Gala, Crispin (or Mutsu), Fuji, Honeycrisp, Rhode Island Greening, York, McIntosh, Jonathan & Jonagold, Stayman Winesap, even Golden Delicious (one of MY favorites), Red Delicious & Granny Smith: those are just a few of the cultivars of apples available for pick up at our local orchards. As the season continues, the late apples will come in, such as the Black Arkansas and the Lady apple, a small perfumed apple that will keep well into February.
The names dance in a litany of languages – there are more than 7,500 cultivars of orchard apple, Malus domestica. Some were bred purposefully, such as Jonagold, a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious developed in 1943 in New York. Others were chance seedlings judged good enough to be propagated, such as Golden Delicious discovered on the farm of Anderson Mullins in Clay County, West Virginia in 1912, and the official apple of the State of West Virginia since 1955. The Rhode Island Greening is an old, historic American apple variety that originated in 1650 in Newport, Rhodes Island: it’s – surprise! – the official apple of Rhode Island. The Spitzenberg that originated in Esopus, New York, in the mid 18th century was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson: it’s still grown at Monticello, and is sometime available at farmstands in Virginia.
But while we think of apples as “American”, the fruit was brought to the new world by settling Europeans whose ancestors had received it hundreds or thousands of years before. Apples originated in the central mountainous provinces of Eurasia (where they still grow wild in an incredible array of shapes, forms, colors and tastes) and were spread over 10,000 years ago, by nomadic population of hunters/gatherers who “settled down” as they started to cultivate crops. The apple made its way to China, India, the Middle-East and Europe thousands of years ago. Remains of apples were found in excavation of Jericho and dated to about 6,500 BC. Dried apples sliced were placed in royal tombs of modern Southern Iraq around 2500 BC to be found by modern archeologists. Homer mentions apples in the Odyssey. The Romans cultivated apples extensively (the Lady apple is thought to come straight from that ancient time when it was known as Api apple – it’s still called Api in French today, the “pomme d’Api”). The Romans disseminated the apples to the far corners of their empire including the British isles where only crab apples (different species altogether) where known until then. And the British brought it to their American colonies.
When one picks up an apple, one picks up more than just a fruit: one picks up a piece of our human story that dates back to before records were written and a piece of our common heritage.
Now you want a recipe? Oh… Ok, but there is no picture – yet.
How about apple & carrot soup, linking two important fresh produce of fall? It’s one of the recipes I taught on my recent “Cooking with Apples” workshop. Read more