APPLE. Picking apples on a clear, crisp, sunny autumn day provides a cornucopia of pleasures. The enjoyment of being outdoors and savoring another harvest has been part of the human experience for centuries. Biting into a crunchy, sweetly flavored apple or quaffing a big glass of fresh cider reminds one why apples are a part of fairy tales and folk history. Remember Snow White and Johnny Appleseed? Apples have sustained humans with beverages—hard and sweet cider—innumerable culinary dishes, winter provisions, and even foodstuffs for hogs and cattle, and they are still an integral part of American culture and commerce. Apple pie is the quintessential American dessert, and bins of fresh apples are present year-round in every supermarket. An apple variety exists for every taste bud, and eating apples has a lot of health benefits, too. They are a good source of antioxidants and fiber, and an individual apple contains about 80 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 6 milligrams of vitamin C, and 170 milligrams of potassium.
Origin of Apples
Botanists theorize that apples originated somewhere in central and southern China. This area is home to around twenty Malus species, whose seeds were gradually spread by birds throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Ornamental crab apples are also descendants of these smaller, bitter-fruited species. It was thought that the edible apple (Malus domestica ) evolved as a complex hybrid from a number of these wild apple species. However, Barrie Juniper, emeritus fellow in the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University, has suggested that a small population of a single Malus species from the wild forests of the Tian Shan (the Heavenly Mountains) along the border of western China and Kazakhstan is the progenitor of all modern apple cultivars. These Tian Shan forests became isolated by biological and climatic changes about 4.5 million years ago and evolved in isolation. Juniper theorizes that as bears and wild pigs, horses, and donkeys gradually began to occupy the area and to eat the largest and sweetest fruits, they aided in the process of natural selection for larger, sweeter fruit. Because apples do not breed "true to type" from seed, these wild plantings from dispersed seeds gradually contributed to a diversity of apple varieties from this one species. Later, around ten thousand years ago, humans began to travel through the area and also began to eat these fruits and to carry them westward. Juniper and other researchers are studying the remnants of these forests of wild fruit trees and are collecting samples for DNA analysis. These wild fruit trees are a fruit breeder's paradise for genetic material.
By 2500 B.C.E. apples were cultivated throughout northern Mesopotamia and Persia. The walled gardens of Persia included fruit trees for their ornamental beauty as well as for their culinary delights. The ancient Greeks and Romans also cultivated apple orchards, and their wealthy citizens enjoyed apples as part of the dessert course at banquets. The Greeks, well advanced in horticultural knowledge, understood grafting and propagated specific varieties for their orchards. The Greek writer Theophrastos knew that apples would not grow true to type from seeds, writing, "Seedlings of . . . apples produce an inferior kind which is acid instead of sweet . . . and this is why men graft." In the first century C.E. the Roman writer Pliny described over twenty named varieties in his Natural History. Apple orchards were established throughout continental Europe and in Britain as the Romans extended their empire, culture, and crops. An indicator of the importance of the apple in these ancient cultures is its prevalence in Greek and Roman mythology. The Roman goddess Pomona tended her orchards and bestowed gifts of fruit on her favorites as rewards for favorable acts.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, many of the favorite dessert apple varieties of the day disappeared. Charlemagne's rise to power in 771 brought a measure of peace and prosperity and an increased interest in horticultural pursuits. His Capitulare de Villis (Rules of Land Use) decreed that every city should include apples, cherries, plums, peaches, and pears. Charlemagne also issued an edict that brewers (which included cider makers) should be encouraged to develop their trade. Apple cultivation and varietal development progressed in Europe during the Renaissance. Varieties were selected, named, and propagated, and orchard plantings increased. These improved varieties were included in beautiful displays of fresh fruit at Renaissance banquets, where fresh apples were enjoyed as part of the dessert course.
