Chances are good that you’ve tried and loved a BC Ambrosia apple: they’re crisp, juicy, low acid and give a pop of unmistakable sweetness as you crunch through the apple’s rosy-gold peel. Discovered in BC as a chance seedling, Ambrosia apples have grown in popularity around the world-- though we’re lucky enough to enjoy them as a home-grown treat.
Ambrosia’s have a sweet family history: discovered in the 1990’s on Wilfrid and Sally Mennell’s farm in Cawston BC. Ambrosias can now be found on family farms across BC - in fact, you can find some of the growers here and see their stories. To find out more about this apple named after the food of the gods, we talked to third-generation apple grower Madeleine van Roechoudt.WHL BC: Tell us about your family farm - how did it get started, and how did you come to work on it?
MvR: My grandparents moved to Canada from Belgium. My grandfather was a horticulturalist, and he had studied tree fruits, so he had heard of the Okanagan’s ideal climate for growing tree fruits. They came directly to the Okanagan and settled here in 1949. My father took over the farm from his father, and then I started working for my father back in 2006.
MvR: My father was an early adopter of new varieties and he was one of the first to grow Ambrosias on a commercial basis. Ambrosias were discovered in 1993, and - I just checked our records - we planted our first block in 1999. Every year after for about 5 years, we planted 3 to 5 acres until we got up to 20 acres, which is what we have now. We chose Ambrosias because it was so promising, and so grower-friendly. And it’s an awesome apple to eat, which is what makes it economically viable.WHL BC: What qualities of this apple make it a favourite with consumers?
MvR: For starters, they’re beautiful! They’re a bi-coloured apple, they’re crisp, they’re juicy, they’re not too sweet - their sugar profile is great. They’re a low-acid apple, so they’re naturally slow to brown, and that makes them really great to slice and leave out.WHL BC: What challenges are apple growers in the Okanagan facing? How can communities support them?
MvR: Competition from the United States, and other imports. Supporting BC product is really important, so look for the source when you’re buying it - you want to see that it says “Product of BC.” From a BC grower’s perspective we follow strict regulations. We’re producing food at a really high standard - including food safety, worker safety, environmental impact, and other standards. By supporting BC products you’re supporting our whole value chain.
MvR: Fresh! Obviously. (Laughs) My recommendation is to buy a slicer - the kind you push down over the apple - because you can just cut it like that on a cutting board and put it out when you’re having a family gathering or a cocktail party and you’ll be amazed at how quickly those slices disappear off the cutting board. It’s also really great to slice in the morning with your kids, because as I said Ambrosias are slow to brown - and when your kids participate in the preparation of the apple, they’re more likely to eat it throughout the day too. This weekend my three-year-old packed a Tupperware container -- unprompted! --- with extra slices to try and give to his friends. Makes me proud. Ambrosias are so crunchy and juicy - they’re refreshing after crackers or chips, and they’re healthy - that juicy, crisp, refreshing taste freshens you up after whatever else you’ve been eating.
If this leaves you craving some of those crisp-sweet slices, you don’t need to go any further than your local grocery store or farmer’s market - just look for “Product of BC” to ensure that you’re supporting farms like Madeleine’s. To brighten your holiday table, you can take Madeleine’s advice and simply enjoy it sliced, perhaps along with these Ambrosia cocktails and mocktails. If you’re looking to make DIY local gifts this year, Ambrosia apple sauce is easy and delicious. Or, if you’re headed to a party, volunteer to bring dessert and wow everyone with this recipe for Ambrosia apple tart with aged cheddar cheese crust and caramel sauce.
How are you incorporating local ingredients like Ambrosia apples into your meals for the holiday season? We’d love to hear about how you’re bringing local to the table - and you’ll be instantly entered to win our giveaway just by telling us about your favourite locally sourced ingredients over on our Facebook or Instagram feeds! We will even share a few of those ideas in our next blog post!
Photo credit: Dorenberg Orchards Ltd.