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Introduction to Apples
Man has been munching on apples for about 750,000 years, ever since the food gatherers of early Paleolithic times discovered sour, wild crab apples growing in the forests in Kazakhstan, in central Asia. Botanists now believe that this region holds the key to the genetic origins of the apples we enjoy today.
When U.S. botanists visited Kazakhstan in 1989, they found large stands of ancient apple trees — trees that were 300 years old, 50 feet tall, and bearing large, red apples. These trees of Malus sieversii, the wild species now believed to be the parent of all domesticated apples, were discovered in 1929 by Russian botanist Nikolai I. Vavilov.
Unfortunately, Vavilov's work in genetics led to his imprisonment during the Stalin era. He died in prison in 1943. His wonderful discovery was finally announced to the rest of the world by a former student and coworker of Vavilov's, who, at the age of 80, felt the need to pass along the knowledge before it was too late to save the forests of ancient apple trees.
Apples on the Move
The carbonized remains of apples unearthed in Asia Minor indicate that Neolithic farmers were cultivating apples around 8,000 years ago. Later, apples were carried as transportable food by migrating cultures. It is speculated that somewhere along the way M. sieversii hybridized with M. orientalis and M. sylvestris, two wild species producing small and very sour green apples.
There is recorded evidence from 1300 BCE of apple orchards being planted by the Egyptians along the Nile Delta. The Greeks learned grafting techniques around 800 BCE, and by 200 BCE the Romans were planting apple orchards in Britain.
Apples Settle in America Colonists arriving in America found only four varieties of wild crab apples. However, the French, Dutch, German, and English all brought seeds from their homelands, and it wasn't long before apple trees were growing outside their rustic dwellings. The English colonists were the first to bring apple tree scions (shoots) to North America.
The first American orchard was planted in Boston in 1625 by William Blaxton, an English preacher. A few years later, orchards were established in the same area by John Winthrop and John Endicott, governors of the Bay Colony settlement.
In 1647, Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam (now New York), planted the first Dutch apple trees on his farm, the Bouwerie. The first commercial orchard was planted in Flushing, New York, in 1730.
Thousands of varieties of apple trees evolved during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when colonial farmers decided to plant apple seeds instead of acquiring young tree scions arriving from England and continental Europe. As the colonists moved from the Atlantic coast westward, they planted apple seeds along the way.
Favorably influenced by moderately cold winters, the colonists' apple crops flourished in the northern regions. Most apple tree varieties require from 1,000 to 1,500 hours of chilly temperatures before they will begin blossom growth in the spring. And the apples, just like autumn leaves, need the perfect marriage of temperatures — the warm, sunny days and cool nights that occur in September and October — to show off their best qualities.
The Origin of the Apple
On discovering the ancient wild apple groves in central Asia, Nikolai Vavilov rejoiced:
"All around the city one could see a vast expanse of wild apples covering the foothills. One could see with his own eyes that this beautiful site was the origin of the cultivated apple."
America's Favorite Homegrown Fruit
Cultivated throughout the United States, apples are grown for commercial production in 36 states. The main apple-growing regions are Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, and Virginia. These six states produce most of the country's annual apple crop, which totaled 259,248 million bushels in 2013. About one-third of the annual U.S. apple crop is processed into juice and canned, frozen, and dehydrated products. The average American eats 50.4 pounds of apples a year. It's not only their year-round availability that makes apples so desirable in the United States; there are a host of other reasons why America loves apples:
* They are delicious, versatile, and easily portable.
* They are nutritious, providing satisfying bulk and few calories. (See Nutritional Value of a Raw Apple for more information.)
* They are 85 to 95 percent water, so if you put one into your pocket or lunch box, you can quench your thirst whenever the need arises.
* Their acid content acts as a natural mouth freshener, which makes apples a perfect ending to a meal.
* They are believed to have many other healthful properties. (See here for further information.)
When Eve was tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden to go against God's wishes and to take what was forbidden "of the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden," she "saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise." No doubt she was also quite taken by the shape, color, and smell of this "fruit of the gods."
