for 60 years only as MN-447, was found growing in the breeding orchard at the University of Minnesota. Only in the late oughts did UMinn decide to actually market this variety, which it does, tepidly.

The Frostbite tree can survive temperatures as low as 40° below 0, Fahrenheit; thus the name. It is also delectable.

Wickson was created in the first half of the 20th Century in California by master breeder Albert Etter. It is named for another distinguished figure in California fruit, E.J. Wickson. I give it 3 stars.

Frostbite, as seen here, is oblate, with barely detectable ribbing and a streaky crimson blush flowing around small tan lenticel dots. Its unblushed peel is light yellow.

Wickson is smaller and rounder, and its yellow peel, long, thin stem, and orange-red blush suggest (to me anyway) an oversized Rainier cherry.

Frostbite is breaking crisp, its juicy, medium-coarse flesh (light yellow) delivering an immediate hit of sweet malt that yields to some fruity flavors only to return, a bit, in the finish.

And, although I did not find it in my review sample, the end of the finish includes some savory flavor that, when combined with the sweet and rangy malt accent, suggests molasses.

Wickson's flesh is similar, perhaps a little more fine grained but essentially these apples could be brothers beneath the peel.

It is the tastier apple, delivering more malt, more sugar, and enough additional tartness to keep that on an even keel.

The malt is more clearly defined, and does not really give way to anything else, but there is an entirely complementary spicy quality as well.

It is also the crunchier of the pair, and that is saying a lot.

In comparison, Frostbite seems less intense and flavorful, though more traditionally fruity.

If you read reviews you will find people who strain to locate flavors that others find in Frostbite, such as molasses. They are present but can play hard to get.

By contrast, little Wickson's great malty sweet crunch is difficult to miss.

These are both very good, and Frostbite's parade of flavors is especially interesting.

Wickson, however, is outstanding.


  1. Thanks for the head to head. My mind is still blown every time I eat ripe Wickson, so I'm always on the lookout for anything that might be in the same class.

    1. Hey Amigo. Definitely Vixen, which really is the closest thing to a large wickson. It is a notch down, but the relation is obvious. Muscat De Venus is worth a try, it has a similar element in it, but it's not the same at all. It's downfall is lack of acidity, but it has sugar and some of that flavor that seems to run in these crab derived apples. If it had more acid, it might be a top notch apple. Another apple that has some of it is Trailman. It's no where near as flavorful, but can be quite good and it's a summer apple, which is nice.

  2. @Holly: I don't feel these are in the same league, but they do feel as if they were part of the same family (though they aren't).

    Frostbite is worth a try, if you can find any.

  3. Knowing how good frostbite is and having never tried a Wickson, I HAVE to get my hands on a wickson now! Will be grafting next spring, so only maybe 5 years to wait. I'll get back to you...

    1. @Dan: If you like Frostbite, I think you will also like Wickson.

    2. I have a Wickson in the ground for 2 years now. I'm anxious to sink my teeth into one !! I chose that variety because of the flavor reviews on some apple & crab web sites.

  4. Wickson didn't take a harsh winter here in Montana. I knew it was a borderline choice at Zone 5. I'll have to give Frostbite a try.


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