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The Leaside Gardener: A tribute to the Northern Spy Apple

We have a wonderful history of apples here in Leaside thanks to John Lea and his son William, who dedicated most of their farmland to apple orchards. Not just any apple either, but the Northern Spy Apple, also known as King or Northern Pie Apple, and with good reason. There is no better apple for baking than this one. Its firm, juicy flesh holds its shape and texture when heated but does so much more than that. This is a full flavour apple with hints of pear, cherry and spice that come through whether eaten fresh or heated, making it a top choice for juices and exceptional ciders too.

When John Lea started his farm in 1819, he must have heard some talk about a new apple variety being cultivated in East Bloomfield, New York. This particular apple was discovered at an orchard there in the 1800s and was being cultivated with great success. It took a number of years, but this apple’s popularity quickly spread throughout New York and the Northeast.

This was an extremely hardy variety suited to cold climates, and because of its late bloom, it was protected against late spring cold snaps. It also ripened late, often well into October, so it could be stored for up to three months. These were important attributes for a Northern apple, and the Leas embraced it early.

It wasn’t until 1852 that the American Pomological Society listed the Northern Spy Apple as a variety of promise and one worth cultivating…a good quarter century after it was already well-established here.

The Northern Spy is still available today because some believe no other apple has matched its ability to achieve the ultimate apple pie, the perfect cobbler or the most delicious cider.

However, the Spy is a biennial bearer, and for this reason it has declined in popularity with commercial orchardists. That makes it a little harder to find, but it’s still grown locally and I’ve been told this should be a very good year for the Northern Spy. They should be available through October and you will find them at Passion Fruits, Badali’s Fruit Market, and Tuft’s Valu-Mart, on Bayview Ave.

This Thanksgiving, if you want to make the best apple pie and give a salute to the Lea orchards at the same time, try it with the Northern Spy Apple and who knows, maybe this will become a Leaside tradition along with Apple Fest.

Bravo to the Bayview Leaside BIA for giving us Apple Fest, paying homage to the many apple orchards and celebrating this wonderful history of Leaside. Here’s to Apple Fest and the Northern Spy Apple! Crispy, crunchy, perfect.