Imagine yourself picking up an apple for the very first time. Turn it around in your hand. If it's one of the russet apples, it will feel rough and dry, not at all like a red-on-yellow Empire with its satiny smooth and tender skin. Hold it to your nose and breathe deeply. The smooth-skinned Empire will have a delicate smell that is difficult to detect beneath its smooth and slightly oily skin. The rough skin of a ripe russet, on the other hand, will exude a tantalizing fragrance.
Most of the perfume cells are concentrated in the skin of an apple. As the apple ripens, the cells give off a stronger aroma. That is why applesauce is most flavorful when made from apples with the skin left on and the best cider is made from the aromatic, tough-skinned russets.
Rosy pink applesauce gets its color from the flesh, not from the skin — unless the skin has been puréed with the flesh to become an integral part of the sauce. The pigments trapped in the skin cells are not released during cooking, crushing, or pressing because those color cells are impossible to break.
Apple trees not only have taken the fancy of gods and mortals, they attract more than 30 species of birds and a variety of four-legged animals. There are birds that love to nest in the spreading branches. Many birds and beasts feast on the buds, bark, and leaves. The ripe, fallen apples are favored by porcupines, skunks, fox, and deer. Opossums, raccoons, and bears all climb the limbs to get at apple-laden branches.
Popular Orchard Varieties
Although hundreds of varieties of apples are grown in the United States, only 20 or so best sellers are cultivated in the major commercial orchards. Most commercial apples are chosen not for their wonderful taste but for their bountiful harvest; their suitability to mass planting, shipping, and long storage; and their resistance to diseases. Breeders, however, are constantly working to produce new hybrids that are sweet-tart with crisp and juicy flesh and are as wonderful for eating out of hand as they are for cooking. And, of course, the trees should retain all the qualities that make them a viable commercial enterprise.
Apples in Season
The orchards are invaded by armies of apple pickers as early as July, but it is not until the cooler temperatures of September have touched this "fruit of immortality," as it was once called, that an apple takes on those crisp and crunchy qualities so important to orchardists and apple lovers. It is in autumn that a bite into a fresh-picked apple becomes a memorable experience; the apple spurts juice that is honey-sweet and yet also spicily tart, and the flesh is so fragrantly mellow.
After December, these fall beauties come to us from controlled storage — somewhere between 32 and 36°F. This controlled atmosphere helps maintain the crisp qualities of the fall-harvested apples for several months. Today, shoppers find that a reasonable selection of apples is available well after the last of the fresh harvest disappears into cold storage. From January through June, most of us can find such good keepers as Pink Lady (Cripps Pink), Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Idared, McIntosh, Red Delicious, and Rome Beauty. In fact, Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and Red Delicious are now available to us year-round from different hemispheres.
Detailed descriptions of apple varieties can be found in chapter 8.
The decline in the selection of apple varieties can be traced to the end of the nineteenth century and the advent of commercial orchards. After World War II, the decline was hastened by the horticultural practice of mass planting only a few reliable varieties that met certain requirements, such as the ability to produce heavy crops, resist diseases, endure long-distance transportation, and last in long-term cold storage. Smooth, evenly colored skin and pleasing shape also factored into the equation. Other varieties were chosen because they were the best candidates for large-scale production of juice, sauce, and pie filling. While these qualities tip the scales in favor of popularity with commercial growers, they narrow the choice of varieties available to consumers, especially those who shop primarily in supermarkets.
Fortunately, apple breeders are always developing new varieties that have great growing qualities and taste delicious. Breeders develop new varieties by hybridizing (crossbreeding) two proven varieties.
The Lure of the New Hybrids
During the past few decades, North America has witnessed an influx of new varieties. Some, such as Braeburn, Gala, Jazz, and Pink Lady, started out as imports from Australia and New Zealand. However, because they have many desirable qualities that appeal to both growers and consumers, they have been mass planted throughout the United States and many countries worldwide. Today, these newcomers are in full production in U.S. orchards.
