Let’s take a moment to celebrate and revel in Pender Island’s apple heritage. The island, after all, is awash in apples at summer’s end. Apples of all sizes and varieties. They come from beautifully tended orchards that produce many tonnes of fruit. You can also see them on forgotten trees at the roadsides, branches loaded with them despite their neglect. Who hasn’t reached over a fence and nabbed a couple of apples within reach, the stolen fruit, the illicit pleasure.
Apples are woven into the cultural fabric of our island. You can’t get away from them. Neighbours ask if you could use one last bag of apples, or timidly wonder if you’re “appled out,” yet. Pies and galettes are made, jars of apple butter are produced and vats of apple sauce bubble away on stove tops, filling the house with the heady aroma of summer fruit.
The sheer ecstasy of biting into a juicy apple
And let’s not forget the naked fruit by itself! The ecstatic snap of biting into one, the explosion of sweet juice and cool crisp flesh. The subtle flavours of a Jonathan apple, or a Cox’s Orange Pippin, or a Belle de Boskoop. Cooking apples, too, are much sought after, such as the prized Bramley or uplifting tang of the Gravenstein.
The heritage orchards and apples of Pender are like artifacts of the early history of the Gulf Islands. Turn-of-century homesteaders cleared the land, tilled the soil. They planted many things, but they planted apple trees in abundance. The hardy pioneers passed on, but the trees stayed. They thrive today and are joined by newer varieties introduced by residents wanting to expand their repertoire.
The Twin Island Cider enterprise
But there’s another enterprising bunch who let nothing fall to waste: Pender’s own Twin Island Cider. Matt Vasilev and Katie Selbee’s growing operation harvests apples throughout the Southern Gulf Islands. They are expertly creating ciders that carry the flavour and soul of this rich apple heritage. In their search for new fruit, they’ve uncovered orchards hidden from view that bear great treasures of apples. Their product line grows every year and they recently introduced their Cider Club, which allows members to sample their most interesting blends. Ciders that you can’t find anywhere else!
I first met Matt at the Farmer’s Market a year ago. His enthusiasm and deep knowledge of apples and the cidering process were impressive. I sampled at least three ciders he had on offer and left with five bottles. Those bottles disappeared quickly, but the experience inspired the idea of creating a pure-bred Pender Island Apple Bread. Made with Pender apples, hydrated by Pender-crafted cider. It would be an homage to the bounty of our Island and home, a celebration of the fruit of our land.
A light went on!
In truth, I had coveted the idea of an apple bread since reading a recipe in Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes, by the esteemed Jeffrey Hamelman. Hamelman uses dried chunks of apples in his Normandy Apple Bread recipe. He introduces them at a late stage to the dough. It also used older sweet cider that had “gone slightly off.”
When I met Matt at the market, the light went on! A loaf that Pender Islanders can call their own!
The Pender Apple Bread is a work in progress, but the last version was a step closer to what I wanted. I used the Happy Monk Salish Sourdough loaf with dried apple chunks folded gently into the dough. And the loaf’s hydration consists of about 60% Twin Island Cider (I recently used a few bottles of the Old Growth blend) and 40% water. The cider adds a gentle caramel flavour to the bread’s crumb.
Apples and variety from Black Rabbit Farm
My apples this year came from Andy Nowak and Mary Reher’s Black Rabbit Farm on Pirate Rd. Andy and Mary’s apples tasted superb, and I was enthralled by their tiered lot of trees and produce gardens.
If you’d like to see the Happy Monk’s Pender Island Apple Bread again before Fall’s end, let me know. I hadn’t planned on offering it again, but I could be convinced if there was enough interest.
Meanwhile, if you’re nurturing your own sourdough starter and you’d like to try making the bread yourself, you can download the recipe here.
Cinnamon-Raisin bread, an enduring Happy Monk favourite. And here’s proof of Mildrith’s (the wood-fired oven) recent health check, as she just baked 41 loaves of this (and another 40 of Seed Feast) with lots of heat left to spare. Long live Mildrith and long live Cinnamon-Raisin bread!
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It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly....
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