It's the time of year when we get tantalizingly brief wafts of crisp autumn air. The oppressive summer doldrums will soon give way to cooler breezes, ever-earlier twilights, and the faint rustling of dry leaves on the ground. Although fall is really the dying season, so much is just beginning -- the school year (those kids are finally on a schedule like the rest of us), the holiday shopping season, and the time when we're bombarded with everything apple. Even though we can buy apples all year long, now is the time when apples become the motif for home décor, scented candles and supermarket end caps.
The custom of bringing an apple to the teacher is out of fashion in the 21st century, but evidence of apples dates back to at least 6500 BC. Historians believe the apple originated in Southwestern Asia, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, but over the millennia the fruit has been quite the traveler -- a fossilized imprint of an apple seed from the Neolithic period was found in England, charred apples were discovered in prehistoric dwellings in Switzerland, and apples are grown all over the world today.
Apples have been part of folklore and mythology since ancient times. According to Greek mythology, a golden apple caused a rift between Venus, Juno and Minerva and that brought on the Trojan War. Let's not forget all that trouble the apple caused in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve just could not resist taking a juicy bite, and the next thing they knew they were out on their fig leaves. And Adam wound up with a piece of apple stuck in his throat -- which the sons of Adam have been displaying ever since. Of course, the Bible really gives no specific name to that forbidden fruit -- it could have been a pomegranate or a quince instead of an apple. But somehow Adam's Pomegranate doesn't quite roll off the tongue.
A member of the rose family, the apple comes in 7,500 varieties -- 2,500 of which are grown in the US. Only 100 varieties are grown commercially, which is probably a good thing. It's hard enough to tell a Rome Beauty from a McIntosh. Throw in 2,400 more types to choose from and those apple stackers at Food Lion would go insane.
We can thank the pilgrims for bringing apples to America by planting the first apple trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In the 1800s, John Chapman, an apple farmer from Massachusetts, distributed apple seeds and trees to settlers in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, earning himself the nickname Johnny Appleseed and a place in American legend. Apples are now grown in all 50 states, with Washington, New York, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania and Virginia as the top producers. Although we've co-opted apples as our very own by using phrases like "American as apple pie," the US takes second place in worldwide apple production to China. Turkey, Poland and Italy round out the top five.
There's some truth to the old saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" -- apples are fat, sodium and cholesterol free, have only about 80 calories each, and are a great source of fiber.
We Americans eat almost 20 pounds or about 65 fresh apples every year (that's per person -- not all of us together). Add in apple pie, cider, applesauce, apple juice and other apple products, and we each eat over 45 pounds of Red Delicious, Granny Smiths and Fujis a year. With all that apple-eating, how come we're not healthier?