On the roots of cider apples

Our baby apple trees in the nursery continue to thrive (top left photo), so we thought it was about time to relay some background info on the cider varieties we’ve chosen to graft and grow.

As some of you dear readers may know, “true” cider apples are hard to come by in B.C. Unlike the West Country of England, or Brittany and Normandy in France, or the Basque region of Spain, North American cidermaking “traditions” have only recently begun to be created: that’s why the dozens of new cideries opening here in B.C. recently have been racing to buy or graft as many European cider-specific varietals as possible. As confirmed by our recent cider-around-the-world tasting for Sandra and Noel’s wine club (bottom left), the taste and quality of a cider has as much to do with the apples of a region as it does the cidermaking technique.

Aren’t there any cider varieties bred in North America, you ask? Despite estimates that millions of liters of cider were consumed in the United States in 1902, there was no actual “cider industry.” Cider was just another part of the local farming economy, a way of using every bit of food from the fall harvest. There were some apples on these homesteads kept for their cider values, but much of the cider was made from the leftover cookers and fresh-eaters, lending a very sharp and acidic quality to their cider as opposed to the coveted bitterness of English and French bittersweets and bittersharp apples.

Without major ciderhouses and cider orchards like Bulmer’s in England (bottom right) to preserve, research and breed new apple varieties explicitly suited for the purposes of making cider, cider varieties were not the most highly-valued apples in the orchards here in Canada and the U.S. Additionally, what little amount of cider-specific apples were being grown in Canada and the U.S. were mostly cut down or replaced during Prohibition and the temperance movement. And so continues the search for those bitter apples in lost orchards, in hedgerows along fields where orchards once existed, and in backyards.

While our search has led us to some valuable perry pear trees around Pender, we’re hoping to contribute to the growing cider culture here on the island by grafting the highly sought-after, cider-specific varieties we have chosen for our new planting. The parent trees of the varieties we have grafted vary from England, France, Switzerland, and Germany.  

But what will take generations is growing a cider culture unique to and considerate of this landscape and climate, since, despite what the settler name “British Columbia” would like to suggest, we’re not in Europe. It will be fascinating and exciting to watch as we and other cideries like us weave together all of these traditions and then begin experimenting with breeding cider apples that speak to and speak of this landscape and our local tastes.