It's apple harvest season and if you want to try a truly tasty apple — especially one that's perfect for pie or fall apple chutney — look to the old heirloom varieties, many growing right here in the city. Victoria, Sooke and Salt Spring Island were once the primary source of fresh apples in B.C. and many of these heritage trees are still producing delicious fruit!
By CINDA CHAVICH
I’m standing in a secret garden, a pretty pocket orchard that’s home to one of the widest selections of heritage apple trees in Canada.
It’s right in the heart of the city and, if that’s not surprising enough, this orchard – with it’s 230 fruit trees including more than 100 varieties of rare apples – is also a public park.
The late Rex Welland, a well-known local fruit grower and conservationist, left his bountiful back yard to the town of View Royal and now the 2/3-acre Welland Legacy Park Orchard is community orchard that's open to all.
“Rex Welland was collecting all of the specific varieties that were growing in the city – every single one is different,” says orchard coordinator Julia Ford, leading the work parties of volunteers that keep this public orchard pruned, picked and carefully preserved.
Thanks to Welland’s generosity, anyone can now wander among his carefully espaliered rows of unusual apples, lounge in the shade of huge, 80-year-old King Apple trees, and reach up to pluck, and taste, the kind of apples you’ll never find in a big supermarket.
TASTING IS BELIEVING
If you’re lucky enough to have an old apple tree in your backyard, or a neighbor who shares the bounty, you’ll already understand why preserving heirloom apple varieties is important.
There’s nothing quite like the sweet and tart flavour of a fresh McIntosh (Canada’s “national apple,” discovered in 1811); a sweet, (circa. 1845) Golden Russet, known as the Champagne of cider apples; or a pie made with the legendary 17th-century Gravenstein. But thanks to our modern obsession with dense, sweet, “dessert” apples — the kind that store indefinitely and stand up to global transport — many of these older apple varieties have lost favour with commercial growers and are almost impossible to buy.
In fact, with China now producing nearly half the world’s apples and big retailers with strict requirements, even the beloved Mac (namesake of Apple’s original Macintosh computer) may soon be a rare breed.
Luckily, there are still some small growers supplying unusual apples, and opportunities to taste at local markets and apple festivals.
I headed to the UBC Botanical Garden’s annual Apple Festival to taste my way through apples collected from orchards across the province, and hauled home bags of Gravensteins for perfect pies and flavourful Cox’s Orange Pippin and Grimes’ Golden from the 50,000 pounds of apples on offer.
“There are more than 70 varieties here from BC growers,” said Katie Teed as we worked our way through the giant Apple Tasting Tent to nibble on a wide variety of unique apples, then stopped for a classic slice of apple pie and a sip of warm apple cider, before heading into the market area where bags of rare apples, collected from small growers across BC, are sold to discerning buyers. The annual festival is in its 31st year in 2022, and runs Oct. 15 and 16.
The annual Salt Spring Island Apple Festival (Oct. 2, 2022) is another spot for apple lovers to taste more than 350 varieties of organic apples, all grown on the island, including heritage varieties that date to the 1860’s. Salt Spring Island Apple Co. and Apple Luscious Organic Orchards, growing 333 and more than 200 varieties of apples respectively, also sell their heritage apples at farm markets and small retail stores in Victoria.
HARVESTING THE URBAN ORCHARD
The setting for Welland’s orchard is perfect for fruit trees, a sunny slope with a royal view out across the Portage Inlet. But it’s just one example of the bounty of apples growing across the region. Scratch the surface of almost any neighborhood and you’ll find old apple trees in suburban back yards, remnants of a time when the rural areas around Victoria and on Salt Spring Island, were the primary source of fresh apples in B.C. Lemon Pippin trees planted 160 years ago near Sooke are among the oldest apple trees in the province.
The LifeCycles Project, the community organization that manages the Welland Legacy Park Orchard, has tapped into this local resource, gleaning fruit from 600 city trees that might otherwise go to waste.
Anyone can register their backyard tree for picking, or volunteer to help pick fruit, says Jenny McCartney, the Tree Fruit Project co-ordinator. Last year, volunteers harvested 79,181 lbs of fruit.pounds of fruit, sharing the bounty among homeowners, pickers and local food banks.
Fruit that is more suitable for processing is urned into unique artisanal products, like the Backyard Blend cider made in collaboration with Spinnakers and Rathjen Cellars or the Totally Pitted Golden Plum Sour made in collaboration with Whistle Buoy Brewing. All proceeds help fund the harvest.Some fruit even went into products like Spinnaker’s Backyard Blend hard cider and apple cider vinegar – with all profits supporting Lifecycles’ school garden, seed bank and other sustainable food programs.
