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Sally and Wilfred
Some orchardist might see pickers eating their apples as a problem. Sally and Wilfrid Mennell took it as a sign.
The apples in question were Ambrosia -- before they were known as Ambrosia. It was the early 90's. A chance seedling had popped up on the edge of a row of Jona Gold apples in their Similkameen Valley orchard. Wilfrid freely admits that if he'd been more diligent in clearing weeds, the little sprout would never have grown large enough to bear fruit.
As luck would have it, the tree did grow and produced a very unique variety of apple. Bi-coloured with a rosy red and a creamy yellow, the apple provided a satisfying crunch, a sweet flavour and an intoxicating honeyed aroma. It was no surprise that the pickers couldn't get enough of them. When Sally and Wilfrid saw how popular they were with the crew, they knew they had something because pickers are notoriously picky about apples.
Up to this point, the Ambrosia story reads a bit like a fairy tale but the happily ever after didn't come without a lot of hard work. Wilfrid's brothers, Brian and Robert, agreed that they might have a viable variety. They also owned farms in the Similkameen Valley and planted a few trees to see how the market might respond to this new variety. Brian Mennell took a few down to his American broker who, after one taste, declared that the apples were fantastic. As Brian recalls, "I asked him how many acres I should plant. He [the broker] said, 'As many as you can. We'll sell them.'"
Shortly after that, Sally and Wilfrid took their new variety to the Plant Improvement Company of the Okanagan (PICO), now known as Summerland Varieties Company (SVC), for testing and commercialization.
All signs were pointing to this new variety being a big success. What followed was a decade long effort to keep up with demand.
Fortuitously, shifting farming trends were in their favour. It was a time in the apple growing industry when orchards were being converted from traditional to high density planting. As it turned out, Ambrosia naturally grew in a somewhat spur-like making it easy to adapt to this style of planting. "When I first began in this business," explains Wilfrid, "trees were planted at 200 per acre. Now trees are planted at closer to 2000 trees per acre and that intensity very much matched the growing pattern of Ambrosia. It was a very fortunate symbiosis."
This made the challenge of finding farmers to grow Ambrosia a little bit easier but it was somewhat of a difficult proposition. Despite all of the promising signs, it was still a risk for farmers to plant an unproven variety. If things didn't go well, they'd have to pull up the Ambrosia trees, lose a season of production and plant something else.
The early adapters discovered that Ambrosia apples were quite easy to grow and had a good yield. They hung nicely on the tree and required very little pruning in the winter. In the summer, the natural spacing of the tree allowed for the summer light to colour them up nicely. Word spread that it was a winning crop and the apple became a grower favourite. "I think the apple itself is just so wonderful when you see it on the tree, you can't not want to plant it," said Brian admiringly from his Ambrosia block.
Wilfrid and Sally took Ambrosia apples to the UBC Apple Festival in Vancouver, and later to the Royal Winter Fair in Ontario. They couldn't have asked for a better response. People loved Ambrosia and wanted to know where they could get them.
Decades later, Ambrosia is a household name and not just in British Columbia from where it hails. Ambrosia apples are now grown in North America and in Europe. They are also grown in the Southern hemisphere in New Zealand and Chile, providing Ambrosia apple fans with crisp and delicious apples year round.
With so many fans of Ambrosia apples, recipes featuring the fruit are popular and highly sought after. The original Orchard to Table Recipe Contest was wildly popular. The contest is back by popular demand this fall. The More Orchard to Table Recipe Contest will run from October 14 to December 11, 2015. The prizes this year are provided by Breville and will no doubt be coveted by each contestant. First place will receive a Sous Chef 12 Plus Food Processor. Second place will enjoy a Smart Oven Pro and Third place wins the Handy Mix Scraper. Winners are chosen by a judging panel. The German Apple Cake Recipe below was the past contest winner.
German Apple Cake Recipe
MEET AMBROSIA APPLE GROWERS!
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN AMBROSIA APPLES ARE READY TO PICK?
Follow the link to find out how, http://www.ambrosiaapples.com/videos#pickers