While pomologists (apple breeders) are concerned primarily with developing hybrid varieties that are resistant to the major apple diseases (scab, fire blight, mildew, and cedar apple rust), quality attributes are also stressed.
A number of modern-day apple varieties are endowed with sweet-tart, juicy, crisp flesh. For example, Honeycrisp, a cross between Macoun and Honeygold developed at the University of Minnesota in 1960, has aromatic, honey-sweet, crisp flesh that maintains its outstanding texture and flavor during long-term storage. Jonagold, a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious, is also a high-ranking apple in U.S. taste tests. And the Pink Lady apple from Australia (where it was developed as Cripps Pink) has become a raving success in the United States and Europe. A cross of Golden Delicious and Lady Williams, this crisp, more-sweet-than-tart apple has become so incredibly popular that it has its own U.K. website.
The new apple varieties Lady Alice, Piñata, Autumn Crisp, SweeTango, and Zestar! are reaching the market in limited quantities but are being picked up by consumers with great enthusiasm.
Lady Alice. A chance seedling found in 1978 on a farm in Gleed, Washington, this medium-size round apple has tender skin flushed with pink and red over a yellow-orange background. The creamy, dense flesh is sweet-tart delicious and slow to brown, making it a good choice for salads, fruit trays, and eating out of hand. It is also a good all-purpose apple available out of long-term storage. Introduced to the consumer market in 2008, the Lady Alice apple is named in memory of Alice Zirkle, the cofounder of Rainier Fruit Company, the exclusive supplier of this incredible dessert apple. The Rainier Fruit Company has been growing fruit in the Northwest for over 100 years and is one of the largest growers of fresh apples, pears, cherries, and blueberries in the United States.
Piñata. German breeders successfully crossed Golden Delicious, Cox's Orange Pippin, and Duchess of Oldenburg in the 1970s. When the hybrid apple was released in Europe in 1986, it was marketed under the names Pinova and Sonata. The rights to grow and market the Pinova cultivar in the United States were acquired by the Stemilt Growers in Washington State. Choosing a name to represent both Pinova and Sonata, they trademarked their apple as Piñata.
This large, orange-yellow apple is heavily flushed with red. The white flesh is crisp, juicy, and sweet-tart flavorful. Piñata is a superb all-purpose apple and does well in long-term storage.
Autumn Crisp. This is the 63rd apple released from the breeding program at the Cornell University Research Station in Geneva, New York. A cross between Golden Delicious and Monroe apples, Autumn Crisp has a higher vitamin C content than many other varieties. Its skin shows a yellow background blushed with red. The crisp, juicy white flesh is enticingly sweet-tart, a flavorful balance of sugar and acid that makes it a good all-purpose apple. Because the white flesh is slow to brown, it is a perfect candidate for salads and fruit plates and a delight to eat out of hand. It is available only in September through December.
SweeTango. Introduced in 2009, this apple is the offspring of the Minneiska cultivar developed by apple breeders at the University of Minnesota by crossing Honeycrisp and Zestar!. Like Zestar!, SweeTango is a registered trademark of the university and grown only as a "managed variety." Growers must be licensed members of the Next Big Thing Cooperative and follow strict growing, harvesting, and shipping methods. So far, SweeTango is grown in Minnesota, Michigan, Washington, New York, and other northern states.
Harvested in late August and early September, SweeTango is available only for a few months through fall. However, the intensely crisp and crunchy flesh with sweet-tart spicy notes holds up longer under refrigeration. As with its parentage, the skin color of this apple has a yellow background deeply blushed with red. Already becoming a sought-after favorite, it is superbly delicious for eating fresh and can also be used for baking and cooking.
Zestar! Developed by University of Minnesota research scientists to withstand the harshest northern winters, Zestar!, the trademarked name of the patented Minnewashta cultivar, was introduced to consumers in 1999. Under Minnesota growing conditions, Zestar! apples ripen in late August to early September. However, unlike most early-season apples, they retain a crisp crunch to their zesty sweet-tart flesh for two months under refrigeration. This is a medium-size round apple with a creamy yellow background that is heavily blushed with rosy red.