McCartney says the group picks apples from heirloom trees in several neighborhoods from the Gorge-Tillicum area, to Oak Bay, Gordon Head and even the region around the Hillside Mall, but there’s no map of the urban orchard or comprehensive inventory of Victoria’ apple trees.
“I’ve tried to estimate the number of old trees out there, but I don’t know where to begin,” she says. “Sometimes, when we’re harvesting, we look past the fence and realize that is must be part of an old orchard.”
AN APPLE A DAY
Picking your own fruit or buying direct from local growers opens up a whole new world of apples. With more than 200 varieties of apples still grown commercially in BC, plus the many heirlooms from island growers, it’s possible to enjoy a different apple every day.
At The Root Cellar, they carry 42 different varieties, most from Okanagan orchards, but also heirlooms from backyard trees and organic local growers at Kildara Farms and Healing Farm.
“Most are from the larger orchards, but a lot are considered unique varietals,” says owner Daisy Orser. “We buy farm direct, and usually in 400-pound bins, but for some, like Transparents or Early Gold, the supply is tiny and there’s only a 3- or 4-week window.”
Among the “modern” varieties, is Ambrosia, a popular new apple first discovered in an orchard in southern B.C. It’s sweet and crisp for eating and retains its shape when cooked.
The tart green Granny Smith makes a good foil for the sugary caramel in a classic tart tatin and the Ida Red produces pretty pink applesauce, intensifying in flavour as it cooks. Don’t use Red Delicious apples for apple pie (they turn to mush), but both the Mac and Northern Spy make good pies. Cortland and Granny Smith resist browning so are perfect to serve alongside sharp cheddar for snacking, or to include in a creamy coleslaw with, cabbage, mayo and dill.
If you want to know more, stroll down to Welland Legacy Park, try an heirloom apple, and learn how to coax your own trees to bear fruit.
“It’s a community resource, a place where people can learn about the wide diversity of fruit we can grow here,” says Ford who also hosts pruning and grafting workshops in the orchard.
“We want people to come to taste these delicious varieties, to walk through and pick a ripe heirloom apple for a snack,” she says. “There’s a huge benefit to having an understanding of what fruit can really taste like.”
APPLE CINNAMON STRATA
This strata is like an upside down bread pudding – the fruit, eggs, bread and milk make it a perfect dish to serve for Sunday brunch or as a home-style dessert, topped with a dollop of vanilla yogurt or ice cream. A recipe from The Girl Can’t Cook, by Cinda Chavich.
4 tablespoons butter
2-3 large baking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
8 slices rich egg bread or brioche
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
Grease a shallow, pretty 10-inch (25-cm) round tart dish or cake pan.
Melt butter in a sauté pan over medium heat and cook the apples until almost tender. Add the brown sugar, maple syrup and cinnamon and continue to cook until the sugar dissolves and the apples are beginning to caramelize. Pour into the baking pan, overlapping apple slices artfully in a single layer.
Arrange the bread slices over apples, overlapping them in concentric circles to cover the dish completely. Beat the eggs with milk, sugar and vanilla and drizzle over the bread to soak each piece. Cover the pan with plastic. Find a plate that just fits inside the dish and invert it over top. Place the strata in the refrigerator overnight, topped with a weight (a can of soup or beans will do). This will insure that the strata is evenly compressed and that all of the bread is submerged in the milk mixture.
The next morning, preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
Remove the plastic from the baking pan. Bake the strata for 30 minutes, or until the bread layer is firm and golden. Let cool for 10 minutes. Place large serving platter over the baking pan and flip so that apple layer is on top. Lift the baking pan to reveal the apple layer. Sprinkle liberally with toasted hazelnuts. Cut into wedges to serve. Serves 6.
Make one large tarte or create individual pies in smaller pans.
1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter 2 tablespoons (25 mL) honey 1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar 8–10 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and halved
1 package puff pastry dough (thawed if frozen)
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons (25 mL) milk
In a 10–12 inch (25–30 cm) ovenproof skillet, melt butter and honey. Spread sugar evenly over butter mixture and add a layer of apples, rounded side down, to completely cover the pan. Cut remaining apples in chunks and spread over top, filling in spaces between apple halves.
Place skillet over high heat and cook until butter and sugar start to lightly caramelize and bubble up around edges of pan, about 10 minutes. Then turn heat down to medium-low and continue to cook apples until softened or “confit,” about 45 minutes longer. Cool apples in pan. Tarte may be made ahead to this point.
Roll out puff pastry and place over cooked apples in pan. Trim pastry and push edges down around apples using a spoon. Brush pas- try with a mixture of beaten egg and milk, then place in a preheated 400°F (200°C) oven and bake for 30 minutes, until golden.
