Autumn delivers not only the most spectacular colorful vistas, shorter days and cool crisp air but our favorite treat — apples.
The commercial orchards are overflowing with kinds too varied to remember from Delicious to Honey Crisp, while every old apple tree branches in America’s back yards and along the trails hang heavy with fruit. They need no cultivation but produce their juicy, sweet fruit each year and have been a source of food for man throughout the ages.
It is thought that wild ancestor apple (Malus sieversii) may have originated in Tien Shan Mountains in central Asia. It is from the rose family. It is known that apples were used by primitive man long before recorded history. Archaeologists have found carbonized remains of apples in prehistoric lake dwellings in Switzerland dating back to the Iron Age with evidence that apples were eaten and preserved by slicing and sun-drying as far back as the Stone Age in Europe.
Invading Roman legions under Caesar introduced apples to the British Isles where they have flourished ever since. The first settlers in this country found that the apples they knew were not indigenous to their new homeland. The closest substitute was a sour crab apple which they used for cider making. Since the utensils they used were not sterilized, the cider would soon ferment, this they sent back to England in trade, becoming a business, more valued than tobacco.
Early settlers in covered wagons traveled west, carried as treasured cargo, apple trees and “scion wood” for grafting. The ancient annals of Babylon, Egypt and China reveal that man understood, many centuries ago, apples do not reproduce true from seed but must be bud grafted in order to maintain a particular variety. Apples were also carried by Indians, traders and missionaries into the new frontier.
Growing up in the 1930s, apples were a tasty, nutritious, readily available inexpensive treat for us, after school, in our lunch boxes or with popcorn on cool evenings. Everybody generously shared windfalls with all the kids in town.
When I shared apples with Grandpa he would peel them with his jack knife. Making a continuous long curl of peeling, he told me a wish would come true if the complete curl remained unbroken. His were perfect almost every time, not mine.
In our little town there were many apple trees, therefore the supply was always enough for all the gals to make pies for the famous church suppers, as well as a bushel or two in the cellars for winter. We had a big old yellow ‘’Transparent” summer apple tree that supplied the neighborhood with many pies for Fourth of July. At our house ours was called Dutch apple, baked with cream and a streusel top crust. In 1942, our May wedding song was “In Apple Blossom Time” partly decorated with crab apple blossoms.
There are many quotes and stories about apples: “American as baseball and Mom’s apple pie." “Even if I knew tomorrow the world would end I would still plant my apple tree,” by Martin Luther. Millions saw the apples fall but only Newton was the one that asked why. The Swiss story tells about William Tell shooting the apple off his son’s head. Johnny Appleseed with a pocketful of apple seeds planting them throughout the Ohio valley. The apple blossom is Michigan’s state flower.
There are about 10,000 varieties of apples in the world and 7,000 in U.S. United States producers grow around 48,000 tons per year, generating $2.7 billion annually. It takes 36 apples to make a gallon of cider. Americans eat an average of 19 pounds per year. They are low in calories, free of fat, sodium and cholesterol; rich in fiber, disease-fighting anti-oxidants and a variety of vitamins and minerals. They just may keep the doctor away. It is one of nature’s miracles, a colorful and delicious little package of health-giving nutrients.
Now days are crisp with nights meant for fire on the hearth, a bowl of shiny apples and popped corn dredged with butter and salt.
Marilyn Kutzli is 93 years old living at Prairie Hills. She still enjoys writing about the seasons.