The summer season is starting to fade soon to be replaced with the colors of fall. To a gardener, nothing says fall more than plucking a juicy ripe apple from the tree in the back yard. That first crunching sound as you bite into a fresh crisp apple is priceless. The true flavor is 10 times better than some of the apples in the grocery store, which are gassed in cold storage to force them to ripen. Maybe that is why we take a ride in the fall to area orchards to pick our own fruit and sample new ones.

Apples go way back in history to Adam and Eve. Let’s fast forward to 328 B.C. when Alexander the Great wrote about a dwarf apple from Kazakhstan. Apples were traded all over the world and a thousand years later were brought to North America by the Pilgrims. Since apples are not true to seed, the pilgrims brought cuttings and small saplings to the new world.

The first pies weren’t like the pies we know today. The crusts of these medieval pies, or coffins as they were called, were several inches thick to withstand many hours of cooking. They were very hard and inedible to eat. Only its content was eaten. If these coffins of dough were eaten, it was only the hungry beggars, the desperately poor or the scullery boys at the gates of the wealthy.

The first known written apple pie recipe appeared in an English cookbook dated 1381. Sugar and flour were costly during that period so the pies had no crusts. In the 1500s the Dutch created the fancy lattice top we see on pies today. Other fruit that was ripe at the same time was added, which made them more fruit pies than apple pies.

The only apples native to North America were wild crabapples. The original crabapples were small, bitter and so sour they were inedible. Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman, is incorrectly portrayed as a happy lad chomping on an apple as he spread apple seeds around the countryside. John Chapman actually established tree nurseries in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio. It is believed he was cultivating crabapple trees for use in making hard apple cider, a form of cheap alcohol back then.

Today there are over 10,000 varieties of apples around the world. The United States produces 6 percent while China produces 35 million tons — or 50 percent — of the world’s apples. In the United States the number one fruit consumed is bananas, and apples are close behind at number two. It is just possible that, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” An apple has no sodium, is almost fat free and is a good source of fiber. A medium apple has around 80 calories. Most of the vitamin C is in the skin so after washing eat the whole apple, down to the core. Apple seeds are not good for you so just leave them tucked in the core.

Over the years I have harvested and peeled more bushels of apples then I care to remember. On a Sunday morning news program I was watching years ago, a segment came on about an apple festival and the winner of the apple peeling contest. “I could do that,” I thought to myself, until they said the peeling cannot be broken and must be in one continuous peel!

Margo Hansen is the director of the Bickelhaupt Arboretum and host of the Great Green Garden Show on KROS radio.

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