Cool the tarte for 1 hour before unmoulding. You can also make it ahead to this point and chill. If chilled, heat in pan for a few minutes over high heat, just to release caramel, then place a serving plate over pan and invert tarte onto plate. Cut into wedges and serve with vanilla ice cream. Serves 6.
MAPLE WALNUT APPLE KUCHEN
A kuchen is a kind of German crumb cake—a biscuit crust filled with fruit and topped with a sweet crumble. Other seasonal fruits, such as peaches, plums, and rhubarb and strawberries, make great kuchen, too. This coffee cake is perfect to serve warm on a brunch buffet.
3 Granny Smith apples 1/2 cup (125 mL) maple syrup 2 1/2 cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (10 mL) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt 1/4 cup (50 mL) butter, softened 1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar 1 large egg 2/3 cup (150 mL) buttermilk
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground ginger grated zest of half a lemon, minced
1/4 cup (50 mL) butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped walnuts
Peel apples, remove cores, and cut into 1/4-inch (5 mm) wedges. Combine apples and maple syrup in a skillet and bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes then remove from heat and allow fruit to cool in syrup.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat butter and sugar together in a mixer until fluffy, then beat in egg. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk, mixing well after each addition.
Combine topping ingredients, using your hands to incorporate but- ter and make a crumbly mixture.
Grease a 10-inch (3 L) springform pan or a 9 x 13-inch (3.5 L) cake pan. Spread two-thirds of batter evenly in pan and arrange apples in a pattern on top.
Dot remaining batter over fruit, leaving spaces between spoonfuls of batter. Sprinkle walnut topping over kuchen.
Bake in a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven for 45–55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Serve warm with ice cream or frozen yogurt. Serves 8.
GINGER CAKE WITH WARM APPLE COMPOTE
Nothing could be more comforting than warm gingerbread with chunky apple compote, topped with a generous spoonful of whipped cream or mascarpone.
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) cake flour
1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) salt 1 large egg
1/4 cup (50 mL) blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup (50 mL) maple syrup 1/2 cup (125 mL) buttermilk 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) brown sugar 1 tablespoon (15 mL) lemon zest 1 tablespoon (15 mL) grated fresh ginger root icing sugar
2 tablespoons (25 mL) butter 6 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges 1/2 cup (125 mL) brown sugar 1/4 cup (50 mL) water 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) ground ginger 2 tablespoons (25 mL) Calvados or brandy
Butter and flour a 9-inch (2 L) round cake pan. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, beat egg lightly. Whisk together molasses, maple syrup, and buttermilk.
With an electric mixer, cream butter until soft. Add brown sugar and
continue to cream until fluffy. With mixer running, slowly add egg.
Remove bowl from mixer and stir in lemon zest and ginger by hand. Then alternately add molasses mixture and flour mixture to batter, mixing until smooth after each addition.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool cake on a wire rack and remove from pan.
To make apple compote, melt butter in a large nonstick sauté pan and cook apples over medium-high heat until starting to become tender, about 5 minutes. Add brown sugar, water, cinnamon, and ground ginger and continue to cook until apples are beginning to caramelize. Remove from heat and stir in Calvados or brandy.
Cut cake into wedges, top with warm apple compote, and dust lightly with icing sugar. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or mascarpone, if desired. Serves 6 to 8.
PORK LOIN CHOPS WITH CABBAGE AND APPLES
The red cabbage and apples make a colourful and healthful backdrop for tender pork loin chops. The faintly sweet braising liquid makes a wonderful drizzle when you cook it down to a thick syrup. Make this in the oven or quickly, in a pressure cooker (or Instantpot) to speed up the process. Adapted from 225 Best Pressure Cooker Recipes by Cinda Chavich.
4 centre-cut pork loin chops, about 1 inch thick, lean and well-trimmed of visible fat
2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
1 red onion, halved and slivered
1 pound red cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into wedges
1. Heat olive oil in a an oven-proof pan with a lid (or a pressure cooker) over medium high heat and brown pork chops quickly on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Set aside.
2. In same pan, heat the butter over medium heat and saute the red onion for 5 minutes, until soft and beginning to brown. Add the cabbage and stir to coat with the butter, then add the broth, wine, bay leaf, salt, pepper and apples. Lay the browned chops on top. Season them with salt and pepper.
3. Cover the pan and finish cooking in a preheated 350 F oven for an hour. To pressure cook, lock the lid in place and bring the pressure cooker up to high pressure over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to medium low, just to maintain and even pressure, and cook for 10 minutes. Release pressure and remove lid.
4. Serve the chops and cabbage with a good grinding of black pepper, and fluffy mashed yellow potatoes on the side. If there’s any excess liquid in then pan, you can cook it over medium high, until reduced and thickened, to drzzle over the chops.