A Tale of Two Apples – Part Two: The Salish Apple

By Shannon Lambie

The second part of this story brings you the tale of another apple – the Salish.

 Akin with the Arctic Apple, the Salish came into conception in Summerland BC, however starkly contrasting with the Arctic Apple, the Salish has been praised as ‘an all natural beauty’. Thirty one years in the making, this variety made its public debut this October at the UBC Apple Festival, and was quickly lauded as “completely Canadian, non-genetically modified and absolutely delicious because of its crispy, juicy and tangy qualities”.  The Honorable Ron Cannan from Agriculture and Agri-foods Canada declares, “This is a delicious example of government and industry working together to deliver new market opportunities to our farmers. When you taste the Salish apple here today, you are sampling the sweet rewards of many years of research and investments in innovation that will pay off for the farmers that grow this tasty achievement” (read entire release here).

The idea for the Salish apple was born out of the desire to develop the ideal apple for growers and consumers. Amanda Brodhagen at farms.com explains, “The apply variety has several desirable traits including, a late harvest date – which is preferred by apple growers and [it is] conditioned to produce high yields and [is] deemed to have food growth habits which are excellent for high-density orchards.  For consumers, the Salish is supposed to have a good shelf life and great taste and texture”.

But how does such an apple come into existence?

The process began in 1981, spearheaded by The Pacific Agrifood Research Centre in Summerland, BC. Researchers knew they wanted to develop a long lasting, easy to grow, and great tasting apple. To develop this ‘perfect’ apple, scientists collected pollen from the male apparatus in the blossoms of the Splendour tree (selected for its heartiness), and applied it to emasculated blossoms from a Gala tree (selected for its taste and texture).

The result of this initial pollination was 800 unique cross breed varieties which possessed the genes from both of their parent apples.  Of these initial 800 child seeds, only one would eventually become the Salish.

Cheryl Hampson, speaking to the Vancouver Sun, clarifies that every seed born out of this controlled pollination was different, unique, and unpredictable. She explains that after the initial pollination, the child seeds were planted, and thus began a nine year selection process to identify the strongest varieties, and to ‘retire’ the weak varieties. Sought after qualities during this process included resistance to disease, vigour, flavour, texture, appearance, and perhaps most importantly for this BC specific apple, ripening schedule.

The ideal variety needed to ripen before the autumn frost, but not too soon so that it would overlap with the harvesting period of other apple varieties. Another major determining factor in the Salish’s rise to the top was its ability to store well. This trait was specifically targeted as this was identified as a gap in the existing apple market. Hampson states that any apple to make it to the second round of selection had to be able to survive six weeks of storage, while maintaining taste and integrity.

The apples that made it through this initial selection were next put to test at the tasting panel. The Salish, along with about 20 other varieties, made it through to the tasting period, a result which Hampson calls ‘unusually good’.

The tasting phase, in all, takes about seven to nine years. This process includes propagation of the successful varieties, tasting, and of course further observation for undesirable traits such as unattractive appearances or inconsistent fruit bearing.

Sixteen years into this process, farmers were invited to begin growing the few remaining varieties in on farm testing plots.  This is considered to be the ‘real world’ test, and only those seeds which succeed here were taken to the final step – commercialization and branding. In all, three varieties excelled through all the levels of testing, the Salish, the Nicola, and the Aurora Golden Gala, however, it is only the Salish that has been declared the ultimate ‘winner’ from this process, and today, thirty one years later, fifteen orchardists are now cultivating the Salish. It should be noted as well, that the name Salish was chosen in honour of the first nations background here in British Columbia.

So where can you taste the sweet fruit of this process? I myself have tried one (it was delicious!), and I bought it from Nesters Market in Whistler. A quick search on the web reveals that IGA markets should be carrying the apple, as well as Urban Fare, Whole Foods, and Four Seasons Farms and the #1 Orchard at the Granville Island market.

Next fall the apple should be carried even more widely.

 

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