The apple from heaven Discovering Ambrosia apples was luck. Building them into one of the world’s favourite apples was anything but
By Madeleine Baerg
ongtime apple producers in the B.C. interior, Sally and Wilfrid Mennell are becoming world celebrities — at least in the apple world — for discovering a chance seedling in their orchard that they have built into one of the favourite apple varieties on Earth. How they did it proves once again that the most successful agricultural producers are part scientist, part entrepreneur, and all passion. Wilfrid isn’t shy about admitting there was luck involved. There had to be luck. Every seed in every apple on every tree is a lucky combination of DNA with the potential to grow into a tree unlike any other. But then, the likelihood that any random combination of genes will score high in each and every essential apple trait — in other words that it will not only produce a perfectly crunchy, heavenly sweet, blushingly tempting apple but that it will also be easy to grow, hold well in storage, and appeal to producers — is about the same as the odds of your child being the next Beethoven, Einstein and Churchill all in one. Wilfrid also willingly admits that it seems that fate also played a lead role. If this magical seedling had somehow emerged just a foot to the left or right, our story would have been chopped up by the blades of a mower before it really got a chance to get started. But, with luck and fate on their side, and hefty 10 country-guide.ca
doses of persistence, vision and hope, Wilfrid and Sally became the self-confessed “parents” to an apple that’s making enormous inroads with consumers and growers alike. That “Ambrosia” — the food of the gods in Greek mythology — is the name they chose for their fledgling variety illustrates both Wilfrid’s poetic bent, and just how much confidence they have in their apple.
The pickers knew first Despite having told and retold their story at grower meetings, industry events and consumer fairs, the Mennells are eager to recount Ambrosia’s history to me. “You start telling it, Wilfrid, and I’ll interrupt you when you’re wrong,” says Sally, serving up wide slices of a decadent cake she’s baked in honour of the occasion. “Well,” says Wilfrid, leaning forward with obvious enthusiasm, “the early story of Ambrosia apples wasn’t about creating or discovering them, it was a really a process of becoming aware…” In 1987, the Mennells replaced an orchard block of mixed apple and plum trees with the newly popular Jonagold variety of apples. About this same time, a single seed of unknown origin sprouted unnoticed among the recently planted trees. For those unfamiliar with orcharding, fruit trees are grown by grafting a bud of the desired variety february 1, 2012
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