Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cold Storage Tour.

Vista Bella Farm: Cold Storage Tour

Hey everyone, we got a really nice reception from the apple challenge and we're still thinking about what type of experiment to run next. We will likely be taking pictures of all varieties possible from start to finish next year with a brief description of the 47+ varieties we grow. If you have any suggestions for apple related topics you'd like discussed feel free to comment/write us!

Today we're posting a video from our cold storage back in early October. At this time we had many varieties which have now sold out i.e. Honeycrisp and Cortland. Walking into the cold storage is a sensory experience in itself there are  the many colours, the textural complexity of different varieties and the blindingly decadent smell of all the varieties mixing together. Walking into the storage is a big hit with most of people who stop by for apples, we've been told many times that if we could bottle the smell of this room we'd be millionaires! Natural perfumes unfortunately cannot be conveyed via a blog so if you'd like to experience it for yourself, stop by for a visit!
These days we're spending most of our time lately preparing for the next growing season and trying to find any efficiencies we can to make the farm a little easier to handle. We certainly were tired this fall, but the season has treated us well and we both are now dreaming of the summer that flew by!

Take care for now, and enjoy the view from the storage!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Inaugural Post: The Bake Apple Expriment


Welcome to the Vista Bella Farm apple blog.  The first season of picking is behind us and we want to thank our wonderful community for their warm reception and support as we continue to take on the Malagash orchard. We know that Elizabeth and Bob Barbour left huge shoes to fill but we promise to respect the spirit of their vision as much as possible. We have been in the Malagash area for the last five years and have had the pleasure of growing a variety of vegetable crops in this beautiful area. If you have never heard of us, please check out our recent Chronicle Herald article below. We still plan on providing early and mid season vegetables but will likely be scaling back fall crops as the apple picking is about as much as can handle!

Chronicle Herald Article: Couple looks to put down roots

One might notice, through our blog name, that we would like to work on establishing a "apple museum" dynamic to our farm. This won't happen overnight as we have much work ahead of us, yet with the 47 varieties presently in production and the  addition of our establishing orchard of pears, peaches, plums, and cherries the farm seems to be an obvious place to have cultivar tastings and orchard tours.  We envision making our own cider one day too!  Everything apple!  There are several thousand varieties of apples in the world, and even if we could showcase a hundred or more we would be only be scratching the surface of what is out there to explore in the world of apples.  All these plans are of course simply dreams at the moment, and we plan to begin our dreams by continuing to offer the same high quality and care in our apples as the area has come to appreciate and expect from the previous owners of the orchard.  

A central idea behind the establishment of this apple blog is to see how interested people actually are in learning about apples. Some might say we have become a bit obsessed with apples, but we find that there is as much subtlety and distinction between apple cultivars as there are in types of wine. We as many, were crazy about Honeycrisp apples before we moved here. Honeycrisp are a wonderful eating apple, and a grower's dream for size, appearance, and shelf life. With our recent opportunity to evaluate apples throughout the season through eating on the fly, cooking in the evenings and juicing (snucking) blemished apples some apples stood out.  Our  favourites which we feel are under-rated in the public sphere include Gingergold, Jonagold,  Cox's Orange Pippin, Bramley, Empire and Golden Delicious.  If joining us in becoming apple nerds is something you'd like to learn more about we will do our best to share as we learn ourselves. Of course, your feedback is greatly appreciated and will directly affect the nature of the discussion herein. 

Baked Apple Experiment

 This morning as we ate some Northern Spy, we decided that we wanted to make a phyllo bake apple as our family is visiting for the Christmas holidays. We noticed that the recipes from England called from Bramley's whereas the North American varieties called for McIntosh. As the McIntosh is so ubiquitous we figured this was suggested more for availability than for a true sense of purpose. This lead to the question, which apple is better the McIntosh or the Bramley for bake apples? Now the clear easy choice was to bake the two side by side and test one against the other. But of course, being apple nerds with a generous supply of apples, we decided why not pull out the 13 varieties we have in storage and try them all instead. It should be noted at this time that it was a grave shame that we didn't have any Cortland remaining in order to include them in this evaluation. Cortland is a very commonly used baking apple and we would have loved to have had some to try but these were snatched up early in the season. It should also be noted that our apples have been in storage now for over three months and thus the comparison of the varieties is pretty fair as they have all endured some extended length of storage. Christmas is a typical baking season as well, therefore an apple's quality after this length of storage is another neat factor in this evaluation.

