National Geographic : 1951 Sep
The Apple Is King IN the United States in a good year about a bushel of apples is grown for every man, woman, and child in the country. There is no State in the Union-and hardly a tem perate land in the world-which does not grow apples to some extent. They blossom throughout Europe and across Asia-in Rus sia, Siberia, China, Korea, and India; they are picked and eaten in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. The apple's popularity is not all due to its flavor, which seems equally effective raw or in a steaming deep-dish pie. Just as impor tant is its hardiness. Many varieties can stand temperatures down to 40° below zero F. and will also grow in warm climates, provided that there is a moderate winter to give the trees a rest. Thus it can thrive in areas where few other fruit trees survive. America regards the apple and the apple pie as its own, producing more of both than any other country. Actually, the fruit is an im migrant. It came, along with the first white men, from Europe. Apples Were a Stone Age Crop There are many species of apples, or crab apples, but the one from which our present varieties were developed, Malus pumila, prob ably started in southwestern Asia in the area from the Caspian to the Black Sea. Long before recorded history begins, however, ap ples had spread across Europe. The Stone Age lake dwellers of central Europe used them extensively. Remains found in their habitations show that they not only stored fresh apples for eating but also preserved them by cutting and drying in the sun. Cultivation of the apple apparently started with the beginning of agriculture in Europe. The Greek writer Theophrastus mentions a number of varieties grown in Greece in the 4th century B. c. And according to mythology, an apple (albeit a gold one) was awarded to the goddess Aphrodite in what may have been the world's first beauty contest. At the time of the discovery of America, apples were central and northern Europe's most important cultivated fruit. Not sur prisingly, they were taken along by the first settlers to the temperate regions of the New World-by the English to Virginia and New England, the Dutch to New York, and the French to Canada. Once started, seedling apple plantings moved west faster than the white settlers did. Some Indian tribes planted orchards around their villages. John Chapman, an itinerant missionary better known as Johnny Apple seed, roamed Ohio and Indiana early in the 19th century teaching the Gospel and plant ing apples. Apple seeds were planted at Vancouver, Washington, as early as 1817. Though their ancestors came from Europe, most apple varieties now popular in America started as seedling trees developed here. The apple does not come true from seed; 100 trees grown from seed of a single tree will all differ from each other and from the par ent. Thus occasionally a chance seedling found in a pasture or fence row will prove better than the varieties previously known. When this happens, if the new tree is dis covered, named, and propagated by grafting or budding, it becomes a new variety. In a fruit-growing community, such a dis covery is not unlike finding a new oil well or a gold mine. Grateful citizens may even erect a monument to mark the site where a new apple was born. A tall memorial pil lar, topped with a huge stone apple, marks the spot where the first Baldwin apple tree was found in Wilmington, Massachusetts. Another, in Dundas County, Ontario, Canada, shows where one John McIntosh stumbled on the apple that bears his name while clear ing forestland. These and some of our other important varieties, like the Winesap and Yellow New town, date back to colonial days. Others are more recent; the famous Delicious, for example, was discovered a little more than half a century ago in Winterset, Iowa. Greatest centers of commercial production in the United States today are in the irrigated valleys of the Pacific Northwest, particularly Washington; in the areas south and east of the Great Lakes-in New York, Ohio and Michigan; and in the foothills and valleys east of the Appalachian range, from North Carolina to New England. Commercial or chards produce about 120,000,000 bushels of apples a year; total production, including home garden trees and small farm orchards, may run as high as 150,000,000 bushels. Crab Apples, Small and Sour The name crab apple is popularly applied to trees that give small fruit (2 inch to 1' inch diameter), usually very acid and tart in flavor. These may be "native" (unimproved) species, or crosses of small-fruited species with cultivated varieties. A good many kinds of crab apple aren't grown to eat at all but as flowering shrubs. Most crab apples grown for fruit in this country started as crosses of the Siberian species M. baccata with standard apples, and are generally called Siberian crabs. They are particularly popular in Canada because they are extremely hardy and early ripening. In northern Europe many varieties of crab apple are grown for making cider. American housewives like them for pickles and jelly.