North American History
Apples have been part of American life from the first arrival of European settlers. One of the first documented orchards in the New World belonged to William Blax-stone, a well-known horticulturalist and clergyman. He planted his orchard around 1625 on the slope of what became Beacon Hill in Boston. Blaxstone, who was described as an eccentric, saddle-trained a bull and distributed apples to his friends on his rides. One of his apples, Sweet Rhode Island Greening, is probably the first named variety from the United States.
Colonial America. A one-to six-acre apple orchard was an important part of farmsteads in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century America. Apples were grown primarily for hard cider, which was the beverage of choice because water was regarded as unsafe. Everyone in the family drank cider, and each family produced twenty to fifty barrels of cider each autumn for its own consumption and to use as barter for needed goods and services. Cider was not considered prime until it had aged over a year. Applejack, made from distilled cider, was even stronger. The first cider mills were built around 1745. Prior to this cider was made by pounding apples in a trough and draining the pomace. By the late eighteenth century cider mills dotted the countryside. In New England one in ten farms had a cider mill.
Cider was also used in cooking apple butter. Sweet cider (the unfermented, freshly pressed juice) was combined with peeled and boiled apples and cooked until the mixture had been reduced to a thick paste through evaporation. It was then put up in earthen jars for later use. Some cider was allowed to become vinegar and was used for food preservation. Apples were also dried for winter preservation. Michel Crèvecoeur, author of Letters from an American Farmer (1782), described drying apple slices on wooden platforms erected on poles. The fruit was spread out on wooden boards, where it was soon covered with "all the bees and wasps and sucking insects of the neighborhood," which he felt accelerated the drying process. The dried apples were used for apple pies and dumplings throughout the year. Peaches and plums were also dried but were considered more of a delicacy and were saved for special occasions. The dried apples, also called schnitz, were stored in bags hung in the attic rafters to keep them dry and away from mice. The Pennsylvania Dutch, German settlers in eastern Pennsylvania, were prodigious apple growers and developed a brisk business in colonial America selling schnitz, apple butter, and cider. A traditional Pennsylvania Dutch apple dish, called schnitz pie, consists of dried apples first cooked in water; then sugar and spices are added to the pot, and finally the mixture is baked in a lidded pie crust. Schnitz and knepp is a dish of ham, potatoes, and dried apples cooked together; dumpling dough is added and cooked briefly right before serving.
After the Revolution, grafting and nurseries became more commonplace. Still, until the mid-nineteenth century most plantings in home orchards were of seedling trees that were not pruned. The fruit was primarily used for cider and fed to hogs. Pork was cheap, and the abundant apples and peaches were an inexpensive way to fatten pigs. Cider was even part of political campaigning and was dispensed freely during voting time. During one election, George Washington's agent is said to have dispensed 3.75 gallons of beer, wine, cider, or rum to every voter.
Insect pests and diseases were not quite as prevalent in colonial times as they later became. Some key fruit pests had not yet made the trip to the New World, and other native insects had not yet discovered apples. Pest-damaged fruit was also accepted as natural and unavoidable. Still-life paintings of fruit from this and earlier eras clearly show insect and disease damage on the fruit. In 1806 Bernard McMahon, in The American Gardener's Calendar, instructed readers to pick the worst of the leaves off the tree and dash the branches with water in dry weather to prevent insect damage from spreading.
Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman, was a popular folk character in early nineteenth-century America. Born in Leominster, Massachusetts, in 1774, Johnny Appleseed started seedling apple tree nurseries throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Traveling by canoe or on foot, he gave apple seeds from cider mills to any farmer who promised to plant them and take care of them. On his travels he also planted seedling nurseries in clearings. At his death in 1847, he had established apple trees over 100,000 square miles of territory.
Nineteenth-century apple growing. Agricultural settlement of midwestern and western states by European settlers began in the mid-1820s. Home orchards were planted in Washington State by the first European immigrants from the eastern states in the mid-1800s. Commercial orchard plantings did not take hold until the advent of the big irrigation projects in the late nineteenth century. By 1850 five hundred named varieties were cultivated. The seedling nurseries started by Johnny Apple-seed and settlers across the country were the start of unique American varieties like Baldwin, Esopus, Spitzenburg, Green Newton, Jonathan, Hawley, Newton Spitzenburg, Swaar, Winesap, and York Imperial.