 Left to Right: Ida Red, Honeycrisp, Empire, Northern Spy, Bramley, pumpkin sweet, Summerland Mac, Jonagold, Fulford Gala, McIntosh, Cox's Orange Pippin, Nova Spy, Spartan. 

Left to Right: Spartan, Nova Spy, Cox's Orange Pippin, McIntosh, Fulford Gala, Jonagold, Summerland Mac, Pumpkin Sweet, Bramley, Northern Spy, Empire, Honeycrisp, Ida Red.
This experiment was also designed with the intent to explore a common question we get at the market this time of year. "What is the best baking apple?" This of course is a charged question as it is obvious that whatever apple your Mother/Father or Grandmother/ Grandfather used in their apple pie is clearly the best apple around. As taste and memory are so closely linked, we don't dispute this fact with anyone. However if one could objectively taste several varieties in a row, we assumed we may be able to get to the bottom of this question once and for all. Here is a close view of the 13 varieties we tried.

 Fulford Gala


Cox's Orange Pippin


 Ida Red


Northern Spy

Nova Spy


Pumpkin Sweet


Summerland Mac

The bake apple was, by our estimation, a good recipe to evaluate an apple's baking characteristics. The apple's ability to hold shape and maintain or increase flavour, the textural qualities of the flesh, and the skin's fate under heat can all be well assessed in this way. We therefore decided to take apples of roughly the same size (impossible when comparing Cox's Orange and Honeycrisp but as close as possible) and apply the same amount of cinnamon, brown sugar, quickoats and margarine (lactose intolerance is rampant around here or we'd use butter) filling to each apple. 

Ingredients for the filling (enough for 4 apples):

1 cup quickoats
1 cup brown sugar, loosely packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1/4 teaspoon clove, ground
1/2 cup margarine/butter, melted

Apples were cored, though bottoms remained intact, and filled with roughly the same quantity of filling. They were then placed in a Pyrex baking dish and baked for 40 minutes at 350 F. Unfortunately they could have likely handled 5 minutes less in the oven, however despite a bit of superficial browning of the filling, we had a nice batch of specimens to examine!

Right to Left, Top to Bottom. Left Tray: Ida Red, Bramley, Honeycrisp, Bramley, Empire, Northern Spy. Right Tray: Spartan, Fulford Gala, Nova Spy, Jonagold, Cox's Orange Pippin, Summerland McIntosh, McIntosh)

 Lastly, we removed one apple at a time and sat down as a panel of judges to decide if there were any mutual sentiments about these apples. The judges included: 

Jorge Margarit (Patriarch of the Canadian Margarit Family) 
Michelle Margarit (Matriarch of the Canadian Margarit Family)
Brenna Koneczny (Master Piesmith and apple enthusiast)
Sebastian Margarit (Apple loving bumbler)
Yuri Margarit (Top applesmith in the under 7 category)
Taran Margarit (Lover of all things sweet)

The apples were evaluated and the results were as follows:

Ida Red - Tart, thick, rich, holds shapes well, somewhere between pie and sauce consistency. 

Honeycrisp - Solid, bland, hard to cook due to size, long cooking time would be required.

 Empire - Apple sauce texture, held form moderately well, hint of sweet flavours.

Northern Spy - Light, fluffy, soft, skin bleeds colour into apple, tart, and flavourful, did not hold shape well.

Bramley - Quite tart, with complex sweetness, perfectly textured, tangy, has real wow factor! Held shape terribly.

 Pumpkin Sweet - Yellow flesh after cooking, soft and goeyed textured, bland with pear like graininess, mildly tart, skin becomes leathery. 

