Sometimes we become so familiar with what’s around us that we forget how lucky we really are. This can be said of B.C.’s apples: Royal Gala, Ambrosia, Golden Delicious, Spartan, Granny Smith and Honeycrisp.
From tangy to sweet and succulent, these tree fruits have a rich history in our province, and can be found in abundance during harvest. Their tasting notes and characteristics are as diverse as their uses, from salads to sauces, pies to jams, which is why February is Apple Month, a time to appreciate what grows so easily on British Columbia’s rich, fertile soil.
Orchardist Darcel Markgraf grew up in the city as a “tomboy,” and often begged to spend summers with her younger cousins on their family farm.
“My uncle taught me to drive a truck and ride a horse; there was always something busy and exciting and challenging going on. My aunt taught me to sew and her meals were large and often! A taste of farm life had firmly shaped my perspective; in university I eventually chose to study human nutrition,” says Markgraf. “In my third year, I met an amazing farm boy. We didn’t hesitate at all to get married, finish our degrees and jump back on the tractor in B.C.’s Okanagan.”
Her life was shaped by the sprawling farmland, the rolling hills, the need to live wholesome and fruitful off the land. That desire continues to inspire her work and passion for BC Tree Fruits.
“The Okanagan Valley is the furthest point North where apples can be grown; the region is the ideal microclimate for tree fruits. Our packing house remains a co-operative of 500 families, working mainly small farms,” she says. “My passionate wish is to see my children and their children able to sustainably maintain our family farm.”
…and your husband Hank is the head horticulturalist for BC Tree Fruits? You must have pretty healthy household!
Well…usually! The challenge for all busy families is to find the time to plan, shop and prepare nutritious foods. During our busy harvest season you’ll find a few frozen pizzas hiding. We do get a lot of exercise at work, but raising a healthy family with teenage boys is an endurance sport!
Can you share some of your favourite types of apples and apple recipes?
Hank the Horticulturist tells me that I favour the “sub-acid” flavour profile; so I lean towards apples such as Jonagold, McIntosh, and the new Summerland variety, Salish.
In recipes, I tend to have a favourite use for each different apple: Royal Gala goes great with a portion of Thai Peanut Sauce. Fujis are brilliant in salads. Ambrosias are the perfect non-browning party apple. But for baking, I always, always mix a few varieties such as Golden Delicious and Spartan, or Granny Smith and Pink Lady to get a more complex flavour and texture. We have a wide variety of recipes at bctree.com to browse, from chef-created sensations to one-ingredient applesauce!
February is Apple Month and is purely a Canadian celebration. Markgraf says that historically, transportation was much slower and refrigeration was very unreliable, so the fruit had to be sold much more quickly after harvest in September.
However, now due to larger crop yields and improved storing methods they now have the ability to provide quality, fresh apples well through February from the start of Harvest each year.
“BCTF has traditionally partnered with retail stores to offer shoppers great pricing on apples in February, a practice that continues to this day,” she says. “Our messaging includes “The Fruit of Your Neighbour” and “Look for the Leaf,” both heartfelt reminders from Okanagan orchardists to buy local and support small farms.”
Photos courtesy Darcel Markgraf