The mid-nineteenth century saw changes in American agriculture as urban populations grew and a smaller percentage of people were involved in agriculture. Apple growing was no longer primarily the purview of the self-sufficient homestead. Alcoholic cider fell into disrepute with the spread of the temperance movement, and the cider industry declined. Larger commercial orchards were established for growing and selling fresh apples. The apple industry was affected between 1880 and 1930 by the development of the refrigerated railroad car that allowed fruit growers in the western states to ship fruit east. The development between 1910 and 1920 of refrigerated storage meant that long-keeping winter apples were not as necessary, so fewer varieties were grown by commercial orchards. At the beginning of the twentieth century seven thousand named varieties of apples existed, but five thousand of these varieties were extinct by the beginning of the twenty-first century. Prior to refrigerated storage, apple cultivars grown in small orchards varied from early-season baking apples to winter-keeper types with a thick, waxy skin that would store well in root cellars.
Pesticides were not developed or widely used until the late nineteenth century, when growers began producing fruit more for market and for fresh eating rather than for cider and for home consumption. Orchardists experienced increasing pest damage from codling moth, a larval fruit pest accidentally introduced from Europe by early settlers, and from other pests and diseases. The first arsenical insecticide, Paris green (copper acetoarsenite), was developed in the 1870s to control codling moth. Lead arsenate was developed as an insecticide in 1892. Growers also began using nicotine sulfate to fortify the lead arsenate applications. At first these broad spectrum, toxic pesticides were applied one to three times during a growing season, but the number of applications increased as codling moth became more difficult to control. By 1945 orchardists were using up to seven applications of lead arsenate each season. DDT, developed during World War II, was hailed for its effectiveness against insect pests and low toxicity to humans. Not until later did scientists discover that DDT persisted in the food chain. Still, these new pest controls were not without concerns. DDT successfully controlled codling moth but wiped out natural predators that kept other pests in check, so the number of pests that needed to be controlled greatly increased as the number of pesticides increased.
Public debate over pesticide use grew with the increasing use of pesticides. In 1937 the U.S. Congress directed the U.S. Public Health Service to investigate the possible harmful effects of spray residues on fruits and vegetables. Although the Service's report, finished in 1940, concluded that harmful effects were minimal, the dialog about pesticide use continued, reflected in various scientific studies and public debates through the decades. The 1962 publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson galvanized public opinion about the environmental consequences of pesticide use.
Apple Orchards in the Twenty-First Century
The introduction of integrated pest management in the 1970s placed more emphasis on understanding pest and disease life cycles and pest populations as the basis for pesticide applications instead of touting the benefits of applying sprays on a routine basis. Still, fruit growers must meet the demand for inexpensive, blemish-free fruit in a competitive marketplace. Pesticide use on apples remains higher than on most other crops. Researchers continue to study pest-and disease-monitoring techniques, biological controls, and new targeted pesticides to develop more ecologically based production systems and to lower the pesticide risk for agricultural workers and consumers. Consumer demand for organic fruits and vegetables produced without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers has increased. Organic apple production is growing, particularly in the Northwest, which has fewer insects and diseases than the Northeast.
In the early twenty-first century Washington State produced 50 percent of the apple crop in the United States, followed by New York, California, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Although over two thousand varieties of apples are grown in the United States, commercial orchards produce about 90 percent of the crop from ten varieties of apples—Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Rome, Fuji, McIntosh, Gala, Jonathan, Idared, and Empire. Controlled atmosphere storage, where the oxygen level is decreased and additional nitrogen is introduced into refrigerated storage, means apples can be stored from one season to the next and hold their quality. Approximately 50 percent of the crop is sold for fresh eating; 20 percent is processed for vinegar, cider, juice, jelly, and apple butter; 17 percent is canned as applesauce and pie filling; and 13 percent is exported. Internationally apples are the most widely cultivated tree fruit. Annual world apple production stands at approximately fifty-seven metric tons of apples. China is now the world's largest producer of apples, followed by the United States, Turkey, Italy, Germany, France, Iran, Poland, Argentina, and India.
