© Denzil Green
Apple trees grow best in cooler climates. This means that they’ll do well in most of Europe, in most of North America, but it also means that they’ll do well in Australia and New Zealand. This leads to one of the wonders of supermarket life in our modern age. From April to August, New Zealand and Australia ship apples up to North America: apples such as Granny Smith, Royal Gala, Gala and Braeburn. Come September, North America ships Red Delicious and Spartan apples back in the other direction.
Six apples — Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan, McIntosh, and Rome Beauty — accounted for 80% of the total North American Apple market in the last half of the 20th century. The remaining 20% of the market was shared by fourteen other apple varieties.
When choosing apples, you want apples that are unbruised. Don’t, however, avoid apples with russeting or patches or stripes of different colours on them. Unevenly coloured varieties of mature apples are almost certainly going to be more interesting in taste than the “photo shoot” quality ones that get most of the fruit counter space. More important than skin colour is that the skin be tight, and the apple be firm. The best way to choose an apple, though, is to close your eyes, and smell it. You’ll know by the fragrances of the apples which ones you want to eat.
– © Denzil Green
If you’re buying an apple to eat out of hand rather than cook with at a time of year that you know is way out of season for fresh apples, then you probably actually want one that has been imported, rather than one that has been sitting locally in commercial storage units for the past 8 months.
In North America, apples in stores are generally coated with an edible shellac, often referred to by consumers as “wax”, which helps their shelf life and gives them a glossy appearance that consumers like. British consumers aren’t used to buying apples with wax on them, so confused letters about it appear from time to time in their cooking magazines.
Apples are one of the most man-made things going. The truth is, God didn’t make little green apples — not on his own, anyway. Nature never intended them to be the way they are.
One apple seed is different genetically from all others. Even if two seeds are from the same apple, they will each grow to be a different tree. In fact, the odds are a million to one that the trees that grow up from those seeds will be similar to their parent. One of the few exceptions to this is the Fameuse apple tree, which often will grow true to seed. Another is the Beautiful Arcade apple.
Sometimes the very different trees that come up will produce a good apple that is appealing nonetheless. The Wealthy apple tree grew from a seed from the Cherry Crab Tree, and the Granny Smith sprang up from some French crab apple seeds. Completely different from their parent, but in these cases all the more desirable because of it. Most of the time, however, the apples will be small and undesirable. It only happens rarely that good apples come from natural reproduction by seed, and it never happens that apple trees will propagate off-spring that are like them.
– © Denzil Green
Without the intervention of man, there would be no distinct varieties of apples. Reproduction has to happen “asexually.” To make one apple tree the same as its parent, root sprouts or grafting are used, so that the genes get passed on.
In the American south, most of the apple trees used to be grown from seeds from 1600 until about 1900. This meant there was tremendous diversity there; it was all one big apple experimental lab. Efforts are now underway to save some of the types of apples that emerged, as with apple trees only living about 100 years tops, they are at the end of their life span, but only a few have been deemed worthwhile saving.
Knowing this about apples, however, but knowing that Johnny Appleseed really did exist and do something to spread apples across America, it does make you wonder how he did it, as he couldn’t have done it by planting seeds.
The major types of apple for different types of food preparation are:
There’s also a general category referred to as Cooking Apples.
Apples classed as “pie apples” are apples whose slices will hold their shape when cooked. This makes them good for uses in items such as pies and home canned apple slices, but they would be frustrating trying to boil down into applesauce.
Often as a cook you have no choice what type of apple you are dealing with — sometimes you are handed a bushel of unnamed apples and expected to just do something with them. But when final appearance, or result (in terms of texture or taste) in something you are making is mission critical, you’ll want to have control over the type you use.
Much of the pectin in apples, a natural thickening agent, is concentrated just under the skin. So if you’re cooking with apples, make an effort to remove just the peel and as little of the flesh under the apple as possible. It will help your pies and sauces to set better.
Apples need to be cored and seeded as well. This is not just a texture preference; you want the seeds out (see Nutrition below).
When you’re slicing or chopping up any more than 9 or 10 apples at a time, you need to either brush or dip the apple pieces in water with a little lemon juice in it to stop them from turning brown on you. We say 9 or 10 apples, because we find that by the time you start chopping up any more apples past that number, the first ones will already have started to get brown tinges on them.
Apples are somewhat acidic (though not enough to stop them on their own from browning). This can not only “cut” the fat taste of some foods such as pork and goose, but also aid in digesting them — thus the old habit of having apple sauce with such rich foods. At one time, it was very popular — and still is in America — to have apple pie with slices of cheddar, for the same reason. In England, apple pie is often served with Wensleydale cheese instead of cheddar.
