Not all apples are the same
In the the grocery store you will usually have a choice between a variety of apples. Each variety has its own unique characteristics. Some people prefer McIntosh, while others might prefer Golden Delicious or Honeycrisp. They are still all apples, but I’m willing to bet that most people wouldn’t confuse a Granny Smith apple with a Red Delicious. The juice from any apple can be used to make cider, but some apples produce better cider than others.
The typical grocery store apples are usually there for a few reasons. First, people like them enough to buy them and eat them, so they keep growing them. Second, the trees that produce these apples may have attributes that make them easier to grow on a large commercial scale. We grow certain types of apples, called “dessert apples”, in North America suited for eating and baking because that is what most people want.
The complication is that sometimes what makes a good eating apple is different than what makes a good cider apple. There are lots of these “dessert apples” around and resourceful cider makers are demonstrating that they can still be used to make a great cider.
There are more apples out there
The options at the grocery store are only a tiny sampling of the thousands of apple cultivars (ie. type of apple) that exist. There are some apple varieties that are specifically grown to make cider. These “cider apples” are often quite different than the fruit we eat fresh. Apples grown specifically for cider often have more tannins that make them more bitter or astringent. These apples may not be great in a pie, but are good in cider. These cider specific apples can be hard to find in North America because only so many people are growing them.
There are also some crossover apples that are great for eating and can also make a great cider. Some of these are your typical grocery store options, but there is also a lot of interest in heirloom varieties. These are apples that have some history of being cultivated, but for various reasons don’t have wide commercial success today. Even if these apples aren’t cider-specific, they provide more variety and are quite popular in cidermaking.
What can we grow in Edmonton?
Many of the cider apples common in the U.K., France, or Spain are grown in wet, moderate maritime climates. The climate in Alberta is not very wet, and is certainly not moderate. Even if some European apples are able to survive here, they won’t taste exactly the same because of the different growing conditions. Even other common non-cider specific apple varieties just aren’t quite suited to living in this part of the world.
In many older neighbourhoods in Edmonton it is clear that there are apples that thrive in our climate. What kind of cider do they make? Not all of them will be successes, but we don’t know until we try. We believe there are likely some apples that probably already do grow in Edmonton that would make a great cider.
As we continue to experiment with local fruit, we hope to figure out what the best local cider apples may be. We know they won’t be the same as the traditional varieties, but that’s okay! Different can still be delicious and we’re going to do our best to make sure our local apples can reach their full potential.