Commercial apple orchards require skilled management. Apples are adaptable but grow best in cool temperate climates from about 35 to 50 degrees latitude. Most apple varieties require full sun, good soil drainage, and a chilling period (1,000 to 1,600 hours of temperatures below 45°F) and 120 to 180 frost-free days to produce a crop. Fruit quality is highest when day temperatures are warm but nights are cool. Orchardists favor trees that have been propagated on size-controlling rootstocks. These root-stocks produce smaller trees that can be planted more intensively, yield more per acre, and bear fruit earlier (two to four years) than full-sized standard rootstocks. Trees are pruned annually, and pests, diseases, soil fertility, and water needs are monitored to maximize fruit quality, size, and color. Growers must also pay attention to market demands and price fluctuations to maintain viable businesses in a highly competitive international arena.
One option for smaller family farm operations is to focus on direct marketing to the consumer. Roadside marketing, farm markets, and pick-your-own operations can emphasize locally grown, unique apple varieties. Large-scale supermarkets tend to carry only a few varieties, while the several thousand apple varieties once grown in the United States are unknown to many consumers. Apple aficionados can search out regional favorites like Smokehouse, a fine, old Delaware and Pennsylvania apple from 1837; Grime Golden, the rich, distinctive apple from the mountains of West Virginia; or Blue Permain, a large, dark purplish-red fruit that will keep all winter in a root cellar. The best baking apples are found at farmer's markets. The tart Lodi ripens early in the season, Fallawater is an old favorite for both baking and eating, and the yellow-fleshed Smokehouse is juicy and firm for pies.
Preserving the rich heritage and genetic diversity of these varieties is a concern of the Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit organization devoted to saving heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits. The organization maintains a historic orchard of seven hundred apple varieties at its Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa, and aims to obtain cuttings of all existing nineteenth-century apples. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also maintains an apple germ plasm collection of more than three thousand varieties in orchard plantings or in tissue culture storage. These collections offer genetic characteristics, such as insect and disease resistance, flavor, fruit size, and cold hardiness, that are important in breeding new apple cultivars.
The general perception among gardeners is that apple growing is too complicated and is best left to experts. Backyard apple-growing enthusiasts know that, while apple growing does take an investment of time and knowledge, it really is not difficult. Some homework will determine the varieties and size-controlling rootstocks that thrive in an area. Local agricultural extension agents are good resources for information on which pests and diseases might present problems. The North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) is a network of fruit-growing enthusiasts who publish a quarterly journal of helpful varietal and growing information. Disease-resistant varieties, such as Liberty, Redfree, Gold Rush, and William's Pride, are an absolute boon for backyard orchardists. Gardeners can combine the disease-resistant varieties with insect-trapping techniques, like the apple maggot trap, which is a red apple-sized sphere coated with sticky tanglefoot to attract apple maggots, and kaolin clay, a fine clay particle spray material, to produce a good-quality apple without inundating a backyard with pesticide materials. Harvesting a basket of crisp, delicious apples from a backyard orchard should be on every gardener's wish list.
See also Fruit: Temperate Fruit; Pie; United States: Pennsylvania Dutch Food .
Childers, Norman Franklin. Modern Fruit Science. Gainesville, Fla.: Horticultural Publications, 1983.
Fegley, H. Winslow. Farming, Always Farming. Birdsboro, Pa.: Pennsylvania German Society, 1987.
Fletcher, S. W. Pennsylvania Agriculture and Country Life. Volume 1: 1640–1840. Harrisburg, Pa.: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1950.
Hedrick, U. P. A History of Horticulture in America to 1860. Portland, Ore.: Timber Press, 1988.
Janson, H. Frederic. Pomona's Harvest: An Illustrated Chronicle of Antiquarian Fruit Literature. Portland, Ore.: Timber Press, 1996.
