Shiny Apple - © millikanmiddleschool.org

Apple Season: Not As Much Fun As It Used To Be

I remember a time, when I was very small, when my dad and I used to take Saturday morning drives in the country to seek out fall treats. I went looking for Hazelnut trees, and dad stopped at every abandoned orchard we found to sample the Apples. Most of the old varieties didn’t even have names…

Garlic Breath Apple - © learntogetridof comWe all know the distinctive Red Delicious Apple by the five bumps on its bottom.
It’s hailed as the king of eating Apples, but give me a MacIntosh any
day, for full flavour and a balance of tart and sweet!

More to the point, if they had once had names, they had long been forgotten. Dad wanted try breeding Apples and come up with new varieties by combining old, abandoned favourites. When Apple growing went big-time, the number of varieties grown shrank dramatically, and dad thought that was a shame.

“Old Mrs. Plummer over on Westmount had a couple of nice Apple trees,” he would say. “Nobody ever called them anything other than ‘the little yellow ones’ and ‘the big red ones’. I wish I could find those, again…”

Well, that was not to be. Dad grew up and went to war and came home to a changed world. You no longer went to separate Butcher Shops, Produce Markets and Bakeries and so on. Everything was under one roof, at the supermarket. And, if you wanted Apples, you had three choices: MacIntoshes for eating, Northern Spies for Pies, and Snows for Applesauce. Dad insisted on planting his own vegetable garden every year so he could at least have the Produce varieties he wanted.

What happened?

There are more than  750 recognised varieties of Apples in the world today, but the bulk of them remain popular and cultivated in any kind of volume in relatively small regions where they originated and remain favourites. Where I live, near the east end of the Great Lakes region, folks have heard of many varieties of Apples over the years.

Some have come and gone in the produce section of the supermarket over the years: Courtlands, Russets, Baldwins, Melbas, Spartans and many more were available back in the 1950s and into the early 60s, if they were grown anywhere near your home. At harvest time, you could drive up and down the country lanes and find all kinds of exotic Apple varieties, each grown by only one farmer, and available only at his at his roadside stand. But then the little independent supermarkets got bought up or squeezed out by the new centrally-supplied regional chains. And the little Apple growers were squeezed out of the main market market by the big growers in the Niagara Peninsula, B.C.’s Okanagan Valley and Nova Scotia. Only they could supply the supermarkets with the huge volumes of Apples the retail industry demanded and meeting volume requirements meant cutting variety.

Shortly after that, we started to off-season imports from the southern and western U.S. and South America. And the growers in the foreign locales didn’t share their favourite Apples with us; they grew what they thought were our favourites for us, to ensure they could sell them. Now, we get all imaginable sorts of produce at all times of the year thanks to the carefully perfected art of long-distance-shipping for perishables.

In a nutshell…

That’s why we get the same 5 or 6 varieties of Apples in all our supermarkets today – mainly Macs, Red Delicious and Granny Smiths.

Okay. There are more than three varieties. But they’re usually marketed to us by the supermarkets as ‘specials’, to keep up our interest in Apples. Among the popular types available for limited ‘seasons’ throughout the year are Golden Delicious, Empires, Honey Crisps, Fujis, Ida Reds and Galas. Many of these are relatively new cultivars and some didn’t even exist before the millennium. And we get them because they are grown in volumes sufficient to stock all locations of the new national mega-supermarket chains identically all across the country.

Yup… We get the Apples we get because those are the varieties that are grown in massive amounts and ship best, not because they are necessarily the ones we might prefer.

And don’t get me started on Soft Fruits and Leafy Greens!

By the way…

Dad never did find anything to rival Mrs. Plummer’s ‘the little yellow ones’ and ‘the big red ones’…

~ Maggie J.

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