The spoils of the autumn harvest are overflowing the stalls of our local farmers market like a giant cornucopia: cabbages, kohlrabi, kale, all varieties of winter squash, pumpkins, beets, parsnips, carrots, onions, potatoes, cauliflowers, brussel sprouts, broccoli and cases of Roma tomatoes. But, while I love all of those veggies, it’s the apples and pears arriving directly from the orchards of British Columbia that excite me most.
Although apples keep incredibly well all winter, harvest time is the best time to eat an apple. There is no better tasting apple than one which has been recently picked from the sprawling, cradling arms of the apple tree, one still fresh with memories—memories of singing in the spring rain, of greeting the fiery dawn, of snoozing contentedly in the dappled summer afternoon sunlight to the humming of happy bees, of basking in the magical starry light of the Milky Way, dreaming sweet apple dreams. Newly harvested apples are loaded with such sweet memories, vivid memories not yet faded—memories they will generously convey to anyone who is ready to receive them.
I love many varieties of apples: Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, Royal Gala, Fuji, Winesap, Braeburn, Jonagold, Shamrock—they all have their virtues. Everyone has their own favourite apple—for me, it’s clearly the Ambrosia. Ambrosia means “food of the gods”, a name aptly bestowed on this perfect apple by Wilfred Mennell and his wife, Sally, who first discovered a chance seedling growing in their orchard in the Similkameen Valley, in British Columbia, in the 1990’s.
Ambrosias have an interesting story. The Mennell family orchard had previously been planted with Red Delicious and Golden Delicious apples, but in the late 1980’s they cleared the orchard and re-planted it with Jonagold trees. Somehow, a chance seedling sprouted among the Jonagolds. Much to everyone’s surprise, the little sapling not only survived but thrived, flourishing into a healthy apple tree. Several years later, the tree bore its first fruit, which was amazing because most modern fruit-producing commercial apple trees are grafted, not grown from seed. The apples were unique—they weren’t Golden Delicious or Red Delicious or Jonagolds—they were something new. And they were so attractive and delicious that the apple pickers working in the orchard devoured all of its fruit, stripping the little sapling clean. That got the attention of the Mennells because apple pickers, generally having had their fill of apples, don’t usually gorge on them. The Mennells tried the apples and they too fell in love with them and decided to try to produce more. Once the tree had matured, they grafted a few branches onto other trees to see if they would grow the same apples. To their delight, the apples were as perfect in appearance and taste as the apples from the original mother tree. The grafting was a success and the Ambrosia apple was born.
After just one bite of my first Ambrosia, I fell under its sweet spell and I’ve been infatuated with them ever since. First of all, they are beautiful apples, with perfectly smooth flawless skin and a gorgeous bright pink blush of colour blooming over a creamy yellow-green background. More importantly, Ambrosias are truly delicious—they have an enticing perfumed floral fragrance, a wonderful honeyed sweetness and a pleasing crunch. The flesh is juicy and sweet, with a fine crisp texture. They have low acidity and a deliciously aromatic flavour, slightly reminiscent of pear. They do not turn brown as quickly as other apple varieties, making them perfect for salads and fruit plates or just eating on their own. For me, the Ambrosia is the perfect apple.
How to Savour an Apple
Try this the next time you eat an apple, especially if you are fortunate enough to get your hands on the very first apples of the season. Take the apple in your hand and look at it. Really look at it—marvel at its physical beauty, the perfection of its shape and the pleasing blends of rosy reds, bright pinks, blushes and greens. Now close your eyes. Feel the apple’s cool smooth skin in the palm of your hand. Bring it up to your face and breathe in its sweet apple fragrance. Slowly, deliberately, take your first bite. Open your mind to the scents and flavours dancing over your palate. Try to identify all the different notes: is it sweet, bright, tart, sour, floral, delicate or robust? Are there subtle hints of pear or pineapple? Notice the texture. Is it crispy and crunchy? Is it juicy? Now that you’ve bitten into it, smell the apple again with a long, deep inhalation. Chew slowly. Smile. Savour each bite.
Appreciate the earth, the sun and the rains that nourished this apple. Appreciate the mother tree who freely gives of her offspring. Appreciate the hands that planted and cared for the tree. Appreciate the hands that picked and sorted and crated and drove this apple all the miles it took to get from the orchard to you. Appreciate the fruit vendor who so carefully placed it out for you. Marvel at the amazing journey this apple made to end up in your own hands. Feel blessed. Feel nourished. And now, if you are really tuned-in, the apple will share her dream memories with you. That is how to properly savour an apple.
The Perfect Snack
I think apples make the perfect snack. They are such ingenious and accommodating fruits. They are hardy travelers, they come in their own perfect packaging and they are so nourishing—I won’t bother listing all the amazing health benefits they offer. What a gift apples are to us!
Here’s how I like to enjoy my fresh apples whenever I get the chance. I take one out of the refrigerator and stop for a moment to admire its beauty. I lovingly wash it, dry it and cut it in half. I love that moment when it splits open, revealing its creamy white flesh dotted with apple seeds—I find the symmetry utterly beautiful. Then I carefully slice half an apple into thin wedges and neatly fan them out on a pretty plate. Sometimes, I complement the apple slices with a bit of herbed chèvre, or a small wedge of aged cheddar cheese, preferably applewood smoked cheddar. A handful of shelled fresh walnuts and a spot of sun to sit in mark the finishing touches to my perfect afternoon snack. I love the combination of sweet, salty, savoury, and mildly nutty.
All photography by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2011-2014 madlyinlovewithlife