Summerland Mac - Maintains characteristic "Mac" flavour, tart, sweet, creamy, fine textured, soft, big hit with the kids.

Jonagold - Very pear-like flavours baked in, deep sweetness, no tartness at all, held form very well.

Fulford Gala - Held shape perfectly after baking, fine texture, mediocre sweetness, unimpressive and bland flavour.

McIntosh - Keeps characteristic "Mac" flavour after baking, tarter than Summerland Mac, flattened shape after baking, gooey textured almost a quince like flavour.

Cox's Orange Pippin - Fluffy texture, holds impressive flavour, finishes with a subtle tartness, complex sprightly flavour, skin thick but pleasant after baking.

Nova Spy - Similar to spy in tartness but not as flavourful, very soft, almost too soft textured, tastes like mellow apple juice.

Spartan - Held shape well, bleeds red from flesh into skin during baking, takes on filling flavour very easily, moderately sweet.

At the end we asked all adult judges (children deemed all apples to be delicious) to pick a top 3.  Those top 3 were as follows:

Brenna Koneczny: 
1st) Bramley 
2nd) Northern Spy 
3rd) Cox's Orange Pippin

Sebastian Margarit 
1st) Bramley
2nd) Jonagold
3rd) Cox's Orange Pippin

Michelle Margarit
1st) Bramley
2nd) Jonagold
3rd) Cox's Orange Pippin

Jorge Margarit

1st) Bramley
2nd) Jonagold
3rd) Cox's Orange Pippin

 Yuri Margarit at work judging/eating the rest of all apples after judging.

 Taran and Yuri Margarit putting in a hard days work at the farm.


Bramley is the clear winner today as it was the favorite of all judges. This apple is not a particular delicious eating apple either, it appears to develop flavor during the cooking process. This makes it something of a hidden gem as it takes a bit of work to get the flavour out of it. This is a very common baking apple in the United Kingdom where it is a well known apple, likely as popular as our McIntosh to the Canadian consumer. 

Northern Spy is the apple of choice for Nova Scotia processors, and it was clear why. This apple really keeps a tartness that makes the apple desirable in apple sauces or pies. It is also known to be a good cider apple, but we'll leave that to topic to another blog post. This apple may have only made the top 3 for 1 judge, however all judges had positive things to say about the flavour. It should be noted at this time that the Nova Spy variety does have a similar tartness but lacks the complexity of flavour found in the Northern spy.

Jonagold was a real shocker for us, not because we don't love it, but simply because we never thought of it as a cooking apple. This cultivar would fool you for a pear if blindfolded while sampling the cooked flesh. The sweetness of the Jonagold really lingered after cooking and the texture was very appealing. On top of all these features the Jonagold held the shape quite well too so really a great bake apple all around which would likely make a great crumble or tart.

Cox's Orange Pippin another variety we didn't expect much from in terms of baking but which surprised us with yet another endearing quality. When the Gala flopped we figured this would too as much of the flavour profile from the Gala was derived from it's Cox Orange Pippin heritage (seemingly to us anyways). We weren't disappointed in this one however as the distinct orange flavour of this cultivar lingers in the baked form and gives a subtle finish of tartness after a sweet rich flavour.

Final notes:

Worth Noting: 

Ida Red and Empire were both mentioned as note worthy baking apples. They may not have made the top 3 but they were deemed favorable cooking apples by all.

Apples to avoid:

Honeycrisp was surprisingly lacked in flavour and even without considering their cost the apple wouldn't make the top of the list. Considering their current 3.50$ / lb price tag in certain grocery stores, this apple is best left to fresh eating only.  

Gala also disappointed the judges, clearly a desirable eating apple but cooks down to a perfect looking but pale tasting bake apple.

Well we hope that you enjoyed our little apple experiment for the day. Feel free to post comments below, or to email us at, look us up on facebook, or share this blog posting with your friends (see top of page for details). If you have any suggestions for something we should experiment with here are the farm let us know and we'll put it on the list if the idea seems interesting and if we find the time to do it!

Happy farming, and don't forget to eat your apples!


Vista Bella Farm