September Ruby. Red Sparkle. Fall Red. Wintercheeks. Prairie Magic.
Who knew Manitoba was such an Eden of apples?
What the city slickers among us might also not know is that we can pick the fruit from our backyard trees -- which might otherwise end up rotting on the lawn below -- and have it turned into jugs of golden apple cider.
Jean-Guy Coté and his crew are standing by at the Apple Junction, located a 15-minute drive east of Winnipeg.
"We're the only government-inspected -- so the only legal -- apple press in Manitoba," Coté, 34, says over the phone from John Boy Farms, near the hamlet of Landmark.
Many urban folk have every intention of making good use of their backyard bounty, he says, but then they find out how much work it is, or get too busy to keep up year after year and the apples go to waste.
"So they make an appointment with us," says Coté, who bought the press last year.
He and his wife, Ainsley, are the fifth-generation owners of the family farm, which transitioned from traditional grain to a sustainable, chemical-free, "market garden" operation about five years ago. They sell the produce they grow on five acres of land and in two greenhouses at the St. Norbert farmers' market and to a few restaurants.
Apple Junction was a necessary part of the transition, Coté says.
"There's not a lot of vegetable and fruit processing in the province," he says. "And with our farm just growing vegetables on a small scale, it's getting tougher and tougher out there, so we were looking for ways to expand and become a little more diversified. We saw this as the perfect fit."
In addition to custom pressing, they buy apples from four different Manitoba orchards and press them into their own retail line of Apple Junction Sweet Apple Cider, which they sell at the farmer's market, at Vita Health stores and at Tall Grass Bakery. It's a blend of Fall Red and September Ruby, which makes for a full, zesty flavour
As for your own custom-pressed beverage, the only cider-house rule is no fallen apples, due to risk of bacteria contamination.
While there are probably upwards of 30 apple varieties in the province, Coté says what most people have growing in their yards is the hardy Goodland, which is green with a reddish blush and slightly smaller than a store-bought apple.
A two-litre jug will cost you $3.95, or $5.50 for four litres, including the jug. There's a minimum $25 charge. One five-gallon (20L) pail of apples will yield about two gallons (8L) of juice. Or, seven kilograms of apples equals around one gallon (4L) of cider.
The apples are placed onto a conveyor belt that runs them through a washer and then up through an auger and into a grinder that chew them up and essentially makes an apple sauce. That mush goes onto a plate and into the car-sized press, where 2,000 pounds of pressure squeeze all the juice out of it.
"It's very fast," says Coté , who estimates he can press 20 pails of apples in about 20 minutes.
Unlike apples, apple cider freezes well and can be stored for up to 10 months.
Most varieties make good cider, Coté says, but Goodland, Norland, Norkent and Trail are the most popular. Keep in mind that the cider will taste just like the apple when you bite into it. Crab apples can be pressed, he says, but you may need to add sugar to the cider to make it palatable.
It might not look as pretty, but Apple Junction cider is a purer, less-processed product than what you typically find in stores, Coté says. No preservatives or sugar is added.
"The apple juice in stores is sterilized at super high temperatures and it's ultra-filtered, so it's extremely clear," he says. "But because you don't have any solids in there, you don't have any of the tannins, you lose most of the vitamins and the nutrient content."
Apple Junction pressed about 14,000 kilograms of apples last year, and hopes to boost that amount by another 9,000 or so kilos. It's already looking like a bumper crop thanks to the early spring, says C¥té.
This year, he suggests schools, sports teams and community organizations consider selling fresh Manitoba apple cider as a unique alternative to the chocolate bars and coupon books that are currently saturating the fundraising market.
For more information, go to www.johnboyfarms.com
Apples are not native to the Prairies. The plants, or "cultivars" were produced by breeding hardy material from northern areas with larger-sized fruit from southern regions. Many of those grown in Manitoba were produced at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Station in Morden. Most cultivars, although hardy, can be killed during the winter.
In 1993, the province's apple production was about 60 acres. In 2005, there were only 25 acres bearing fruit.
John Boy Farms, located near Landmark, owns and operates the province's only government-inspected apple press
Apple Junction, as it is called, pressed about 14,000 kilograms of apples last year -- for customers and its own retail brand of apple cider
One five-gallon (20-litre) pail of apples will yield approximately two gallons (8L) of cider
Fallen apples cannot be pressed due to possible bacterial contamination from the ground. Customers may not bring their own jugs due to health regulations.
Sources: www.gov.mb.ca and johnboyfarms.com