History Of The Apple Fruit
A brief history of the apple fruit: at one time, we had over 2500 of the 7000 varieties that could be found worldwide. Where did they go?
'As American as apple pie' is a meaningless phrase. Apples, and apple pies (and tarts) were well-known in Europe at the time the Old World sent settlers to the New. Indeed, the apple is not native to America at all, and had to be imported by settlers eager to recreate their old lives in a new geography.
Valuable enough in the 1600s to be used in exchange for land, by the mid-1700s, America was exporting apples back to Europe. And of course, the patient work of John Chapman, otherwise known as Johnny Appleseed, spread the seedlings ever further. Beginning at the coast, Chapman carefully planted seedlings in small orchards, moving ever westward, until he reached Fort Wayne, Indiana.
In America, however, the apple changed from the staid creature it had been in Europe. Every region in the colonies experimented with the original seedlings, and created local favorites. At the height of local production, 2,500 varieties existed, 700 in New York State alone.
Apple desserts underwent a change in the colonies. No longer the elegant tarts of the French, or the nearly unsweetened pies of the English, America created the apple pandowdy, apple cobbler, brown betty, and dumplings to stave off hunger in a delicious fashion. All of these dishes took a more casual approach in creating, making broken crust an attribute, not a disaster. And of course, the added sugar didn't hurt in increasing their popularity.
Why do we see so few varieties in supermarkets now? The Red Delicious is easily the most popular, although it has little flavor. The Golden Delicious and Granny Smith are also frequently found, and although the latter has a pleasing crunch, the tough skins of each are a distraction. It is these sturdy skins however, that assure their popularity. With the demise of local farms and orchards, we rarely eat local apples any longer, and depend on long-distance shipments for our supplies. Therefore, apples that are very regular in shape, and very tough, are the easiest to ship, and the easiest to make profitable.
The older varieties had beautiful names, and complex flavors, but were too hard to market on the basis of looks alone-the Golden Russet has rough rust colored splotches on its yellow skin, not a trait to endear it to the hurried shopper looking for fruits his or her family will eat without complaint.
Fortunately, however, this demise is being halted, albeit slowly, by some brave souls that are trying to resurrect antique apple varieties. Visit your local small markets or farmers markets and take a look around. The small, unwaxed apples you may find may be the greatest treasure you uncover.