The Oldest Apples in North America

A Delicious Legacy In Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley

An almost daily occurrence for our household is to slice local Nova Scotia apples in the morning for our daughter to take to school as part of her snack.

The importance of apples in Nova Scotia has been celebrated in Wolfville, Nova Scotia for the past 90 years with the annual Apple Blossom Festival that started yesterday and continues throughout the weekend from May 29th to June 4th.

But what I didn’t know was that this is the oldest apple-growing region in North America!

This apple story begins way back in 1605 when French settlers, led by Samuel de Champlain, planted the first apple trees at Port-Royal. Marie Nightingale, writing for Saltscapes Magazine, noted that the first reference to apples in North America was recorded at Port-Royal in 1605, making Champlain and his group the first Europeans known to plant apple trees on the continent.

By 1698, Port-Royal had around 1,500 apple trees tended by 54 families. As the French settlers expanded to new areas like the Minas Basin and Grand Pré, the heart of the Annapolis Valley became filled with apple orchards. One of the early apple varieties was the Belliveau Apple, first grown in Annapolis Royal. Even though the Belliveau family was deported during the 1750s and 1760s, they returned later and re-established their apple trees in Clare. According to a 2021 story from the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, “Legend says that members of the family returned to their old orchards in Port-Royal (downtown Annapolis Royal) and took cuttings of their old trees to re-establish the apple in their new home.”

Apples and the Order of Good Cheer

The Acadians’ success with apples showed their resilience and creativity. Apples, especially in the form of cider, were important to their diet and culture. They also started the “Order of Good Cheer,” North America’s first social club, founded by Champlain to keep spirits high during the tough winters. Members hosted feasts with the best local produce, including apples. Even after the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, which handed Acadia over to the English, French farmers kept growing their orchards, supplying apples to both locals and English soldiers. British officer Captain John Knox praised these orchards, noting that the apples provided a welcome change for soldiers tired of their usual salty food, and he admired the quality and variety of the fruit.

A Living Legacy

Today, the legacy of those early settlers lives on in the Annapolis Valley’s lush orchards. The region celebrates this history with many apple festivals, including the annual Apple Blossom Festival, a tradition since 1933. This festival features parades, concerts, and the crowning of the Apple Blossom Queen, highlighting the area’s rich apple-growing heritage.

Modern apple growers continue to innovate and diversify, keeping up the high standards set by their ancestors. The story of apple growing in Nova Scotia is more than just about farming success; it’s a tale of perseverance and the deep connection between people and the land. Each bite of a crisp Nova Scotia apple carries the legacy of the Acadians, reminding us of their significant impact on the region’s culture and agriculture. This heritage is a tasty reminder of the rich history and traditions that make this one of Canada’s most beloved agricultural regions.

Top 5 Selling Apples Grown in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is known for growing a variety of apples, many of which are well-suited to the province’s climate and soil. Here are some of the most popular varieties grown in the region:

  • McIntosh: This classic Canadian apple is popular for its soft flesh and sweet-tart flavour, making it versatile for both eating fresh and cooking.
  • Honeycrisp: Known for its exceptional crispness and sweet flavour, Honeycrisp apples have gained popularity in recent years and are sought after for fresh eating.
  • Cortland: With its firm texture and balanced sweet-tart flavour, Cortland apples are often favoured for salads and fresh eating, as well as for making applesauce due to their slow browning.
  • Ambrosia: These sweet, low-acid apples are known for their crisp texture and juicy flesh, making them a favourite for fresh eating.
  • Empire: A cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious, Empire apples offer a sweet, crisp flavour that is well-suited for both fresh consumption and cooking.

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