The Lore of the Heirloom
One of the most promising trends in our ultramodern times is the return of interest in heirlooms, and particularly in those wonderful older varieties that got lost in the effort of mass production and distribution. (For information on specific heirloom varieties, see Hardy Heirloom Apple Varieties.)
More than 2,500 varieties of apples are grown at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. One of the oldest agricultural research stations in the country, it is also the location for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Genetic Resources Unit, which houses the national apple collection. The apple varieties range from historical varieties that originated in central Asia, to experimental hybrids from heirlooms that were brought as seeds, cuttings, or trees to America by European and English settlers, to the antique apples of North America that were grown from seeds in the eighteenth century.
Many of these heirloom or antique apples rank among the best varieties for eating out of hand and for making the most flavorful pies, applesauce, and apple juice. However, because of their unreliable yields, susceptibility to diseases, and misshapen fruits, few old varieties are grown in large commercial orchards.
In an effort to save important heirlooms that may contain unique genes, researchers at the Plant Genetic Resources Unit are always on the lookout for new genetic material. The reason has less to do with the fact that many of the heirlooms produce aromatic, intensely flavorful apples than with the fact that they represent genetic diversity. The key to safeguarding against the loss of genetic diversity is to rescue germplasm, the genetic material contained in the seeds.
Seeds collected in central Asia and planted in Geneva are now bearing fruits, ranging in color, form, and shape from purple and cherrylike to yellow, conical, and of commercial size. The diversity of the wild and heirloom varieties growing at the Plant Genetic Resources Unit provides researchers with the opportunity to develop new hybrids and cultivars that will be disease and pest resistant, winter hardy, vigorous, and highly productive, and will bear apples that are flavorful and firm.
Working with Heirlooms
While there is interest among apple growers in planting historical varieties on a commercial level, the economics discourage large-scale production. Even though heirloom varieties are available as dwarf and semidwarf trees, which bear quicker and more abundantly than their large, spreading ancestors, they still take longer to bear fruit than the apple varieties favored by large commercial orchards.
Excerpted from "The Apple Cookbook"
Copyright © 2015 Olwen Woodier.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsChapter 1: Introduction to Apples Chapter 2: Apple Breakfasts & Breads Chapter 3: Apple Drinks & Snacks Chapter 4: Apple Salads & Sides Chapter 5: Apples Make the Meal Chapter 6: Apple Desserts Chapter 7: Preserving the Apple Harvest Chapter 8: Meet the Apples: Apple Varieties Appendixes Acknowledgments Index
What People are Saying About This
"If, in fact, an apple a day keeps the doctor away (and there is considerable evidence to support this view), then Olwen Woodier is my kind of doc."
—Burt Wolf, James Beard Award-winning TV food journalist
"Apple Cookbook is required reading for everyone, from the weekend kitchen warriors who like to dabble with recipes to the diehard gourmets looking for an epicurean epiphany...Buy two copies, because in no time the first copy will be dog-eared and faded from frequent reference."
—Julia Stewart Daly, Director of Communications for the U.S. Apple Association
"Any cook or baker who truly loves fresh takes on the classics will adore Olwen Woodier's Apple Cookbook. Blissfully simple, every recipe begs to be made. This is American cooking at its best—original, unpretentious, truly appealing."
—Sally Koslow, former Editor of McCall's
“…Woodier has written the ‘everything you wanted to know about apples but were afraid to ask’ book with maximum efficiency, and recipes that scream, ‘try me.’” – Providence Journal
“… a handsome collection of information and recipes about that American favorite – the apple.” – Fruit Gardener
“… easy to read, and a pleasure to browse.” – Fruit Gardener
“…will make you a bona fide expert…” – San Jose Mercury News
“… the perfect way to enjoy the fall harvest all year long.” – Jewish Journal
“… everything from apple tips to trivia.” – St. Petersburg Times
“… an extensive recipe resource for apple fanciers…” – Omaha World-Herald
“ … a useful seasonal book with simple delicious recipes for the bounty of fall … ” — Rockland Journal News