Though apples are enjoyed across the globe, many people associate apples with the United States of America. That’s in spite of the fact that the first apples were cultivated on the opposite side of the world from North America in Asia.
There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples that produce various characteristics for flavor and appearance. Apples are often a topic of discussion in the fall, when many trees produce their largest bounties of fruit. Autumn is a good time of year to take a closer look at apples, and explore some of the most popular varieties for picking and eating.
Malus deomestica, or the common apple tree, is a descendent of apple trees that originated in Central Asia in what is now southern Kazakhstan. Apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe. The original apple tree was the wild apple, or Malus sieversii. DNA analysis has confirmed that the wild apple is the progenitor of the cultivated apple enjoyed today.
European colonists likely brought apple seeds and trees with them when they emigrated to North America, introducing that part of the world to the apple tree. Records from the Massachusetts Bay Company indicate that apples were being grown in New England as early as 1630. Americans also enjoy the popular story of Johnny Appleseed, who was believed to have distributed apple seeds and trees to settlers across the United States.
While apples can be produced from seeds, nowadays many apples are propagated by grafting so that they retain the parent trees’ characteristics of flavor, hardiness and insect resistance.
Apples and symbolism
Apples have become the main symbols of many different stories and tales throughout history. Apples are linked to the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve and their ultimate expulsion from the Garden of Eden. However, the apple is never named in any of the religious texts as the fruit Eve picked from the tree of knowledge.
Apples have appeared in fairy tales and folklore. The Brothers Grimm had the character ‘Snow White’ fall ill after eating a poisoned apple. In Norse mythology, the goddess Iounn was the appointed keeper of golden apples that kept the Aesir young forever.
Apples have also played a role in science, most notably Sir Isaac Newton’s study of gravity. While myth surrounds the story of Newton and an apple falling from a nearby tree, it’s likely that witnessing an apple fall from a tree did spark something in the famed scientist.
Most popular apple varieties
Many varieties of apple stand out as perennial favorites. In the United States, the Red Delicious is the country’s most popular grown apple. It was called the hawkeye when discovered in 1872. The Golden Delicious is the second most popular grown apple in America. The Delicious apples tend to have mild, but grainy flesh that can fall apart when cooked, so they’re best used for snacking. Cortland, Empire, Fuji, Gala, McIntosh, and Macoun are some of the other most popular varieties.
Those interested in baking with apples can select among Granny Smith, Jonagold and McIntosh. These apples tend to be crisp and tart and hold up better in recipes.
Apples have been enjoyed for thousands of years. While apples are a staple of autumn, they can be enjoyed all year long thanks to their widespread availability.