Apple Heaven on Salt Spring Island
September. Harvest time on Salt Spring Island. Fog skims the tops of the fir-spiked hills, sometimes settling as mist into the valleys where sheep graze and orchards flourish; sometimes floating upward as clouds and clearing when the sun rises. The air is filled with the scent of the sea and of overripe blackberries.
Salt Spring seems to have visited by a playful goddess who dropped a tangle of yarn to create the roads that weave and twist around the island, by rock outcroppings, skirting the ocean then fading into gravel before ending in some high forest or converging on the busy town of Ganges.
It’s an island of tiny ‘farms’ and a proudly independent, creative people who post ‘for sale’ signs announcing everything from lavender and organic beef to good wine and fresh cider. Even the telephone directory is covered with Salt Spring Island ingredients. Rather than holding a soapbox derby at the fall fair, they hold a zucchini race where kids add wheels to the giant curcubits and send them flying. A ribbon from the Fair is a coveted prize. This year’s edition ran from September 14-15. The theme was Pirates of the Carrots and Beans.
There’s a tofu maker and two excellent fromageries….and, at this time of year, there are apples, over 300 varieties, all grown organically, no mean feat for such a coastal climate. They are not the polished, waxed, perfect supermarket fruits. These apples, like the growers, have character. Like the biblical Eden, Salt Spring Island is a large edible garden, overflowing with delicious diversity and is home to the one of the finest apple festivals in Canada. This year’s was celebrated on Sunday, September 29th. The date for the 2014 event has yet to be determined.
Apples were the island’s first agricultural specialty. In the 1880’s and 1890’s, fruit production was a relatively huge business with 13,739 apple trees, and a good number of plum, pear and cherry trees also in production . Of course, it was all organic because, in those early years, no pesticides existed. Fruit was shipped by steamer to the mainland of British Columbia and to Victoria, on Vancouver Island. It’s this history that the Apple Festival, typically held on the first Sunday in October, that the entire island celebrates.
Like most festivals there is a very tight organizing committee with grower Harry Burton at the helm. Burton operates Apple Luscious Organic Orchards with his wife, Debbie (www.appleluscious.com). There he grows over 125 ‘connoisseur’ apple varieties, many of which are picked and displayed, amongst over 300 varieties, for tasting at the Fulford Community Hall, on the south end of the island.
On Apple Festival weekend most island farms are open for tours and tastings from David Wood’s nationally renowned Salt Spring Island Cheese company to The Bread Lady, Heather Campbell’s home where she fires up her outdoor oven to bake apple filled flat breads.
Stops along the way also serve light lunches from barbecued pulled pork with crabapple sauce, goat’s milk gelato and of course, apple pie. One must-see, must –taste stop is Mistaken Identity Vineyards. Their apple dessert wine, Charmela, is fabulous. It’s vinified from the fruit of trees that date back to the original Norton farm which was established in the 1890s.
For details on the Apple Festival click here.
Where to Stay:
Harbour House Hotel, Restaurant and Organic Farm www.saltspringharbourhouse.com 121 Upper Ganges Road, Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 2S2 (250) 537-5571
Wisteria Guest House (www.wisteriaguesthouse.com ) 268 Park Drive Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 2S1 (250) 537-5899 Cascading wisteria and lovely accommodation in both the guest house and in studio apartments.
Cusheon Lake Resort (www.cusheonlake.com )171 Natalie Lane, Salt Spring Island, B.C. V8K 2C6 (250) 537-9629 log cottages with fireplaces, kitchenettes, family friend, beach on freshwater lake.
Foxglove Farm, ( www.foxglovefarmbc.ca ) 1200 Mount Maxwell Road Salt Spring Island, BC, V8K 2H7 (250) 537-1989 120 acre heritage, working organic farm and centre for arts and ecology. Limited family style accommodations.
This article was first published in Taste and Travel Magazine in September 2012.