The Main Menu: Visits to Ontario fruit and berry farms bring back orchard memories

A recent visit to an orchard brought back memories for Jan Main.


As I looked at the basket of perfect apples, blemish free and enticing, it brought back memories of the orchard at my parent’s home near Caledon East.

In the past, they had a scenic apple orchard in the front of the property laden with blossom in early spring and covered with apples in the fall.

Each tree produced a different apple variety, tasty but not blemish free. The apples were irregular in size and shape, often with worm holes and not easy to pick! You needed a ladder and skill to get all the fruit from those high, wide spreading apple branches. It was a time- consuming business.

Nowadays, farming is big business. You have to produce quality and quantity for an ever- increasing population who demand high standards of beautiful looking and tasty food.

To keep costs down, crops need to be harvested easily by machine with a minimum of hand labour. Gone are the days when local farm help is readily available. Today, migrant workers are essential to the farming community to help produce and harvest crops. In many cases they return annually to their Canadian farm where they play an important role in farm production.

At a recent media day with Farm and Food Care of Ontario, a bus load of food writers visited an apple farm, and a strawberry and raspberry farm in Simcoe County.

These farms reflected the farmer’s knowledge, hard work and innovation to make the farms successful in ever changing times. They have to produce quality food in large quantities with a short growing season for critical consumers and still make a profit to stay in business. This is no mean feat.

The fruit farms I visited on Sept. 8 were impressive. The apple farm no longer had the orchard of my childhood (described above.). Instead, there were rows of vertical trees about a person’s reaching height, laden with perfect fruit. Each side of the tree could be picked easily by one person in minutes, in most cases, ladder free. To help them with these jobs, this farm family hired a crew of Jamaican workers who return annually and become part of the farm team making production and harvesting possible. (Please note, this farm advertises for local help regularly but there are no replies – migrant workers are critical to the success of the farm.)

Likewise, at the strawberry and raspberry farms, raspberries are grown on tall, single raspberry canes in flower pots to control quality of soil and health of the plant. Perfect raspberries were visible within easy reach for picking. Strawberries were grown in rows of window boxes at waist height with luscious berries hanging at the side of the boxes, again ready for picking at standing height instead of stooping. Both fruits were protected from heavy rains and cold by plastic domes which helps extends the growing season.

Ever changing methods produce quality food for you to enjoy in these recipes:

Apple Any Berry Pie with Crumble Topping

Try a variety of apples to give a different flavour and texture.

Early varieties like Paula Red and MacIntosh will be softer and sweeter than crisp varieties such as Cortland or Gala. Honey Crisp is a relatively new, popular variety more expensive than the others because it is more difficult to produce but just as the name suggests, sweet like honey with a characteristic crispness. Ambrosia has a firm texture but a luscious sweetness, perfect for a pie. Try a selection for fun!

Apple Berry Filling

4 cups (1 L) sliced, peeled apples (about 5)
2 cups (500 mL) berries such as cranberries, fresh or dried, or strawberries or raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 to 3/4- cup (125-175 mL) granulated sugar, depending on the sweetness of the fruit
2 tsp (10 mL) grated lemon rind
1 9-inch (23 cm) prepared pie shell

Crumble Topping

1/4 cup (50 mL) melted butter
1/2 cup (125 mL) each, quick oats and all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) brown sugar
1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C). In a mixing bowl, combine together apples, cranberries, (or other berries) sugar and lemon rind. Set aside.

In another bowl, stir together melted butter, oatmeal, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon until well combined.

Spoon apple-berry filling into prepared pie shell. Sprinkle evening with crumble topping. Bake in pie on cookie sheet in pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 F 190 C). and continue baking until fruit is tender about 30-35 minutes.

Cool on rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream. Serves 6.

Gingered Apple and Carrot Soup

A warming soup for a blustery day, it is quickly made for an inviting lunch. Butternut squash could be substituted for carrots.

2lbs (1 kg) carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 box 1 litre/ 4 cups chicken stock and 2 cups/500 mL water
2 tbsp (25 mL) peeled and grated fresh gingerroot
1 can (375 mL) evaporated milk
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2mL) fresh black pepper

In a saucepan combine carrots, apples, onion, celery, chicken stock, water and grated ginger.

Cook on medium high until tender about 25-30 minutes.

Puree mixture in blender until smooth; add evaporated milk, salt and pepper.

Taste. Adjust seasoning, Serves 4-6.

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