If I could only have one heirloom crab apple I would choose the Hewes.
The Hewes crab is an outstanding heirloom variety for home orchards and landscapes. One of the best crab apples for culinary purposes and cider, this deserves a place, particularly in historic landscapes.
Hewes is known by many other names. These include Hughes, Red Hughes, Cider crab, Hugh’s Virginia, Hughes Virginia crab, and Virginia crab.
This is a vigorous tree that isn’t very large. It has a spreading growth habit, and is disease resistant. It can serve as a pollenizer in apple orchards. These hardy trees bear very large crops of fruits.
Unbothered by late spring frost, its origins are unclear. This was believed to be a cross between some cultivated apple variety and a native crab.
Some say Hewes was a seedling of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia crab. It definitely originated in Virginia. It was one of Jefferson’s favorite cider varieties. This was by far the most commonly grown variety in Virginia during the 18th century. It appeared in Virginia advertisements between 1755 and 1777. Some said this provided the best tasting cider. It was also grown and sold in the North in the early 1800’s. Interest in the variety declined over time as cider making became less common in the South.
This was the most popular of all the cider varieties grown in the South. Ripening in September, these fruits last very well. The trees bear large crops late in the season.
The small, firm, round fruits don’t bruise easily. They’re up to two inches wide. These are red with yellow-green. They can have a reddish-pink blush and white flecks. The skins are astringent. The yellow flesh is fibrous. These are very juicy with a sweet-tart, spicy flavor. Very juicy, this makes a cider that keeps very well. They ripen in the fall in the Upper South, and somewhat earlier in the Lower South.
An all-time cider variety, this makes a cider that is slow to ferment. This was one of the reasons that A.J. Downing chose to recommend this as a cider variety. He noted that it made an excellent dry flavored cider that lasts well.
Hewes crabs are excellent for eating fresh. These also make great preserves. However, its major use in historical times was as a cider apple.