Let’s take a Thanksgiving break from politics, the coronavirus pandemic, and the economy to focus on one important part of the holiday: food.
Sara Bonisteel, editor-in-chief of Cooking, polled New York Times employees based in Canada – a group that includes more than those of us who write about the country – for their favorite Times Thanksgiving recipes. From there, she’s put together a recap for anyone who needs some last minute inspiration.
[Read: 11 Delicious Ways to Celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving]
We will cook what we always do at the chalet where we celebrate, something doable within the confines of our inadequate kitchen and something traditional, which is the preference of my wife’s family.
I’m also going to enjoy my favorite fall treat: the McIntosh apple. If you’ve got an abundance of apples, McIntoshes or whatever, in the house for Thanksgiving, you might want to take a look at Cooking’s collection of apple-centric recipes.
[Read: 34 Desserts for Apple Season]
While the crisp texture and tart flavor of McIntosh has won it followers in most countries of the world, its development as a consumer product began in 1811, about 45 minutes south of Ottawa, in a hamlet. now known as Dundela. There, John McIntosh discovered McIntosh No. 1 while clearing the bush. After years of walking past a sign urging me to turn off a popular Ottawa route to the St. Lawrence River and head towards Dundela instead, I made the right turn.
Dundela is a small place. A handful of houses, a cemetery, a small park named, of course, McIntosh, and a variety of plaques commemorating McIntosh’s discovery. Although the McIntosh farm is long gone, a neighboring farm from Mr. McIntosh’s time, Smyth’s Apple Orchard, is still alive.
One day, Mr. McIntosh found a wild version of a young apple tree he had never seen before on his land. He transplanted and fed the surviving saplings. Then, years later, he used grafting to propagate the variety for commercial distribution and mass production. He traveled across Ontario and parts of the United States to sell, and perhaps occasionally donate, his trees.
The most comprehensive Mr. McIntosh story I have found is this carefully researched article by Shane Peacock in Canada’s History magazine.
It’s easy to overstep the line commemorating Mr. McIntosh’s contribution to the fruit world. The first tree died in 1908, according to its gravestone, and the monuments dedicated to it have themselves vanished into history. The one from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada is in a field behind McIntosh Park. The trees somewhat obscure the Ontario government plaque, which sits right by the roadside with no parking facilities. The site where the first tree once stood is invisible from a century-old stone monument to its discovery and inaccessible because it is on private property.
The tree with the closest connection to Mr. McIntosh’s first tree can be found behind the store, packing rooms, and warehouses of Smyth’s Apple Orchard, just beyond a formidable pile of wood. It was grafted onto a tree itself grafted onto the original tree. But this precocious tree died about 10 years ago, leaving its successor at Smyth and a few others in a nearby historic park.
Smyth Orchard was established in the mid-19th century and the family is now in its fifth generation of owners. Things were frantically busy when I pulled up on Thursday. Picking its 35,000 trees, three-quarters of which were McIntoshes, was in its final days and there are several weeks of packing, shipping and storage remaining.
While the McIntoshes still make up a solid majority of the orchard’s sales, the bulk of which goes to a large supermarket chain, Nikki Beckstead, who co-owns the orchard with her husband Dean Smyth, said new varieties like Honey Crisp had been eroding its unique grip on the Eastern Ontario market.
“It’s still popular but not as popular as it used to be,” she said as tractors and forklifts dragged huge bins of apples in and out of the packing shed. “Everyone wants the other apples.”
After briefly overseeing the packaging, Mr Smyth lamented the large number of inherited apple varieties, including the Wolf River cooking apple, which low demand made commercial cultivation impossible.
“If stores can’t sell crates on crates, on crates every week, they’re not going to handle four or five different varieties,” he said.
He said he hadn’t planned for the McIntoshes to be banned from the orchard, however.
“I don’t think it will ever go away,” he told me. “It’s just too much demand. “
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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