Clare and I live in the home built by my grandfather in 1937, just after the Great Depression. Soon after Mammy and Pappy moved here they planted an apple tree in the backyard near the railroad track. By the time I was old enough to climb the tree, the branches bore delicious apples every fall. The apples from that tree were not bright red, market pretty. In fact, I doubt that many other children would have been interested in the knotty yellow fruit with brown splotches. But I knew what would happen to the ones I picked. Mammy would make the best lattice-top apple pie the world has ever known. I am almost sure there will be apple pie topped with ice cream in heaven.
Before the American Revolution, William Mills planted fruit trees and became the first apple grower in Henderson County, North Carolina. In 1782, Asa and Samuel Edney married the Mills daughters. The Edney brothers were among the first settlers in the community east of Hendersonville that bears their name. Edneyville was soon known as the core of the North Carolina apple industry.
The tree in the backyard was gone before our family moved into the old home place. In the fall, Clare and I enjoy driving to the Blue Ridge Mountains to buy apples. At our favorite roadside stand, we have found up to thirty different varieties. The fruit ranges in color from deep burgundy to red to green to yellow. Beautiful even to a colorblind man! We have found dessert apples and baking apples, apples tart and apples sweet.
Each year in early September, the town of Hendersonville hosts the North Carolina Apple Festival. The good folks of Saluda, just a few miles to the south, hold their own celebration. In the mountains of North Carolina, the expression “Let’s talk about apples” means, “Let’s forget about our troubles and think about something pleasant.”
The ancestor of our domestic apple is native to the mountains of Central Asia. A major city in the region where apples are thought to have originated is called Alma-Ata, or father of the apples. Descendants of the original wild apple trees are still found in the mountains along the border between China and the former Soviet Union.
The apple tree was perhaps the earliest tree to be cultivated. Apples have continued to be an important food in many parts of the world. Apples can be stored for months while still retaining much of their nutritive value.
There are more than 7,500 known varieties of apples. The delicious fruit can only be grown in temperate climates. The trees will not flower without sufficiently cool weather.
Many old cultivars have excellent flavor, often better than most modern varieties. These old-fashioned apples are still grown by home gardeners and farmers. Their conservation efforts continue the tradition of John Chapman, an American pioneer. For more than fifty years, he roamed the Midwest. He earned his nickname, Johnny Appleseed, by planting apple trees across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
Apples as a fruit or as a symbol are everywhere. They have played an important role in science and medicine. Sir Isaac Newton, upon witnessing an apple fall from its tree, was inspired to conclude that a similar universal gravitation attracted the moon toward the Earth as well.
A leader in the development of cyber technology, Apple Computers adopted the apple as a logo for their company.
An old proverb attests to the health benefits of the fruit: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Research suggests that apples may reduce the risk of colon cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. Like many fruits, apples contain vitamin C, as well as a host of other antioxidant compounds. They may also assist with heart health, weight loss, and cholesterol control. The chemicals in apples may protect us from the brain damage that results in Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
Clare and I both have fond memories of our grandfathers peeling an apple with a pocketknife. The skill was to shave a thin layer of apple skin in a long, continuous curved strip without breaking it. It is a feat that I have attempted on the backporch with my own grandchildren. I find it amazing that children can be so entranced by the curls of an apple peel. Once the trick is completed the children enjoy eating the peeling. Then I slice the apple into wedges, and we eat those together.
“Let’s talk about apples,” may be the way southern mountain folk try avoid discussing troubles, but in history and in myth, apples have often been at the center of trouble.
Though the forbidden fruit mentioned in the book of Genesis is not identified, popular tradition has held that it was with an apple that Eve coaxed Adam to disobey the Almighty. As a result, the apple became a symbol for temptation.
The larynx in the human throat is called the Adam’s Apple. The origin of the name came from the notion that it was a chunk of the forbidden fruit sticking in the throat of Adam.
Swiss folklore holds that William Tell courageously used his crossbow to shoot an apple from his son’s head, defying a tyrannical ruler and bringing freedom to his people.
Snow White, the fairytale princess, slept in a deep coma induced by a poisoned apple, a gift from her wicked stepmother.
On the other hand, the apple has been identified as symbol of love and affection. Venus is often depicted holding an apple.
In the legend of King Arthur, the mythical Isle of Avalon is the Island of Apples.
According to Irish folklore, an apple peel, pared into one long continuous ribbon and thrown behind a woman’s shoulder, will land in the shape of her future husband’s initials.
An apple is a traditional gift for a beloved teacher.
In Ancient Greece, a man throwing an apple to a woman was a proposal of marriage. If she caught the fruit, it meant she accepted the proposal.
When I was a boy, there was an old apple tree in the yard of an abandoned farm house down a dirt road beyond our house. In the autumn of the year, the ground was littered with rotten apples. Apple fights, spontaneous frays, were great fun. Late one September afternoon, beneath the old apple tree, the battle was joined. All went well until a buddy of mine threw a rotten apple at me. I ducked.
The apple sailed over my head and toward his girlfriend. It was certainly not a marriage proposal, and she didn’t catch it. The rotten apple hit her in the face! As you might imagine, my buddy was no longer the apple of her eye!