Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 11, 2017
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Love at First Bite

How the apple came from Kazakhstan, laid roots
and became Canada's signature fruit

Do you want a way to return to autumn, no matter what time of year? Then stop. Before you read further, grab an apple from your fruit bowl and roll it between your hands. Run your fingers along the smooth skin. Feel for the perfect edge to bite into. Found it? Take your first bite. The crunch between your teeth. The juice as it spills onto your tongue. The tart flavour that rises to the roof of your mouth. Now read on.

There is no fruit more Canadian than the apple. Every spring, lush fields in the Okanagan and Annapolis valleys are covered with the pinks of apple blossoms. Each summer, old and gnarled apple trees mark fallow orchards throughout Ontario farmlands. Each fall, red and golden globes colour hillsides and forests. Strange, then, that this most Canadian of fruits actually comes from Central Asia.

The apple originated in Kazakhstan, where forests are full of apple trees that grow up to 20 metres tall. Malus sieversii (the species that grows wild there) became malus domestica when brought to Europe and transported with settlers to North America as grafted plants.

The first Canadian apples were grown in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley in the early 1600s by North America's earliest European settlers. Samuel de Champlain made mention of planting seeds and drinking apple cider in his journals. The census record of 1698 indicates 1584 apple trees growing in the small community of Port Royal alone.

The first mention of apples grown in Ontario was in the diary of Charles Woolverton of Grimsby Township. In it, he describes the sale of 80 hectares of land to his grandfather John Woolverton in 1796 and the inclusion of five natural apple trees in the deal. By 1880, 84 apple varieties were being grown in Ontario.

Records indicate that apples came to the west coast in the early 1800s and the earliest fruit trees were being planted in Fort Vancouver by 1826. By the 1850s there were small orchards popping up in the Lower Fraser Valley and the first commercial orchard was established at Lytton between 1870 and 1875 by Thomas G. Earl.

The first McIntosh tree was discovered in 1811 at Dundela, Dundas County, Ontario by John McIntosh, the son of Scottish immigrants to the US. He emigrated to Canada in 1796 from New York and in 1811 moved from his original farm, near Iroquois, to an undeveloped lot in Dundela in eastern Ontario.

While clearing his land, he discovered an overgrown orchard on this property and transplanted 20 of the healthiest seedlings to new ground. One survived. Its fruit were the ancestors of the McIntosh apple. The original tree lived for 114 years and bore fruit until 1906. The McIntosh farm is marked by a community monument erected in 1912 and a government plaque placed at the site in 1962. Today, McIntosh apples are cultivated in nearly every growing area of North America. The McIntosh was also used in developing such varieties as the Cortland, Spartan and Empire apples.

If you like the scent and sight of apples, visit an apple orchard each fall. You'll find them throughout Canada and can take a few bushels home with you to store throughout the winter.

The first apple trees in the Okanagan Valley were planted in 1862 by Father Pandosy, on the present location of the City of Kelowna. When this first tree was planted the area was semi-arid, with insufficient rainfall to grow anything but sagebrush and rattlesnakes. With the discovery that fruit trees did well in the hot dry climate of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, fruit orchards sprang up throughout the area. With the introduction of power pumps and open flumes, used to direct water from lakes and rushing creeks in the foothills, orchards were planted inland along the length of the Okanagan and Similkameen and Kootenay valleys.

Now 120 years later, the slopes bordering these valleys are covered with orchards. The scenic drive from Osoyoos to Summerland along the 97 passes a number of pick-your-own orchards and farms that offer tours of their properties.

In Kelowna, the Kelowna Land and Orchard Company is located in a century-old farmhouse with a spectacular view of the valley. They offer a behind-the-scenes tour that features historical and advanced roduction technology, a hay wagon ride, a pick-your-own option and farm animal viewing for children.

If you want to get out of your car and be more active, Ontario's Bruce Trail runs through the back of Puddicombe Farms. Located in the Niagara fruit belt, this working farm has been around since 1797 and offers educational tours, a petting zoo and toy train rides. You can continue on the Bruce Trail for the entire weekend.

The Bruce Trail runs for 782 kilometres from the Niagara region north into Tobermory. Much of the trail runs through southern Ontario farmland, where forests are still dotted with former apple orchard trees. The Primrose Loop near Singhampton has one of the largest abandoned apple orchards in the country.

These old orchards carry apple varieties that aren't grown anymore. Some are unique. Since the apples aren't pruned or sprayed they are resistant to disease.

"We need to keep going back to the wild to maintain healthy fruit production," says Henry Kock, horticulturist at the University of Guelph Arboretum. "It's in the wild apple that evolution continues. Horticultural apples are all grafted. Every Red Delicious is genetically identical. They are all the same and have been the same for the last 60 to 70 years, whereas the diseases and insects are evolving. If someone tastes a wild apple and it's incredible, they need to alert an apple connoisseur and tell them how to get to it." It's food for thought.

Applesauce can be as varied as the regions its apples come from. Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley is the birthplace of apples in North America. Located on the Bay of Fundy, the high tides produce a moist atmosphere for the orchards, while the end of the Appalachian mountain range protects the valley from frost and the red soil creates ideal growing conditions.

The Evangeline Trail, a 200-kilometre drive from Halifax to Yarmouth, passes through the valley into the St. Mary's Bay area. After Annapolis Royal you won't see any apple orchards, but the sun moves across the sky and dips into the waters, turning from a soft pink to a deep rose similar to the shades of apple skins and pulp blending in your pot.

So visit an orchard this fall and bring a taste of Canada, anywhere in Canada, home. If you store enough bushels, applesauce will be waiting for you all year long.

For more information about all things apple -- including detailed directions to orchards across Canada -- visit www. applejournal.com. For an Ontario perspective visit www.ontarioapples.com.

 

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