I have to admit, I’ve been walking around this week feeling rather lucky. I was recently given the opportunity to have a “tasting” of some of the finest produce Niagara has to offer – namely some of the apple harvest from Schouwenaar Orchard and Vineyards.

Located just outside St. Catharines, Ontario, this family farm has been producing outstanding fruits for the last 30 years. With their diversity farming, currently boasting no less than 35 cultivars on 12 acres of land, Schouwenaar Orchards and Vineyards has an array of varietals to sample.

Their growing season starts in late June, with gorgeous cascades of glistening red and white currants, black ones following about two weeks later. Raspberries and gooseberries are next, and amazingly plump and succulent peaches soon after. Caviar bundles of blackberries end the summer with their alternating sweet and tart juice — perfect for crumbles and cakes. The clear fall sunshine falls upon the apple orchards, full and fragrant, ready for harvest. Not finished just yet, we still have the exceptional Niagara kiwiberries on the horizon.

This week has been all about the apples though. And truly, is there a fruit better suited to the coming of autumn? I will be posting some of the recipes I am experimenting with, but first I believe a bit of an introduction is in order.

Apples, regarded as a household staple and a workhorse of the kitchen, are often neglected recognition for their contribution to our tables. Not as flashy as day-glow drangonfruit or as sensually appealing as a mango, apples quietly add body, flavour and depth to so many dishes, both savoury and sweet. Almost universally enjoyed and with approximately 7,500 known cultivars, there is a flavour and texture to suit any occasion.

The selection pictured above are just a sampling of those the Schouwenaar farm has to offer:

Gala, (centre)
Crunchy and juicy with a sweet-tart taste, these small, aromatic apples blend modern and classical parentage. A cross of the Kidd’s Orange and Golden Delicious, the Gala was developed in New Zealand in the 1930s. When young, the Gala starts out very light coloured, with orange streaks over yellow. As it matures, the apple turns much darker, often a strong red. It is a reliable all-around apple, best for salads and sauces and good for pies and baking.

Elstar, (from the Gala, top left)
Developed in the Netherlands and a cross between the Ingrid Marie and Golden Delicious, this medium sized apple has firm, cream-coloured flesh. The skin has a soft sheen and is mottled yellow and red. The Elstar is a multi-purpose variety, with a sweet tart taste, best for salads and sauces and good for pies and baking.

McIntosh, (counter clockwise, below)
Sweet with a touch of acidity, the McIntosh apple is probably one of the best known. Deep crimson skin and bright white flesh typify this apple, and a taste that is simple and direct. Even though there are more than 3,000,000 McIntosh trees in North America today, they are all from an original grove discovered on the farm of John McIntosh in Dundela, Ontario sometime in the early 1800s. Macintoshes cook down quickly, and so are ideal for sauces. If using in a pie, it is necessary to add a thickener such as cornstarch to bind.

Redcort, (to the right)
A limb mutation of the Cortland apple, this is a crisp, sweet and mellow-flavoured apple. Large red, almost purple sometimes, the Redcort has tender white flesh that is slow to oxidize. This is an excellent apple for desserts.

Honeycrisp, (to the right)
A new variety of apple, developed by the University of Minnesota, it is a cross between the Honeygold and Mancoun. With an avid following of fans, the Honeycrisp lives up to its name, with crispy juicy flesh that seems to snap when bit. Juicy enough to almost be considered effervescent, the taste is sub-acid and ideal for eating raw. The apple is large, with a mottled red over a yellow background. Perfect for most preparations, eating raw, baking, cooking and sauces.

Gingergold, (above)
A cross between Golden Delicious and Albermarle Pippin, this apple was discovered among uprooted trees on a Virginia orchard in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Medium to large with a smooth, greenish gold skin and a slight blush, these apples are slow to discolour when cut and maintain their crisp white flesh. Sweet and slightly spicy, this is an excellent apple for snacking and salads, and is best enjoyed fresh.

Schouwenaar Orchards and Vineyards

Their products are sold wholesale only. For those in the Toronto area they are featured at:
Badali Fruit Market – 1587 Bayview Avenue
Rock Garden – 16930 Airport Road, Caledon East
Hilite Fine Foods – 4-415 Horner Avenue
Golden Orchards – St. Lawrence Market
Highland Farms – Locations throughout Toronto
Harvest Wagon – Yonge Street
Parkway Fine Foods - 881 Elgin Avenue East

There are great resources for apple information available online. One article of particular interest, Skin Deep discusses the correlation between colour and taste of apples.

Look out for recipes next week.