Apple Has a Bad Rap
apple has gotten a bad rap. Supposedly, Eve picked an apple in the Garden of
Eden and took a bite and then convinced poor clueless Adam to take a chomp too.
From there, it’s all downhill for humanity. Man has to toil all the days of his
life and women have to suffer in child birth. You’d think God would have put a
few more warning signs around that apple tree.
But was it an apple tree? In the bible it just says
“the tree in the middle of the garden.” Whoa! How did the apple manage to become
the forbidden fruit responsible for the downfall of man? Why not a nectarine or
Worse yet, as a nurseryman, where are all the flowers
in the Garden of Eden? The bible doesn’t mention any flowers whatsoever in
Genesis. Sure, it mentions plants, but only those that produce seeds and fruit.
There are lots of animals that Adam gets to name but apparently God forgot to
tell him to name the plants. No petunia? No pansy?
Actually, I think that Eve was the one who got to name
the plants. Think of the early roles of man and woman. The man hunted so it
would be natural for him to name the animals. The woman gathered. She would name
the plants of course. The garden is sort of an extension of the kitchen and no
man can ever find where things are in the kitchen. As usual, women get the blame
and no credit for doing all that naming and organizing.
Anyway, back to the apple.
Malus sieversii is the scientific name for the ancestor
of the original apple. It grows wild in the mountains of Kazakhstan, which was
on the route of the Silk Road. The apples there vary from shrubby bushes to
trees that can grow sixty feet tall. The apples come in various sizes from small
nut size up to a large standard apple size. Colors of the fruit range from green
to yellow to red to purple. Genetically, the apple is very diverse and more than
any other fruit its seedlings are a mixed bag rarely like its parents.
The Sunset Western Garden Book lists sixty different
apple trees yet over a hundred years ago, there were thousands of varieties. In
the store, a selection of ten varieties would delight most apple aficionados.
What happened to the diversity? Apples need to store well. They have to be able
to be shipped and have a nice color. Most have fallen by the wayside
as consumers, growers and marketers eliminate most varieties.
In the early 1800’s, a man called John Chapman, also
known as Johnny Appleseed, was just barely ahead of civilization planting his
apple seeds along creek beds to sell young trees to the people going west. He
was a crazy and eccentric man but he did provide a service. To get free land,
people needed to plant fifty apples on their property to show they were
interested in staying for the long term. Chapman sold the trees and then moved
on to establish another tree nursery always on the edge of the frontier. Back
then, the apple represented civilization.
What’s interesting is the crazy diversity of the
seedlings he sold. Apples don’t come true from seed but that’s how Johnny did
it. Many trees produced apples that Adam would have spit out instead of getting
us into all this trouble. According to breeders, you might get only one real
winner in 80,000 seedlings.
What did the people do with the millions of inedible
apple trees that Johnny sold?
Well, Disney may have tried to sell Mr. Appleseed as a
cartoon character friendly to children but the real reason people wanted apple
trees was for one thing: Alcohol. Where on the frontier are you likely to find
booze? With apples, people could make hard cider with about the same alcohol
content as beer. Freeze the hard cider and it produces a liquid that refuses to
ice called applejack which is about 66 proof. Virtually every homestead in
America produced hundreds to thousands of gallons of cider that often took the
place of beer, wine and even water.
Oh dear. It wasn’t until the last century that people
actually thought about eating an apple instead of drinking it. “An apple a day
keeps the doctor away” was a marketing slogan by growers to keep the temperance
movement from cutting into their sales. Those axes that the early
prohibitionists wielded weren’t just to chop up drinking establishments; they
were also to chop down apple trees.
Maybe God was onto something when he tried to keep us
away from that wormy old apple. Actually, a lot of theologians think the more
likely fruit was the pomegranate. That would make a lot more sense actually but
you can’t take a big satisfying bite out of a pomegranate. You can, however,
make pomegranate wine.