Vernon: The Apple of Our Eye

Rich history and heritage orchards spark new-found culinary creations in this fruit-producing city in B.C.'s Okanagan region

Rich history and heritage orchards spark new-found culinary creations in this fruit-producing city in B.C.’s Okanagan region

The gold rush may be what first lured people to the area now known as Vernon, but these days, it’s a different type of gold that draws visitors—Jonagold, Ginger Gold, and Golden Delicious, to name a few.

As one of Vernon’s premier crops, apples have transformed the picturesque, historic city into foodie heaven.

From heritage varietals like Golden Russet to modern ones such as Honeycrisp, the fruit stars in everything from locally made sparkling cider to inventive, freshly baked pastries.

Apples were the first crop to be harvested at the Davison Orchards Country Village, which got its start in 1933 with Macintosh trees. Still run by the same family, the farm sustainably grows a vast selection of fresh produce—including more than 20 types of apples—and offers orchard tours.

“Everybody still loves apples,” says Tamra Davison, a third-generation family member. “With new varieties like Honeycrisp and Ambrosia that keep their crunch and that are just fantastic, there’s been a real revival in apples. But if you like old-fashioned Macs, we grow those too.”

At Davison Orchards, apples appear in all sorts of creative ways. There’s apple butter—delicious spread on bread or poured over cheesecake—and “applelanches,” icy drinks made by pouring pure juice through a slush machine. Freshly pressed apple juice is used in indulgent apple-cider doughnuts, available at the field-to-table farm’s café, along with pies, jam, fudge, and more.

That freshly pressed apple juice is the farm’s signature product, an all-natural drink free of preservatives that bursts with bright flavours from a blend of sweet and tart fruit.

Apples take centre stage at the BX Press Cidery and Orchard, run by third-generation farmers Dave and Missy Dobernigg. The farm takes its name from Barnard’s Express & Stage Line, occupying the same land as one of North America’s oldest, largest, and longest-running stagecoach companies.

Made with different combinations of the dozens of kinds of apples grown on-site—including Kingston Black, Porters Perfection, Aurora, and Manchurian—the cider is pure and refreshing, not syrupy sweet.

“A farm-based craft cider connects people to their food in a tangible way that’s increasingly rare to find,” Missy says. “It’s appealing in its simplicity, with only natural ingredients. Craft cider fits nicely with the movement of people appreciating where their products come from.”

The BX Press and Marten Brewing Co. have released a collaboration called the BX Breeze, a tantalizing tap made with BX Press apple and cherry juices mixed with the craft brewery’s Weizen.

The oldest craft distillery in Vernon, Okanagan Spirits has developed B.C.’s first apple-based gin and vodka, handcrafted at its flagship distillery.

When apples mingle with mead—a fermented-honey beverage—the result is cyser, a specialty at Honeymoon Cidery at Planet Bee. Look for its next batch: Apple-pie cyser.

With so many apple varietals and drinks made with them, an ideal accompaniment is a locally sourced charcuterie plate. Helmut’s Sausage Kitchen is the go-to place for all the fixings. All of the meats are smoked in-house with natural beechwood and alder.

Helmut West, who, like his forefathers, studied sausage-making in Bavaria, suggests including Ukrainian ham sausage, cherry chorizo, Himalaya-salted lamb prosciutto, and duck l’orange prosciutto. He also makes a sparkling apple-cider sausage. “We put a little Okanagan flare into our European products,” he says.