One of my earliest childhood memories is looking out the bathroom window one morning and seeing the trees at the back of our property suddenly covered in delicate pinky-white blossoms where there had been bare branches before. It seemed a miracle, to that wee little girl I once was.
We had a small orchard of about 20 trees: mostly apple, along with a couple cherry trees where the birds got most of that fruit at the end of season, despite my father’s best bird-thwarting endeavours.
A Canadian Geographic magazine feature from 2016 reproduces photos from a 1938 article about apple growing in Canada and tells the story of the first apple orchards being nurtured in the 17th century by French settlers in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, where the Fameuse, or Snow, apple, dominated.
Ontario’s McIntosh apple, now produced in greater quantities than any other apple in Canada and the northeastern United States, and grown in orchards around the world, was discovered by accident: an article by Shane Peacock on the Canada’s History website tells the story of how John McIntosh, an early 19th-century Scottish settler in Dundela in Eastern Ontario, discovered apple tree saplings amid bush he was clearing; he transplanted and nurtured them, with only one eventually growing to fruit-bearing age. How the apple saplings got there, and created a different apple variety, to this day is a mystery. The family used grafting to continue the one surviving tree, eventually building establishing the new McIntosh variety.
In fact, McIntosh is so ubiquitously identified with “apple” in North America that when it came time for Apple Computer to brand its line of personal computers in 1984, it named them Macintosh, shortened to Mac in 1988.
While Ontario and Nova Scotia continue to grow apples, B.C. and Quebec are the larger producers, each with close to 100 million kilograms of apples on an annual basis, compared with about a third that amount each in Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Near where I grew up in southern Ontario, there is an annual Apple Butter and Cheese Festival. The festival began in 1976 “to promote the town of Wellesley, as well as its major businesses, A.W. Jantzi & Sons Ltd (Wellesley Brand Apple Products) and the J.M. Schneider Cheese Factory.”
My fridge staples always include a jar of Wellesley apple butter (and, when I can find it, Wellesley apple cider). “What do you do with that?” one friend once asked, mystified. It’s essentially massively-reduced applesauce, caramelized and brown in tone. I think it makes a great glaze/marinade for roast pork or pork chops.
For fresh applesauce, I highly recommend food writer, chef and “food sleuth” Marion Kane’s applesauce method: you bake the peeled and cored apple chunks without any added liquid. It really is a game-changer, as making fruit sauces go. But don’t take my word for it: watch Marion’s “applesauce rant” (that’s what she calls it) where she tells you, in her inimitable way, that all your life you have been making applesauce THE WRONG WAY.
I try to buy Canadian-grown apples whenever possible and have a weakness for the relatively new Honeycrisp variety. It does irk me when it’s September, apples are falling off the trees across the country, and at the grocery store we have South African green Grannys piled on the shelf.
Apples also make wonderful desserts: cored and baked with a bit of brown sugar and butter in the cavity to make simple baked apples; pies, of course; and my go-to company dessert, Apple Ginger Upside Down Cake from Gourmet magazine, 1990.
My mother often made apple pies, sometimes with crumble topping, but also made crisps in the fall, using McIntosh apples from the orchard. From her, to me, to you: delicious just as is or, if you’re feeling decadent, add a bit of vanilla, ginger, or caramel ice cream to each serving.
Mary Teahen’s Apple Crisp
6 to 8 medium apples
¼ cup water
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp salt
1 cup flour; can also substitute 1 cup of oatmeal flakes with 1/2 cup of flour.
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup butter
Peel, core and slice apples into a casserole and sprinkle the slices immediately with the water, lemon juice and salt.
In a mixing bowl, stir together with a fork the flour (or oatmeal/flour combination), brown sugar and cinnamon.
Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or two knives. Spread the mixture over the apples, covering them completely. Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour or until the apples are very tender. Serve hot, or at room temperature.
Main photo: Kelley Teahen