Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Firecracker (Bill's Red Flesh Crab)

According to the grower, these diminutive crabapples—the largest might be an inch tall—are super tart and used to make cider.

The staff at Shelburne Farm told me that these were Firecrackers. Maybe they are, but I have some doubts, aired (and resolved) later in this post.

The apples are certainly pretty enough, though imperfect. This orchard sustained a good deal of hail damage last summer.

Firecracker is round with a bit of a classical conical cast and a slight amount of ribbing. The glossy red blush runs from a deep saturated dark crimson to a kind of orange tint over the underlying yellow. The fruit's lenticels are effectively invisible.

The striking pink flesh is, like that of many red-fleshed apples, grainy, but not at all mealy. (One sample was, however.) The chew is a bit soft.

As for flavor, they are not even as tart as a good Granny Smith, though there is a strong bitter note from the peel, suggesting the rind of a grapefruit. There is also a hint of black pepper.

To give an idea of the size of these things, here is a photo of a Firecracker with the larger White Crabapple, another red-fleshed apple that I reviewed earlier this month.

The coin is an American quarter-dollar piece, included to give some sense of scale. A quarter is just a little larger than a 1-euro coin (they are, respectively, 24.26 millimeters and 23.25 mm in diameter).

Although Firecracker has regions where the blush is darker than White's, the two are essentially the same glossy red.

As noted above, Shelburne Farm sold these as Firecracker, but compared to some online reviews these are too round and too small to be that variety.

They do match other descriptions better, though, and the online mixed bag is so varied that it could be describing 2 or 3 different varieties that are bigger, redder inside, elongated, or less so.

Although this variety can be very red inside (like an Almata), the color of the flesh apparently peaks earlier in the season, then fades, so that is one thing that can vary.

Apple Confusion

Online sources do seem to agree that Bill's Red Flesh, Firecracker, and Scarlet Surprise are the same apple. The last two of those are trademarks, by the way.

Update: Prompted by an anonymous tip, and a second bite at Firecracker, I think the online sources are confused by a similarity in names (not the trademarks, but the actual names) of the two varieties. Firecracker is not Scarlet Surprise.

My second bite is now my official review of this variety.

An article on Wikipedia says that this apple was discovered in an abandoned orchard in Oregon.


  1. I just purchased some “firecracker” apples from the same orchard this past weekend. Although they appeared similar to your example, mine were white fleshed, bland, mealy and dried out like sawdust inside: inedible. Shelburne Farm has apologized claiming these were mixed up with their Hyslop apples, and also claim that Firecracker and Scarlet Surprise are not the same apple. So unsure of what I got except something that should never have been put out for sale in the first place.

    1. I guess nobody knows what Shelburne means by all this. Including Shelburne.

      I hate to pick on them, its a busy time of year so goodness knows who it is who is telling us stuff like this.

      I don't see how this is Hyslop, though, by any stretch.

    2. I think I have unriddle this! See the explanation towards the end of my Scarlet Surprise review.

      Coming soon: a new review of a better sample of Firecracker.


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