A is for apple. But B is for Bramley’s Seedling and C is for Cox’s Orange Pippin. Those are both heritage varieties of apple, and this part of British Columbia is a prime growing area for heritage apples. I think most people who haven’t spent much time around here probably think most of the Okanagan Valley when we’re talking about apples. Certainly when I was growing up in Ontario all I knew about apples from BC was the Okanagan, but after I moved to the South Coast I realized I was living in the midst of apple heaven and a lot of people don’t even realize it.
But all you have to do is visit any apple festival this time of year, or visit a farmers’ market, and you’ll see some of the wonderful varieties of apples that seldom make it into the supermarket. The thing is, so many different kinds of apples arrived with the first settlers to this area, and they haven’t all disappeared.
It’s very hard for apple orchardists to compete with the huge orchards that do supply supermarkets, Washington State is a huge supplier and very close, New Zealand, far away, but with huge acreages in apples a real competitor on price. But if you want something different than the old Red Delicious and Granny Smith, you need to start looking around. A great reference book was published earlier this year by Salt Spring author Susan Lundy. It’s called Heritage Apples, A New Sensation.
In doing her research, Susan discovered back in the late 1800’s, Salt Spring was the major fruit-producing area in BC, with the number of fruit trees outnumbering residents ten to one. Those vast orchards are now gone, but some trees that were planted 150 years ago are still there and when you total the different types of apples now grown on the Salt Spring you come up with about 350!
In the book there are some intriguing profiles of the people who are still avidly growing apples on Salt Spring, including Harry Burton, Bob Weeden and Mike and Marjorie Lane of Ruckle Farm, where they have dozens of 140-year-old apple trees that are still producing. There are plenty of photos in the book of the most popular heritage varieties in existence today, so if you have an apple tree in your backyard, you might be able to figure out what kind of apple it is. But to have a better chance at identification you should get in touch with someone from the BC Fruit Testers Association.
The association is based in Victoria but I have met some of their members much further afield. These are people who study all kinds of fruits but they really love apples and do their best to figure out what you’ve got. They have their annual Fall Fruit Show in Langford at the Westshore Town Centre also known as the Canwest Mall on October 26th and 27th, so if you have an apple tree and don’t know what it’s actually growing, take the apples, and maybe a few leaves from the tree as well to the Show and see what they say.
Because I don’t have any special apples in my pantry yet, I used to BC Gala apples to make a couple of dishes for my radio appearance today, one savoury, a great vegetarian dish, although if you want to throw some leftover turkey into it next week I think it would be a great addition. Click the link to download a pdf of a recipe from the Heritage Apples book, an apple chickpea curry.
Then I had a special request from my wife to make an apple cake recipe she had found on line at the Bon Appetit magazine website, so for dessert you get Gâteau Breton aux Pommes. And the headline reads: In this indulgent cake, apples are caramelized before being baked in buttery batter. Why stop there? Salted caramel sauce lets guests indulge even further.
If you are at all into apple cider, or interested in learning more about the process, you could take part in the Merridale Estate Winery Harvest Celebrations. October 21st to the 27th. Watch apples being crushed and made into cider, take part in a long table harvest buffet featuring pork roasted in the wood-burning over there, taste new cider releases, and much more.