If you have a recipe that calls for apples and you don’t have any, there’s really nothing for it: there is no real substitute for apples. Basically, you just find another recipe that calls for a different fruit that you do have.
That being said, tinned, sliced apples are available and make a fine substitute in cooking. Taste them first to see how much they’ve been sweetened by the processor: you may need to cut back on the sugar in your recipe a bit to compensate.
Apples contain 80 to 85 per cent water, and from 6 to 10 per cent sugar. Most of the vitamin C in apples lies in and just below the skin, so your mother was right — an unpeeled apple is better to eat than a peeled one.
Even though an apple contains only about 6 mg of vitamin C, somehow one reputedly has as much anti-oxidant power as three 500 mg vitamin C tablets.
Apple seeds contain some amounts of cyanide. An apple seed swallowed accidentally is not going to harm anyone, but it is a seed you would definitely not want to roast and eat in great quantities. Some people who have done so have in fact died of cyanide poisoning from the seeds.
1 cup apple, peeled, cored and chopped into 1/4 inch (5 mm) pieces = 125 g / 4 oz.
1 cup peeled, cored and sliced apple = 100 g (3.5 oz.)
1 pound Apples = 450 g Apples = 4 small Apples = 3 medium Apples = 2 large Apples = 2 3/4 cups sliced (peeled & cored) = 2 cups chopped (peeled and cored) = 1 1/2 cups Apple sauce
1 medium Apple = 5 to 6 oz. = 1 cup sliced = 3/4 cup chopped
1 bushel of Apples = 16-20 quarts of Applesauce
1 pound dried Apples = 4-1/3 cups; 8 cups cooked
1 cup dried Apples = 6 oz. = 150g = 2 2/3 cups cooked
6-8 medium Apples = 1 x 9 inch pie
1 cup sliced, peeled Apples = 6oz. = 150g
1/4 cup canned, drained Apples = 1 /12 oz. = 40g
1 pound (450 g) apples = 10 oz. (300 g) peeled, cored and sliced = 3 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples.
Apples give off a gas into the air called “ethylene” gas. This gas will hasten the aging of fruits such as peaches, pears and bananas, so don’t store these together with apples for any length of time. Don’t store with carrots, either.
Peeled, sliced apples freeze well for cooking use afterwards. Immerse them in water with a bit of lemon juice before packing and freezing.
Apples will age 8 to 10 times faster at room temperature than they do in the fridge. They might look great in that bowl, but either eat them fast, or get them in the fridge. They do best either in the vegetable crisper, or in a plastic bag with holes in it. Store in refrigerator for up to six weeks, but checking them well before that and tossing out any that have gone — it literally is true about the one bad apple!
So, how is it that despite all these impressions we have of people in days of yore storing apples for months on end, we’re lucky to get 4 or 5 good weeks in the refrigerator before they wrinkle into something you’d use for a Hallowe’en decoration? Thing is, in those days, they had cool, humid root cellars, and that made all the difference. Even our cellars these days are too warm and dry, especially the ones in which wide-screen TV has been installed for the kids. Then, how do they have them in stores year round — we know they’re not actually harvested in the middle of winter? Well, part of the answer is that they may have come from somewhere else, such as Australia or New Zealand. The other part of the equation is how they are stored commercially. They are stored in a very humid CA (controlled atmosphere) environment at about 30 F, which is far more organized than you ever could be, never mind colder and damper than you’d want your house to be. And the storage environment is filled with the right proportions of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide to extend the storage life even further.
Some apples, such as Jonagold, either have or develop during storage a waxy skin. The waxy skin, though it makes the skin somewhat sticky, sticky enough to attract and hold dust in the air, also helps to seal in the moisture of the apple and prevent it from shrivelling quickly in storage. In commercial storage, all apples get placed in very high humidity so that the loss of their internal moisture to the air doesn’t occur.
In home conditions, however, we can’t replicate that kind of environment described above. Even when stored chilly basements, apples can still shrivel up in a matter of weeks, if they’re the non-waxy skin type. If you want to store apples for a long time at home, in a shed or cellar, choose either waxy-skin types, or, extend their storage life somewhat longer by storing them in plastic bags that have small air holes punched in them. The plastic bag will act as a second skin, while the small air holes let out the gas they produce.
© Denzil Green
Some sources say apples were probably introduced into Britain by the Romans. Others say that in 55 BC invading Roman soldiers found natives in Kent, England, already fermenting crab apple juice. The Romans grew at least 22 varieties; now we know over 2,000, and grow six. When apple trees go wild, they will often revert to crab apple trees. Crab apple trees are the ancestors of all cultivated varieties.
