“An Apple a Day”
By Neil Moran
Ah, the apple! There is nothing quite as revered as the apple. Just saying the word “apple” out loud with the soft “a” sound conjures up the crisp snap I hear when I bite into a firm Macintosh or red delicious.
The word apple comes from the Old English word “aeppel.” There are more than 10,000 varieties of apples throughout the world, 7,000 grown right here in the U.S. Apples are a member of the rose family, having similar blossoms. Come along as we explore the history and lore of the apple.
Apples are native to Kazakhstan where they started out as the lowly crab apple. The small, sour crab apple is the predecessor to the modern day varieties, such as Granny Smith and Fuji. There are 25 different native varieties of crab apples that grow in the wild, seven different types in the U.S. The varieties we so cherish for baking and eating took many years to evolve and involved a lot of grafting and cross-breeding. Writings from China, Babylon and Egypt over 20 centuries ago indicate that man was knowledgeable about grafting, which is a necessary technique to join hardy root stocks with tasty apples for eating.
The early colonists found only crab apples when they arrived in the New World. Eventually, orchards were planted, but they produced few apples because bees were not there. Bees are not native to America either, so bees had to be shipped in. With their arrival, apple orchards began to flourish. The first commercial apple orchard in America was established by Robert Prince in 1737 in Flushing, N.Y., which was called the William Prince Nursery.
There are many stories surrounding apples that have given us expressions such as “apple of my eye,” “Adams apple” and the “Big Apple.” It speaks for the popularity of this fruit. One of the more enduring stories, albeit misconstrued, is that of Johnny Appleseed. Born John Chapman, (1774-1845) Johnny was an eccentric man who traveled the Midwest planting apple seeds and acquiring land by obtaining squatter’s rights. He was a smart businessman and deeply religious. He traveled barefoot, befriending many people during his travels, including Native Americans.
The history books, like the ones we read in grade school, would have us believe that Johnny Appleseed grew big red, juicy apples for the early settlers by simply tossing apple seed hither and yon. However, that view has been challenged recently by Michael Pollan, author of a book titled: Botany of Desire. Pollan argues that since big juicy apples are only grown from grafted root stock, not from seed, it is likely that Johnny Appleseed was actually transplanting nursery stock as he traveled ahead of the pioneers. The evolution of apples to the giant red ones we see in the produce section of the grocery store had not yet occurred. Therefore, he was probably growing crab apples. Since crab apples are too bitter for eating, they could only be made into cider, which can be easily turned into alcohol. It is likely, according to Pollan, that Johnny Appleseed was supplying the early settlers with what they desired, the means to make alcohol.
As you will read below, the states surrounding the Chesapeake Bay aren’t on the list of the largest apple producers. However, they will grow well in the region, so you can either see your local university extension agent www.agnr.umd.edu/Extension/agriculture/ for advice on how to grow your own or visit the many farmers’ markets.
Think you know your apples? Did you know…?
In an average year, U.S. farmers grow about 250 million bushels of apples.
About 60 percent of the U.S. apple crop is consumed fresh.
Red delicious is the apple variety with the greatest production in the U.S.
After that, the top U.S. apple varieties are golden delicious, gala, granny Smith, Fuji and McIntosh.
The average American consumes about 19 pounds of fresh apples each year.
The average American eats just over four pounds of canned apples and about 1.7 gallons of apple juice annually.
Around the world, apple growers grow more than one billion bushels of apples.
Largest apple producers are China, United States, Italy, France, Poland and Germany.
Washington state is the largest U.S. grower of apples, Michigan is second and New York is third.