This year`s crop of Canadian-grown apples are making their mark, not only for quality but also for the many varieties now available to shoppers. Names like Honey Crisp, Fuji, Ambrosia and Crispin are becoming familiar from the major apple-growing regions of B.C., Ontario and the Maritimes.
Meanwhile, standbys like McIntosh, Empire, Red and Golden Delicious, Cortland, Idared, Northern Spy and Spartan still have their loyal followers, say industry spokespersons, despite the arrival of the newer varieties.
`The drought that Ontario experienced this past summer means that size is very challenging for a number of varieties, particularly the early ones,` says Brian Gilroy, vice-chairman of the Ontario Apple Growers.
One of the newer varieties gaining in popularity, he says, is the Honey Crisp, which is a cross between a Macoun and Honeygold. Its large-sized fruit has a distinctive crisp texture which is aromatic and juicy with a sweet taste. Best eaten fresh, it is available until March.
`Right now, those who grow Honey Crisp are getting a premium for them and consumers don`t seem to mind paying more,` says Gilroy. `And for Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, this apple has a lot of promise.`
He adds that the Maritimes have benefited from a replant program sponsored by the provincial government `which has been variety specific.
`Their growers are getting a little help to plant Honey Crisp, which is turning a better dollar for them.`
Another newcomer developed in British Columbia is Ambrosia, which Gilroy says `has great promise.`
The sweet, crisp and aromatic apple is medium to large in size with mostly red coloration with yellow patches.
`It`s a very fine-tasting apple,` says Gilroy. `It rivals Honey Crisp in flavour, and production of it is being closely limited and hopefully it will be able to maintain its value over a long period of time.`
Ambrosia `was a gift from nature,` says Joe Sardini, president of the B.C. Apple Growers.
`It is proving to be a winner for our growers and it is being grown in Ontario as well,` he adds.
In British Columbia the Royal Gala represents 27 to 28 per cent of production, he says, `and it is an extremely popular apple in North America now.`
This variety, developed in New Zealand in the 1920s, is a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Kidd`s Orange Red. The apples are usually red with a portion that is vertically striped greenish or yellow-green. They have a mild flavour and thinner skin than most apples.
Other apples grown in the B.C. Okanagan Valley include Fuji, McIntosh, Spartan, Golden and Red Delicious and Braeburn.
Sardini says B.C. apples are shipped to specific markets in the U.S. but are not sold in Ontario or Quebec.
`Ten per cent of our crop goes to California and we market Ambrosia in Arizona,` he says. Another possible market is the United Kingdom where smaller sizes are preferred.
Gilroy says with the `eat local` trend gaining momentum, shoppers are wise to check the stickers appearing on loose apples in supermarkets to determine their country of origin.
`One of the important issues is that Canada has food safety guidelines and crop protection regulations,` he says, `and people can be assured if they are buying Ontario or other Canadian apples they will know it is a safe product.`
They are A-1 eaten as is, but apples star in so many cooked dishes they can only be considered a wonder ingredient.
Try them with pears, lime juice, garlic, green onion and fresh coriander for a lively salsa. Slip apple slices under the cheese when you make a melt before you broil it. Or try grating them into meatballs or meat loaf for extra moisture and flavour.
To keep fresh apples crisp, store in the refrigerator after purchase.