Apple pies were made in the Tudor era, spiced with cinnamon and ginger and a dash of saffron for colour. In Shakespeare’s time, roast apples were often served with a little saucerful of caraway seeds for dessert. This old tradition is still practised in some places. An Apple stuck full of cloves was the prototype of the pomander — later, as people got wealthier, they would use an orange, especially at Christmas time.
Apple trees were not native to North America. French settlers at what is now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia had apple trees growing before 1633. By 1698, the small colony had close to 1,600 apple trees.
When British settlers came to North America, they raced to get apple trees planted in the ground. Apple trees were needed for their favourite tipple, “hard” apple cider.
Rev. William Blaxton (Blackstone), 1595-1675, planted the first orchard in Massachusetts on his farm at Beacon Hill in Boston in 1625.
In 1887, John Warder listed 1500 names of Apples growing in America in “American Pomology – Apples 1887”.
Literature & Lore
Apple trees were holy to the ancient Celts. Apple wood was one of the woods you could carve your magic stave from.
In southern and western England, Twelfth Night was a day for “wassailing” apple trees. Revelers would sing to the trees, toast their health, and pour apple cider over the ground where the roots of the trees were.
Disney wasn’t the first one to associate apples with witches. If you slice an apple in half horizontally, which of course no one ever does so not many realize this, you see a witch’s pentacle inside the apple. Witches were believed to use apples in their spells, especially apples that were two-coloured with red on one side and green on the other. These you could whisper a spell to on one side, then encourage your intended to eat the other side, after which the object of your affection would be enchanted and fall in love with you (if only because she or he were desperately hungry enough to eat a half-chewed apple and you seemed to always have food). To see whom you would marry, you would be directed to slice an apple through the middle to expose the pentacle, then sit before a mirror by candlelight, and eat the apple. Before you were finished, you would catch a glimpse over your shoulder of your future spouse (if you didn’t die on the spot of a heart-attack at seeing something hover over your shoulder in a darkened room.)
Very strong (alcoholic) apple cider is still sometimes called “witches’ brew” in parts of England.
“How like Eve’s apple doth thy beauty grow, if thy sweet virtue answer not thy show!” — Shakespeare, Sonnet 93.
The Irish writer Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745), in his poem “Verses made for women who cry apples”, wrote the following:
“COME buy my fine wares,
Plums, apples and pears.
A hundred a penny,
In conscience too many:
Come, will you have any?
My children are seven,
I wish them in Heaven;
My husband ’s a sot,
With his pipe and his pot,
Not a farthen will gain them,
And I must maintain them.” Verses for women who cry apples. Swift, Jonathan. Miscellanies: The Fourteenth Volume. Second Edition. London, England: Hitch, Davis, Dodsley and Bowyer. 1751. Page 207.
“It is rare that the summer lets an Apple go without streaking or spotting it on some part of its sphere. It will have some red stains, commemorating the mornings and evenings it has witnessed; some dark and rusty blotches, in memory of the clouds and foggy, mildewy days that have passed over it; and a spacious field of green reflecting the general face of Nature, — green even as the fields; or a yellow ground, which implies a milder flavour, — yellow as the harvest, or russet as the hills.” — Henry David Thoreau.
“Apples flame the land. Tens of millions of fruit to touch with the hand, to snap from the twig gently, tenderly. Scent of apples down orchard lanes. A drowsy winy scent permeating the country cellar, spreading across the market place. A glowing apple in the hand, cool, hard-skinned. The teeth crack into the brittle flesh, a winy flavor floods the mouth — the soul of the apple blossom distilled.” — Clementine Paddleford (American food writer. 1898 – 1967)
“And if that’s not lovin’ me
Then all I’ve got to say
God didn’t make little green Apples
And it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime
And there’s no such thing as Doctor Seuss
Or Disneyland, and Mother Goose, no nursery rhyme
God didn’t make little green Apples
And it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime” — O.C. Smith, 1968 pop hit song.
Beach, S.A. The Apples of New York, Vols 1 & 2. Albany, New York: J.B. Lyon Company, 1905.
De Nederlandse Boomgaard, Vereniging tot Regeling en Verbetering van de Vruchtsoorten (1868). Eerste Deel — Appels. [The Dutch Orchard], published by the Association for Certification and Improvement of Fruit Varieties, 1868].
Government of Canada. Canadian Apple Online. Retrieved from http://atn-riae.agr.ca/applecanada/home-e.htm in Jan 2004.
|↑1||Verses for women who cry apples. Swift, Jonathan. Miscellanies: The Fourteenth Volume. Second Edition. London, England: Hitch, Davis, Dodsley and Bowyer. 1751. Page 207.|