Back to the farm- McIntosh apple harvest memories

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One of my favourite memories of childhood was the fall apple harvest.  I grew up in Toronto, Canada which is prime real estate for some of the best apples anywhere.  Apples are a very regional fruit, with many varietals grown in specific geographic areas.  The area of Southern Ontario was most well known for McIntosh and Spy apples.  I knew them as eating apples (McIntosh) and baking apples (Spy), and didn’t appreciate the regional significance until I moved to California and realized that we have different apples out here.  Not necessarily bad apples – I love a good Fuji apple, and it can hold its own in the battle of East Coast vs. West Coast apple. But a bite from a fresh and crisp McIntosh apple will forever remind me of fall.

Every year after Labour Day, we would visit the local apple farm in Chatham, Ontario called Chudleigh’s.  I remember it being quite small, but they grew up quite nicely and I see their name on tasty frozen apple treats sometimes even out here.  My family would go for the day, taking a hay ride around the farm.  We would get out at several points, to visit the different apple trees throughout the farm.  Our standards were always ridiculously high for these apples – if one seemed improperly ripened to the point of not having quite the rich pantone of burgundy, we would arrogantly toss it aside, knowing that perfection was only a couple of picks away.  That bite from the apple in a field tastes like none other.  We would continue to the lunch room, which I remember being in a barn full of hay.  We would order freshly pressed apple cider, tasty sandwiches, and inevitably baked goods with the farm’s apples.  I don’t remember how much the apples cost to bring home, but we would carry many kilograms home with us, cramming every square centimeter of the fridge with these delicious apples.  They would happily last us until Canadian thanksgiving, after which we would replenish our stock with supermarket apples – still delicious, but lacking the authenticity of being picked from the farm.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this simple experience and memory of childhood forever shaped my appreciation of being closer to the source of food.  With today’s food supply chain, modern supermarkets, sophisticated food production methods, scientifically developed preservatives, and on-the-go lifestyle, people are becoming further removed from the source of their food.  I think nothing of taking a bite of an apple, appreciating only the modern convenience of being able to pick one up at every convenience store nearby.  The apple juice or cider I occasionally drink appears magically in a glass, cold, seemingly fresh, and delicious.  Sliced apples appear in sealed cellophane bags, frequently with caramel dipping sauce.  Recent apple innovations include such fusion flavour ideas as the Grapple (look it up).  I imagine that most people enjoy apple pie first from a freezer, and then from a deep fryer or industrial oven.  If produced from scratch, the pie is more likely to come from a can.

There is something to be said about the modern convenience of being able to eat fresh fruit anytime, and anywhere.  There is something to be said for not having to spend five hours peeling, coring, chopping and baking in order to enjoy the simple pleasure of an apple pie.  But, there is something also to be said for visiting your local farm, talking to the field worker that planted the soil, and shaking the hand of the farmer that produced the great tasting fresh fruit that you enjoy.  These days, we’re seeing a great resurgence in getting to know the source of your food.  We are seeing some backlash against ‘frankenfood’, GMOs, agribusiness, and modern chemistry as applied to mealtime.

I’m not a proponent of only eating fresh apples – but I am a proponent of frequently eating fresh apples.  And nothing makes an apple taste better than picking it straight from the tree.  Spend a morning or day this fall visiting your local farm.  Talk to your farmer, and think about food as food.  It’ll make any apple taste that much better.

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Daniel

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