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Crisp fall weather means crisp fall apples. We get them year-round – thanks to atmosphere-controlled storage facilities with reduced oxygen and carefully monitored temperature and humidity, but apples are best in peak season right now and especially when they’re from Waterloo Region.
We have some great apples growing just a few minutes from downtown Kitchener. I’ve said it before: we’re lucky because we can eat a piece of apple strudel at The Walper Hotel and with a short drive be in the orchard where the fruit was grown.
Martin’s Family Fruit Farm near the St. Jacobs Farmers Market grows over 120 acres of apples here with another 600 acres or so in the Port Burwell area. Co-owner Steve Martin says that growers are generally satisfied with the harvest so far.
“The season has been fairly average. It’s certainly not as heavy a crop as last year across Ontario. Some varieties are down considerably and some are up a little bit. The overall crop is definitely going to be down,” says Martin.
Martin adds, however, that it’s not a case like it was a couple of years ago when they picked only about 50 percent of the crop or, worse, four or five years ago when the weather wiped out virtually entire orchards. “It’s nothing anywhere close to that, so I’d say it is a good average crop.”
Across the province, there was some crop loss due to hail, he says, as well as some spring-frost loss. “The fact that we had a very rainy spring also put some disease pressure on the apples that we don’t have during a hot, dry summer.”
Apples fall into two phases: early-fall brings us McIntosh, Gala, Honeycrisp with Cortland and Empire coming a bit later; and, for late-fall it’s Ambrosia, Red and Golden Delicious, Ida Red, Spy, Crispin and Fuji.
Martin says apple purchases so far have been robust. “Depending on taste, of course, the majority of people will tell you Honeycrisp is their favourite. Literally, a third of our retail customers are walking out the door with some size of Honeycrisp basket in their hands.”
Honeycrisp is Martin’s best seller despite being one most expensive apples at almost twice the price as McIntosh, for instance, an apple which is excellent right now. Gala is popular too: they are being picked right now and in their prime.
As for local cooks, they get inspired by just the idea of the popular and versatile fruit. Jason Hanoski, chef at downtown Kitchener’s Grand Trunk Saloon, favours the Honeycrisp.
“They’re a versatile apple and great to eat fresh, but they also hold some texture when they’re caramelized or baked,” says Hanoski, who might make a savoury caramelized apple and onion tarte tatin with sage and honey.
“I’m not much of a dessert person, so I tend to stay on the savory side with apples, which means delicious chutneys, coleslaws, butters, purees, salads and soups,” he adds. “They are perfect for fall.”
In Kitchener’s Kingsdale neighbourhood along Weber Street East, Chef Eric Neaves says that apples have a versatility that allows for both lighter and heavier applications
“For the light eater, my favourite is an apple fennel slaw,” Neaves says. “Honey crisps are beautiful for this, as their texture and sweetness provide a great crunch and counterpoint to the dressing. Slice them thin, and the fennel even thinner. Dress with cider vinegar and your favourite salad oil, then toss in some fresh herbs – chives and dill are great – and season with salt and pepper.”
Otherwise, at this time of the year apples are for pies – “even deep-fried ones,” says Neaves with no little excitement.
“Dice some Empire apples and pan-roast them in butter with a little brown sugar, spices and pinch of salt. Cool the mixture and make apple turnovers with puff pastry. Fry at 350-degrees Fahrenheit until golden and top with icing sugar and ice cream.”