The apple of Dan Vorhis eye is as large as a grapefruit, hard as a baseball and heavy as a brick.
“Bramley’s Seedling,” he says, picking it off a tree and holding it at arm’s distance. “This one is perfect for baking, put a little butter and cinnamon in it, you got yourself a delicious baked apple like you’ve never tasted before.”
Walking a few more steps in his orchard he spots another beauty.
“Spartan,” he says, pointing to deep burgundy apples, glowing plum purple in the sunlight.
“These are light and sweet and good for juicing.”
Vorhis then points to fruit resembling pears in color. “Hudson’s Golden Gem apples,” he declares, “discovered in a ditch in Oregon in 1931.”
Getting a tour of Muscle and Arm Farm near Freeland means getting an education in 60 different kinds of apples that Vorhis propagates on 20 acres. He specializes in heritage apples that have unfamiliar names, and he caters to the home orchardist. He creates “beautiful little trees” grown in 25 to 35 gallon containers that get to about 6-to 7-feet tall and produce 25 to 50 pounds of fruit.
“And you can take them with you if you move,” he likes to tell customers.
Vorhis will be at the Whidbey Island Cider Festival Sept. 29 at Pacific Rim Institute to talk all about apples — apple trees, rootstocks and apple cultivars used for grafting. He’ll also be selling small trees and apples dipped in luscious homemade caramel sauce.
Don’t know what kind of apples are falling from that tree in your front yard? He can tell you if you bring a sample.
Want to know what to do with all that fruit besides feeding friendly deer? He might have some ideas.
“This is apple growing heaven,” Vorhis proclaims of Whidbey Island. “They grow slow, have a long season, rich flavor and a lot of color.”
Vorhis predicts that soon craft cideries will be joining the many homegrown ventures on Whidbey Island. The Cider Festival kicks off Whidbey Island Grown week, a series of events celebrating agricultural history, farms, food, wineries, distilleries and other local products from Sept. 28-Oct. 7.
Nine cider producers will be on hand at the Cider Festival, from bigger well-established companies, such as Finn River Farm and Cidery to small family operations, such as Locust Cider in Woodinville.
Admission is free but $25 tickets and age ID are required for tastings.
All proceeds benefit Pacific Rim Institute, a private, nonprofit that is restoring habitat to 175 acres of Central Whidbey.
After last year’s first cider festival proved to be a hit, organizers added a few more activities, food choices and even a craft area for kids. Two cider presses will be cranking out fresh apple juice.
Although cider has been the fastest-growing segment of the beverage industry the last few years, its popularity dates back to America’s first English settlers. Fermented apple juice was a daily drink, considered safer than water.
By law, hard cider has to have an alcohol content no greater than seven percent, which is lower than most wine.
Tart apples, the kind you want to immediately spit out, are best for making cider. Once fermented, cider falls along a continuum from dry to sweet.
In an effort to stand out in the saturated cider market, companies are mixing ever-stranger flavor combos, such as pineapple sage cider, cinnamon-and-maple-flavored cider, carrot juice and local raw madras carrot honey dry cider, and of course, cider infused with seaweed.
But apples come in all sorts of flavors, naturally.
“There’s 6,000 different apple cultivars,” Vorhis says, “some taste like pineapple, others have a licorice flavor. I like something with complexity. For making ciders, a blend of apples is best. It needs a complex set of flavor profiles.”
• Whidbey Island Cider Festival is Saturday, Sept. 29. Free, family-friendly event. $25 tickets required to enter cider-tasting area. Bring identification, leave pets at home. Parking in grass field at Pacific Rim Institute, 180 Parker Road, Coupeville. For information, tickets: www.whidbeyislandciderfestival.com