I use a lot of apples in my cooking during the fall, winter, and early spring. They may not all be grown right here in the valley but, whenever possible, I do buy apples grown in BC. When buying apple juice or apple ciders, I seek out those produced here on the island.
We are very fortunate here in the Cowichan Valley because we have our own cidery; the Merridale Ciderworks. They produce exceptional ciders from traditional varieties of cider apples, grown for centuries in Britain and in Europe, and now thriving here as well.
Cider apples are not like the dessert apples we buy in the grocery store. They are bittersweet and bittersharp, producing quite astringent juices. These bitter juices produce a higher quality, better tasting cider without the addition of chemical additives that might otherwise be required to amend the flavour of the finished product.
Because they are not grown for their appearance, cider apples do not require many of the chemical pesticides and fungicides used to produce the pretty apples we are used to seeing in our markets. All of the apples (about 110 tons a year) used by the Merridale Ciderworks are organically grown. As much as their excellent taste, the growers’ mindful farming practices recommend these ciders to me.
I use apple juice, apple cider, and apple cider vinegar in many of my recipes. As with my wine vinegars, I choose to make my apple cider vinegar myself. I do this because starting with the best quality cider allows me to control the quality of the finished product. My apple cider vinegars start with Merridale cider.
It was one of my apple recipes that brought this note to mind. Look for a dressing made with cider vinegar on one of my lunch-time salads within the next few weeks. Enjoy it knowing that, in doing so, you are getting the some of the very best of what the valley has to offer.