Harry Burton of Apple Luscious Orchard

photo: Harry Burton smiles from behind his deer-proof gate, credit: Rebecca Baugniet

In a world where, at most grocery stores, the same four or five varieties of apples greet us, day in, day out, every day of the year, Harry Burton is without question, a food hero. Champion of the forgotten fruit, his three acre orchard boasts well over 100 different connoisseur apple varieties. If you’ve been to the Moss Street Market you’ve seen his spread – crates marked with the uncommon names (Belle de Boskoop, Pitmaston’s Pineapple…), as well as the place and date each variety was first identified, and plates offering samples of each kind on offer. In an unassuming way, the Apple Luscious stall provides quite a profound educational taste experience.

Apple varieties that originated across North America and Europe now grow happily together in Harry’s wild, organic orchard, Apple Luscious, on a south-facing slope at the south end of Salt Spring Island. I took Harry up on an invitation to visit his orchard last May, when the blossoms were out. It was such a nice day that I thought it would be kind of shabby to send the kids off to school while I wandered through an orchard in the spring sun, so we made a family trip of it. This is why when I check my notes I find an almost blank page with only one line scrawled: “pink blossoms = red flesh apples”. But Harry was patient with my three rambunctious, free for the day children, answering their questions about why crushed oyster shells line the paths and how his dog is blind in one eye. He let them feel the warmth of the freshly laid eggs and feed the ducks and chickens, obviously comfortable with the combined chaos and enthusiasm children can bring to an orchard.

So it comes as no surprise to learn that along with offering guided tours to school groups throughout the year, Harry also goes by the name ‘Captain Apple’ at the Salt Spring Apple Festival. This year marks the 12th edition of the annual event, and the theme is Kids and Apples: A Magical Combination. I’ve witnessed the effects of this magical combination first hand – my children now ask specifically if these are “Harry’s apples” before reaching into the fruit bowl, and one of my daughters requested that I “see if Harry’s got any Pink Ladies” as I headed off to the market last week. I stopped by the Apple Luscious stall to see how preparations for the festival were going. Harry reported that it had been a tough season; with only 50% of the harvest he had last year. Four orchards have had to drop out of the festival for lack of yield, but as the event organizer, he has taken this in stride, and added in a few other Salt Spring businesses – a couple of wineries, a bakery and a cheese maker, to round out the line-up. He told me proudly that the Salt Spring fall fair is the only one he knows of to judge apples on taste rather than looks, and about what he was planning to show the chefs who were coming over to visit following the Canadian Chefs Congress.

Harry’s dedication to organic farming and diversity in food production is contagious, and one bite of his apples will make it difficult for you to look at glossy supermarket apples the same way ever again. Make the most of apple season and support your local, organic orchards.

The Salt Spring Apple Festival takes place Sunday, October 3rd, from 9am – 5pm. For more information, visit www.saltspringmarket.com/apples.

Harry Burton’s Apple Luscious apples are available at the Moss St. Market, most Saturdays from the end of August through to the end of October.

Update: Harry’s ‘Red Gravensteins’ won 1st Prize for People’s Choice Award at last weekend’s Salt Spring Fall Fair. 80 randomly chosen judges tasted all the apples submitted, and each voted for the best tasting apple. Harry writes: “The amazing thing is that Red Gravenstein is an old heritage apple from the 1800’s, created by Mother Nature and found by someone.  The finder gets to name the apple.  I also do not know if it’s coincidental, but the old heritage apples seem to be the ones that produced the best crops for me in this difficult apple season.” Congratulations, Harry!

Written By:

Rebecca Baugniet is a freelance food writer and editor living on Canada’s West Coast with her husband and their four children. The author of three published cookbooks, Rebecca has also written for EAT Magazine and for Montréal ...

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