Exploring Apples: From the Garden of Eden to Today--History, Legend, and (of course) Recipes!
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.— Martin Luther
From the above quote, it’s quite clear that Martin Luther loved apples. And statistics show that he is not alone. In 2012 apple sales in the United States were valued at $3.1 billion (yes, billion with a “B”). That’s a lot of apples—9.0 billion pounds, to be exact!
However, the Story Began Long Before Luther
Apples were grown long before that famous German monk planted his tree. It is thought that apples originated thousands of years ago in Kazakhstan, near present day Alma-Ata. Here, these native plants grow up to 60 feet in height.
The Silk Road passed through this area and it is very likely that travelers enjoyed the fruits and took the seeds with them to their homelands. The Greeks were growing apples 300 years before the birth of Christ and the Ancient Romans cultivated them as well—they carried seeds to the far reaches of the Empire. And with the Norman conquest of 1066, new strains of apples were introduced to England from France.
Batholomeus Anglicus was a 13th century scholar who studied at Oxford and authored an De proprietatibus rerum ("On the Properties of Things"), perhaps the first encyclopedia. His original Latin writings are dated 1240; they were translated into French in 1372.
Why do I mention him and his encyclopedia? His writings consisted of 19 books—Book 1 was on God and angels, Book 2 on the human mind, and so on. Book 17 is where it gets interesting; De herbis et arboribus (On plants and trees) contains a section on “Apples:”
'Malus the Appyll tree is a tree yt bereth apples and is a grete tree in itself. . . it is more short than other trees of the wood wyth knottes and rinelyd Rynde. And makyth shadowe wythe thicke bowes and branches: and fayr with dyurs blossomes, and floures of swetnesse and Iykynge: with goode fruyte and noble. And is gracious in syght and in taste and vertuous in medecyne . . . some beryth sourysh fruyte and harde, and some ryght soure and some ryght swete, with a good savoure and mery.'
And Then, the Story Traveled to the New World
In the 17th century European settlers to that land called America discovered that the native crab apples were not to their liking. Unlike the sweet, crisp eating apples that we enjoy today, the crab apples were small and bitter. However, they made wonderful cider. (Fermented cider was appreciated not only because of the mild alcoholic buzz, but also, because of sanitation, it was safer to drink than the water.)
The settlers from Europe brought apple seeds and saplings from their former home, but their first attempts at growing were “less than fruitful.” The saplings (which were grafted stock) did not survive the unfamiliar, more harsh climate, but the seeds that were planted produced well.
Years later, as Americans travelled west, they took apples with them and the rest, as they say, is history. Apples now grow in all 50 states of the U.S.
The Apple State
Apples are grown commercially in 29 of our 50 states. The top producers (in order) are Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and California. Yes, Washington is the apple state!
Almost all of Washington apples are grown east of the Cascade Mountains.
Why Eastern Washington?
The area east of the Cascade Mountains is the epicenter for agriculture in the State of Washington. Grapes, wheat, hops, barley, and numerous tree crops are grown in this lush area, but the apple is definitely the star performer. Each year 10 to 12 million apples are hand-picked (harvest machines are not used).
Pioneers recognized that the rich volcanic-ash soil combined with high desert climate, sunny days, low rainfall and cold winters would provide the perfect environment for apple production. According to Drs. R. Thomas Schotzko and David Granastein:
The first apple tree in Washington is commonly believed to have been planted by a Hudson Bay employee at Fort Vancouver in 1826. Over time more trees were planted by the missionaries and by settlers. However, commercial production did not begin until the late 1800’s. Production in north central Washington and in the Yakima valley began as irrigation water became available.
The first commercial orchards are believed to have been planted in the 1890’s. Most of the orchards planted prior to that time were in western Washington and in southeastern Washington, near the population centers of the time.
By the late 1920’s Washington was the leading producer of apples. The favorable climate and the completion of irrigation canals in the Yakima valley and in north central Washington resulted in the rapid expansion of apple acreage, pushing Washington to the top of the list of producing states. (Schotzko and Granastein “A Brief Look at the Washington Apple Industry: Past and Present,” Washington State University, Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources, Publication No. SES04-05).
Why Are Apples So Popular?
In 2004 fresh fruit was the 5th most popular American food; in 2014 it moved up to 2nd place. Blame it on
- a more health-conscious population; apples are a non-fat, high fiber, no gluten food rich in vitamins,
- availability; apples can be found in the produce section all year long,
- convenience; the apple is a portable food that can go anywhere—no preparation needed
I would like to add another item to the list of what makes the apple so popular—its versatility. Apples can be used in every course of your meal, from appetizer, to salad, to main dish, and dessert.
Characteristics of Some of the Most Popular Apples
Carb Diva's Chicken Tarragon Waldorf Salad
- 3 cups cooked chicken breast, diced
- 1/2 cup celery heart (the tender inner portion), diced
- 1 cup diced apple (Fuji, or Golden Delicious would be great!)
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 4 tsp. fresh tarragon, finely minced
- 1/2 cup smoked almonds, finely chopped
- 1 cup homemade lemon mayonnaise, (see recipe below)
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
- 2 cups Chinese cabbage, finely chopped
- Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes.
- Serve on chilled plates.
Homemade Lemon Mayonnaise
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon zest
- Place the egg yolks, salt, and lemon juice in the bowl of a blender.
- Process until the egg yolk and juice are well-combined and the yolks begin to turn to a lighter shade of yellow.
- Remove the fill cap (central portion of the lid).
- Place the olive oil in a glass measuring cup with a lip suitable for pouring.
- With the blender running, begin adding the oil to the yolk/lemon juice mixture. Start with just one drop at a time and increase to a steady but very slow stream as the oil is absorbed.
- Stir in lemon zest
Braised Turkey Thighs with Cider
- 4 turkey thighs
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 carrots, pared and diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 3 fresh thyme sprigs
- 2 cups apple cider (not apple juice)
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- Season turkey thighs with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Saute bacon in Dutch oven (with lid) over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan with slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add olive oil to the pan with the bacon drippings. Saute the turkey thighs in the pan until browned, about 5 minutes per side. Do not crowd the pan--you want the turkey to brown, not steam. If necessary, cook in two batches. When browned, remove the turkey thighs to a plate and set aside.
- Add the carrots and onion to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the carrots begin to brown and the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add the bay leaf, thyme, and cider to the pan. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the chicken broth and return to a boil. Add the cooked bacon and the browned turkey thighs. Cover and place in preheated oven. Cook for about 45 minutes.
- Turn the turkey so that the portion that was submerged in the cider/broth mixture is now on top. Return to the over without the cover. Cook another 45 minutes, or until the turkey is tender.