September 26, 2010

Picking your own. Garden of Eden or Avalon?

Mister Jason, this is Pierre from the Vergers Philion calling to tell you that your pear ice cider is ready. Last year I had left my coordinates with Pierre because their Poiré Gaia had sold out. It has already been a whole year already I thought. A whole year and now I can finally taste it. Outside is grey and wet. With motivation at a low I move sluggishly to the car and drive towards Hemmingford in Montérégie, the apple ice cider capital of Québec. Once I slip into the countryside on the 202, a tiny rolling highway hedged in by dense forests, orchards and farmland I feel more awakened. The colours of leaves are already changing, the balad of autumn begins.

I realize that being a stranger in the country is always easier than in the city. I am greeted by 4 generations of the Philion family who are all together in front of their boutique either playing or talking with their neighbours. Hubert, Pierre's son, represents the fifth generation of the Vergers Philion and it is he who introduced the apple ice cider 5 years ago and the Poiré 4 years ago. Together these represent about 2500 half liter bottles a year. Tasting both, which are exceptional, I noted that neither was intense in sugar nor with that syrupy texture we often find with ice ciders. I ask him why this is. Method. His is juice extracted fresh from five apple varietals which he keeps separate, he then makes his blend and freezes the juice in containers outside during the cold months on the north side of his land, which remains the coldest. I ask him about purists who say that the only true ice cider is picked off the tree. By doing it his way, he explains, as opposed to either picking frozen apples, or freezing apples whole in crates in the winter, he obtains a purer taste of the juice and of course with something less sweet. Less decomposed, oxidized notes. As for the pear, they use only Beauté Flammande. This pear variety planted 25 years ago has proved to be the most cold resistant. Difficult to say what rules will be imposed on the fabrication of ice ciders, but for now taste I suppose will dictate the market.

It is early, the orchard is quiet. Walking through the wet grass the smell of fresh apples intermingles with the brown oxidized smell of the rotting ones. The final harvest period of the year begins. Part sleep, part death. I stood there in the orchard thinking that this all this life does end. Seasons, driving skills, belching and our appreciation of dew on a spider’s web. Some people may think that these are morbid thoughts, but death is far from that. I pull an apple off a tree, a Northern Spy, and eat. Poor apples, I think. How did they receive one of the most deranged symbols known to mankind? Pears on the other hand have remained essentially unscathed. In my bible there is no mention of apples as the forbidden fruit. All that is mentioned is fruit, point. Yet, most of us grew up knowing Adam and Eve’s act as gyrating around an apple. Any walk through any of the world’s museums would indicate similar evidence. The Garden of Eden would therefore have been found in Northern Hemisphere of apple growing cultures, and everywhere else was punishment. Maybe the garden was in Québec somewhere and not along the Oronoco river as Christopher Columbus once thought! Although who the hell would walk around naked in minus 40 weather? Ok, let us not question God’s ways, but rather the strange, ominous identity apples were given. Maybe it is an extension of the butter and olive oil debate.Or a propaganda campaign against the idea of Avalon. Oh well, I began filling my basket with different varieties amazed at how the fruit grows on a tree. I was awestruck by this complex structure, these mysterious oddly shaped trees with these bright balls stuck all over them. Nature at once bizarre and wonderful, and at that moment it struck me as most bizarre.

Lobo –nice texture, toothsome, mild sweetness and mild acidity. Balanced.

Red delicious-slightly bitter, herbal with less juice than the lobo with bright red skin and shape

Yellow delicious-honeyed, sweep, crisp, good structure.

Courtland-intense apple, sweet with a little acidity.

Northern Spy-fresh, juicy, good acidity and lightly starchy.

Spartan- really juicy, crisp, refreshing, low acidity

Back at the boutique they weigh my paper bag bulging with apples. Hubert and his family is busy greeting everyone. I can see now that after telling me that after having obtained his diploma in agricultural engineering and science he worked for two 'private' companies, and that was enough experience to convince him of where he really belongs. There are families everywhere, groups of friends, tasting, picking, talking in the dégustation room, in the orchards, something incredibly alive, closer to what sustains our lives, not to mention the reassuring, empowering satisfaction of picking something off a tree and eating it other than off of a supermarket shelf.

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