Long, Amos, Jr. The Pennsylvania German Family Farm. Breinigsville, Pa.: Pennsylvania German Society, 1972.
McMahon, Bernard. The American Gardener's Calendar. Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1997. Facsmile edition of the 1806 work.
Morgan, Joan, and Alison Richards. The Book of Apples. London: Ebury Press, 1993.
Price, Eluned. "East of Eden." The Garden 126, no. 6 ( June 2001): 456–459.
Tannahill, Reay. Food in History. New York: Stein and Day, 1973.
Thuente, Joanne. Fruit, Berry, and Nut Inventory. Edited by Kent Whealy. 3d ed. Decorah, Iowa: Seed Savers Exchange, 2001.
Upshall, W. H., ed. History of Fruit Growing and Handling in United States of America and Canada 1860–1972. University Park, Pa.: American Pomological Society, 1976.
Watson, Ben. Cider, Hard and Sweet. Woodstock, Vt.: Countryman Press, 1999.
Sarah Wolfgang Heffner
an apple a day keeps the doctor away traditional saying, recorded from the mid 19th century, reflecting a view of the health-giving properties of apples.
apple of discord in Greek mythology, the golden apple inscribed ‘For the fairest,’ said to have been thrown by Eris, the personification of discord, into the assembly of the gods, and contended for by Hera, Athene, and Aphrodite. Paris of Troy (see Paris), chosen by the gods to adjudicate, awarded the apple to Aphrodite; the result was to be the Trojan War.
Apple Island in Australia, an informal name for Tasmania, because of its popular identification as an apple-growing region.
the apple never falls far from the tree recorded in English from the mid 19th century, and apparently of Eastern origin, this saying is frequently used to assert the continuity of family characteristics.
apple of one's eye is a person of whom one is extremely fond and proud, originally denoting the pupil of the eye, considered to be a globular solid body, extended as a symbol of something cherished.
rotten apple a bad person in a group, typically one whose behaviour is likely to have a corrupting influence on the rest; with allusion to the fact that a rotten apple causes other fruit with which it is in contact to rot.
upset the apple cart spoil a plan or disturb the status quo; apple cart as a metaphor for a satisfactory but possibly precarious state of affairs is recorded in various expressions from the late 18th century onwards.
See also apple pie, apples, Big Apple, golden apple, the rotten apple injures its neighbours.
apple, any tree (and its fruit) of the genus Malus of the family Rosaceae (rose family). Apples were formerly considered species of the pear genus Pyrus, with which they share the characteristic pome fruit. The common apple (M. sylvestris) is the best known and is commercially the most important temperate fruit. Apparently native to the Caucasus Mts. of W Asia, it has been under cultivation since prehistoric times. According to ancient tradition, the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden was the apple (Gen. 3). In religious painting, the apple represents the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, as do occasionally the pear and the quince. It was sacred to Aphrodite in classical mythology. The apple is now widely grown in thousands of varieties, e.g., the Golden Delicious, Winesap, Jonathan, and McIntosh. The tree is hardy in cold climates, and the firm fruit is easy to handle and store. Most apples are consumed fresh, but some are canned or used for juice. Apple juice (sweet cider) is partly fermented to produce hard cider and fully fermented to make vinegar. Wastes from fermenting processes are a major source of pectin. Applejack is a liquor made from hard cider. Western Europe, especially France, is the chief apple-producing region; in North America, also with an enormous total output, Washington is the leading apple-growing state, but very many areas grow crops at least for local consumption. The tree is subject to several insect and fungus pests, for which the orchards are sprayed. The hardwood is used for cabinetmaking and fuel. The crab apples are wild North American and Asian species of Malus now cultivated as ornamentals for their fragrant white to deep pink blossoms—e.g., the American sweet, or garland, crab apple (M. coronaria), the prairie crab apple (M. ioensis), and the Siberian crab apple (M. baccata). The small, hard, sour crab-apple fruits are used for preserves, pickles, and jelly; in growth and culture these trees are similar to the common apple. Apples are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Rosaceae.
