Saturday, November 16, 2019

Bite Me *

Apple with streaky red blush over yellow.

In the 17th Century, left-wing puritans would frequently find themselves before magistrates for disrupting church services, refusing to pay tithes, and otherwise resisting the public order.

Then they would dig deeper holes for themselves by addressing the judge with the egalitarian "thee" instead of the respectful "you."

It is perhaps in this spirit that Steven Edholm, the originator of today's apple, informs me that the correct spelling is, all caps, "BITE ME!" including an obligatory exclamation point.

I have already weighed in on who gets to punctuate around here, but while you reflect on the merits of such a claim, let's take a look at the goods.

Red over yellow

Steven sent me two of these, small and medium. Both are cylindrical with flattish tops and bottoms and just about nothing in the way of ribbing.

The calyx is clenched tight and noticeably recessed, and inside that recess the surface of the apple is curiously crinkled.

These have a streaky, if nonetheless dark, red blush that is striking, within which small light lenticels twinkle.

The larger version has distinct unblushed patches, marking where branch or leaf or fellow fruit provided permanent shade. These reveal the cheerful light yellow color of the peel.

Biting the Bite

Bite Me's flesh is moderately crisp, a medium-fine light yellow, and a bit on the sweet side though pleasantly balanced.

Of the two samples, one was mild and the other very flavorful.

Based on Steven's own account, I guess the milder version is the typical one.

There is a malt note that bleeds a little into a grainy nuttiness, and fruit candy that does not. The fruit note is more berry-like than anything else.

The malt present early and there is a nutty, savory undertone to the entire chew.

These unusual flavors marry well and, in one sample anyway, are strong and saturated.

Bite Me is Exhibit A in Steven's argument that apple breeding is a lot more straightforward than conventional wisdom says. Consider the apple's name as a retort.

I should very much like it if the next apple revolution—the one that overthrows Honeycrisp and his brood—should be about flavor in the same way that King Honeycrisp's was about sugar and crunch.

Should this ever come to pass, Bite Me would fit right in to the new world order. At least some of the time.

Given Bite Me's malt, and Steven's California locale, it comes as no surprise to learn that the variety comes of an open-pollinated Wickson.

Steven has put the apple into the public domain, which means you could grow it if you got some budwood. He warns it's susceptible to scab, however.

That which we call a rose

As for that name, Steven is sanguine about the fate of his preferred typography:

The truth is that the exclamation point and caps probably won’t stick and in a living language, there is little anyone can do to maintain usage or convention if culture goes in another direction. That’s fine with me. But, it’s still BITE ME!

Names are funny things. According to a story, one of those renegade Puritans defiantly told an English judge to "tremble before God."

The judge disdainfully replied, "You are the quaker, not I."

It was intended as a pejorative, but the name stuck. So, we'll see about those capitals.


  1. I find a lot of variability in both intensity and character of apples from the same tree in general, but possibly more so in BITE ME! It also changes a lot over the season and it's even a little hard to nail down a peak. Toward the end, the flavor very much falls off. In general, I don't catch a lot of fruit flavor in it, the dominant flavors are the maltiness and savory characteristic. And that is not cut with much acidity, so I find that the flavor doesn't cut through other flavors like a more sharp and fruity apple might. Even though it is the lowest sugar rating I recorded this year at Brix 14 it tastes very sweet due to the low acid. I do pick up some other flavors on and off, including some spice, but for the most part they are gentle rounded flavors and easy to eat. The other thing I noticed about it is that I find the flavor intriguing and somewhat elusive and want to keep taking bites and chasing after it. Also worth noting, as I suspected from the first year, it has improved as the tree has matured and I think the examples this year were probably exemplary. Bottom line, in the best apple year I've ever had here, it was my favorite of it's season and I ate tons of them. I keep expecting this apple to disappoint me and that I'm just prejudice, but it has really grown on me and impressed me more.

    As far as the name, caps are the new italics. I'm generally annoyed with modern sensational apple names and use of anything to get extra attention for marketing purposes. BITE ME! is about making a statement to counteract the common belief (now dying quickly :D ) that you can't grow apples from seed or they will be small, hard, bitter, sour, green things. BITE ME! is not any of those things, its one of the most polite, easy eating apples on my homestead, and rather delicious. And this apple is not only the frist apple I ever fruited from seed, but it's also open pollinated, meaning that it was pollinated by insects and I don't know what the other parent is. So, it's my poster child for growing apples from seed. Growing apples from seed is indeed a risky proposition, and the very good apples are still going to be the minority, but it's not all doom and gloom as some would have you believe, and as Michael Pollan put forth in his apple chapter in Botany of Desire, a very popular and influential book. I'd like to see a return to the chaos of seed planting that created the remarkable explosion of apple diversity in North America once the fruit was brought here. I suspect that John Chapman gets too much credit for this phenomenon. More likely it was due to a combination of the selection of good wild seedlings and planting seeds to use as rootstock. Many good apples have been discovered when the top of a tree died and a the seedling rootstock grew up and fruited and similar scenarios. This is our way out of the narrowing of apple diversity by commercial interests and the industrial food model. In a model that is all about appearance, shipping, storage and profit, the true diversity of the apple's genetics is necessarily going to be sidelined in the name of achieving some very narrow set of goals. The apples that citizens grow and use should not be judged by the same standards, and this apple would never make the cut commercially for multiple reasons. It is a relatively short season dessert apple to be enjoyed locally, off the tree or gotten quickly and carefully to market and into the hands of local consumers. For more on my apple breeding project, people can check out my video playlist on youtube.

    1. And I will have scion wood of BITE ME! going forward, but have not produced any grafted trees yet. My scions are sold in my webstore at once a year, and generally sell out quickly. The best way to find out when they become available is following me on Instagram @skillcult, my blog, or youtube. Usually late winter. As stated, the apple is now in the public domain, so anyone can grow it, graft it, sell it, sell grafted trees, etc. Scions should be available for trade from apple enthusiasts, at scion exchanges and in online scion trading soon, as I have sent out a lot of them already.

    2. Thanks to Steven (aka SkillCult), for his ingenuity, his thoughtfulness, and for sending me his apples.

      Here is a clickable link to his YouTube series on apple breeding.

      Were this a blog about type rather than fruit, I would argue that all-caps is less like italics and more like bold-faced in its power to distract the reader and derail his or her train of thought.

      Suffice it to say that there is a reason I substituted fussy fake small caps for all caps in my report above.


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