Identifying Heritage Apples Across Ontario

Identifying Heritage Apples Across Ontario

Well, I’m back at the keyboard to tell you about the next book I wrote. It took me about 2 years to research this book, which is titled, Identifying Heritage Apples Across Ontario.

Wow! That’s a little different from what you normally do, I hear people say, when they hear about the book.

Well, not really – it’s still history. Only this time it’s part of our agricultural heritage, and Ontario was founded on agricultural pursuits, and in many parts of the province, agriculture is still the main employer and main source of income for many folks.

Have you ever found an abandoned apple tree and tasted the fruit, and wondered why apples don’t taste like that anymore?

Have you ever listened to a senior wax poetic about a Wolf River, or a Tolman Sweet, or the pies their mother used to make from Northern Spies? I have to tell you, those old apples were delicious!

So, why aren’t they around anymore? Unfortunately, technology hadn’t caught up with our heritage apples. In their day (pre-WW2) the storage facilities were poor, and the packing techniques had not yet been refined. Most apples were dropped down into barrels for storage – the barrels being rolled into place (Yikes! Instant bruising!). Apples that are bruised when they reach their destination are no good to anyone. Apples that are not kept cold enough go all soft and dry out, becoming quite spongey. So, between the two foes of apples, it was necessary to develop apple varieties that would ship better, and store better.

Too late we learned to make better storage and packaging.
Along came the children and grand-children of the MacIntosh. Interbred, these apples stood up against bad practices. There are about 13 varieties of apples in our stores these days – all but two or three are descendants of the Mac. And they all taste like a Mac too – not the best tasting apple in the world, but people today don’t know the difference. AND a Mac can be used for multiple purposes – eating out of hand, baking, drying, sauce – it is actually a very versatile apple, as are its descendants.

I go out foraging every fall for apples. I have a few favourite places to look, but I try to add one new place each year, just in case I find something extraordinary. In the fall of 2015, as I wandered the byways of Darlington Township, I decided I’d like to know what variety of apple I was eating (I always eat at least one of each apple variety I find on forage day). And that was the moment my “Apple” book was born.

By the time I had finished putting it together I was exhausted! Again, no one wanted to know about Heritage Apples. They were dead and gone – have you tried a Mac lately?? No one wanted to talk about them either. One man I phoned (a member of the Ontario Fruit Growers Association) wanted to know if I was trying to start trouble, or something! Dah, no, I just want some information about heritage apples! Needless to say, I got no help from him.

I even sent an e-mail to EVERY councilor across Ontario – Regional, Township, Municipal and County councilors – no one escaped my research! About 4% responded. Sad!

But, despite everyone’s refusal to help out, I managed to produce a manuscript and have it ready for our first spring Home Show on March 4th of 2017. It was my first 150th Birthday Project. I will tell you about the 2nd project on my next post.

It is laid out county by county, west to east. Within each county it is laid out by the old townships – even those counties that are now Regions with no townships – the old apples grew in specific townships and that is how they are listed. They are listed by season – Summer, Fall and Winter apples.

I know I missed a lot of varieties, but I HAVE featured 75 of them (didn’t miss too many, really). In the back of the book you will find full colour photos and/or drawings of each one and as full a description as I could find about each one and when you should find it ready to pick, depending on what county you are in – each area of Ontario has its own particular micro-climate and each variety of apple grows differently in each climate.