APPLE (Heb. תַּפּוּחַ), mentioned several times in the Bible. In the Song of Songs it is described as a shady tree bearing sweet fruit (2:3). The odor of the beloved is reminiscent of the delicate aroma of the apple (7:9). It was an important product of Palestinian agriculture, and is mentioned as one of the victims of the locust plague described in Joel (1:12). The shapeliness of the golden apple served as a model for artistic ornamentation (Prov. 25:11). The custom of sending apples to the sick is mentioned in rabbinic literature (Tosef., bm 7:4; tj, Shev. 8:4, 38a). Several localities in Israel bore the name "Tappu'aḥ," giving evidence, incidentally, of its widespread growth and popularity. The tappu'aḥ of the Bible has been variously identified as peach, citron, and even mandrake. Yet it undoubtedly refers to the apple – Pirus malus (sylvestris). This is confirmed by the references to its characteristics in rabbinic literature, for instance, the season of its ripening, the trees on which grafting would be permitted, the preparation of applesauce and apple cider, etc. (see Tosef., Kil. 1:3; tj, Ma'as. 1:4, 49a; tj, Ter. 10:2, 47a; Tosef., Ber. 4:2). In Arabic the apple is called tufaḥ. In ancient times the aromatic strains apparently were most widely cultivated, and the odor evoked high praise. The verse "the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed" (Gen. 27:27) was interpreted as referring to the smell of an apple orchard (Ta'an. 29b). In art and in later literature the tree of knowledge in Genesis 1 was identified with the apple tree, and the Targum of the Song of Songs renders tappu'aḥ as "the aromatic apples of the Garden of Eden." In the Kabbalah, "the orchard of holy apples" signifies the most sublime holiness. In recent times the apple was not cultivated extensively by the Arabs in Palestine. From the middle of the 20th century, however, apples of various strains were grown in many areas of Israel, and are even an export crop.
Loew, Flora, 3 (1931), 212 ff.; J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (1968), 60–63. add. bibliography: Feliks, Ha-Ẓome'aḥ, 172.
- Adam and Eve original couple tempted to eat forbidden fruit. [O.T.: Genesis 2:17]
- Apple Annie nickname for women who sold apples on street corners during the Depression. [Am. Culture: Flexner, 11]
- Appleseed, Johnny (John Chapman, 1774–1845), missionary nurseryman who supplied apple seeds to pioneers. [Am. Folk-lore: EB, II: 746]
- Big Apple nickname for New York City. [Am. Folklore: Misc.]
- forbidden fruit fruit that God forbade Adam and Eve to eat; byword for tempting object. [O.T.: Genesis 3:1–6]
- golden apples of the Hesperides a wedding gift to Hera; Hercules stole some in the course of his labors. [Gk. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 451]
- golden apples given by Venus to Hippomenes to distract Atalanta and win his race with her. [Class. Myth.: Metamorphoses ]
- Newton, Isaac (1642–1727) English mathematician whose observation of apple’s fall led to treatise on gravitation. [Br. Hist.: EB, 13: 16–21]
- Tell, William Swiss folk hero condemned to shoot apple from atop son’s head. [Swiss Folklore: EB, IX: 872]
ap·ple / ˈapəl/ • n. 1. the round fruit of a tree of the rose family, which typically has thin red or green skin and crisp flesh. ∎ an unrelated fruit that resembles this in some way. See also custard apple, thorn apple. 2. (also apple tree) the tree (genus Malus) bearing such fruit. 3. (the Apple) short for the Big Apple. PHRASES: the apple of one's eye a person of whom one is extremely fond and proud. apples and oranges (of two people or things) irreconcilably or fundamentally different.
apples and pears rhyming slang for ‘stairs’, recorded from the mid 19th century.
she's apples used to indicate that everything is in good order and there is nothing to worry about (informal Australian and New Zealand usage). The expression comes from apples and spice or apples and rice, rhyming slang for ‘nice’.
See also apple, small choice in rotten apples.