If you’ve only ever bought apples from the big chain grocery store down the road, you might be surprised to find out that there are more than just a few different kinds available. The Fameuse (considered the ‘parent’ of the McIntosh); Cox’s Orange Pippin (a classic English dessert apple); and the Discovery Cross (tastes a bit like a strawberry) were just three of the 70 kinds of the fruit on hand at last weekend’s UBC Apple Festival.
Volunteers with the Friends of the UBC Botanical Garden, who host the event along with the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research, pointed everybody with questions in Margaret Butschler’s direction with good reason – the woman knows everything about apples.
“Canadians have always loved apples,” she said in between slicing up an Okana apple in the garden parking lot where bag upon bag of apples was being sold. “We started out by having an apple in our lunch bag, didn’t we? So we learned to love apples, the McIntoshes, Delicious… B.C. Delicious only arrived in Ontario for Christmas so they were in our Christmas stockings, and those are the things you learned about.”
The Apple Festival started 23 years ago when Friends of the UBC Botanical Garden wanted to show off the 42 varieties of apples that grew in the garden, and 3,700 pounds of apples were sold. Now, more than 37,000 pounds of apples, both heritage and new varieties, are sold and thousands of people – 19,000 in 2011 – hungry for apples come through the gate.
“With the advent of farmer’s markets in the last 10 years, everybody’s looking for local food so we’re really celebrating local growers and B.C. apple growers,” said Butschler, adding that wine grapes have taken over land where apples once grew. “A lot of people used to have orchids but now there’s three growers left in the Fraser Valley.”
Some varieties such as the Glockenapfel, popular with Germans for baking strudel due to both its flavour and how it kept its shape, has all but disappeared from the UBC Apple Festival. The land those particular trees grew on was sold, and Butschler says she doesn’t know what became of them.
“Some are disappearing but new ones are coming in,” she said. “We now had five we hadn’t had before.”
The five are: Blue Pearmain; Discovery Cross; Karin Schneider; Sweet16; and Okana, which was discovered by 80-year-old Oliver resident Dave Evans who found the tree in 1998.
Over at the tasting tent, people snaked around tables to sample some of the 60 different kinds of apples and, two hours into the festival, limited varieties such as the Jonathan, Ginger Gold, and Rosu de Kluj had already sold out. Just as busy were the B.C. Fruit Testers Association who had a display of almost 200 varieties of apples still grown in B.C. The testers are known to have exacting taste buds as people were invited to bring in a sample of six apples from an mystery tree, to be identified. They usually got it right.
One of the volunteers prompted somebody to ask Butschler what her favourite apple is.
“My favourite apple happens to be whatever I’m holding in my hand,” she said, with a laugh. “Which happens to be a Jonafree right now.”
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