I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter’s evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream… I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people’s tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting
— The Autobiography of Mark Twain
Area of Origin: The Tien Shan Mountains bordering China and Kazakhstan
Etymology: From the Old English æppel. Linguists believe that the word for apple is one of the oldest words in the Indo-European language family to have descended to English in recognizable form.
This time of year can be a little bit sad for food lovers. At the end of such a bountiful season, who can help but mourn for the last few weeks of tomatoes, fresh beans, corn, stone fruits and berries? While we should certainly revel in this abundance awhile longer, it’s nice to remember that there are still things to look forward to as well. To us, apples are synonymous with fall; they conjure up the smell of cinnamon and cloves, the flicker of firelight and the cozy softness of new wool sweaters. As colors change and the air grows crisper, we begin to dream of apple-picking, pie-making and cider-drinking.
In recent years you may have begun to take apples for granted; since they are available year-round in supermarkets, apples have lost their connection to a season. You may have begun to think that apples come in only a few varieties and are often dull and tasteless with a waxy skin. Banish these thoughts from your mind, supermarket apples from your counter, and try to remember the apple of the not so distant past — a very different apple from the one you may remember.
For hundreds of years of human history, apples symbolized something tantalizing, dangerous and ultimately irresistible. Adam and Eve both fell for the apple, and Snow White could not resist even under extremely suspicious circumstances. Our ancestors prized apples for a variety of reasons: their natural sweetness, the intoxicating effects of apple cider, and their boundless variety. When apples are planted from seed, they have a natural tendency to play mix-and-match with their genetic code, creating an endless array of new types. Before the era of industrialized farms, apples were exciting: You never knew quite what you were going to get. In fact, apples were so popular that discovering a successful variety was like buying a winning lottery ticket — it could bring you fame and fortune.
Only in the last hundred years were apples transformed into a symbol of health rather than excitement. Apple growers worried that Prohibition’s ban on alcohol (and hard cider) would destroy the fruit’s profitability, so they invented the slogan “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” As orchards became industrialized, apples began to be bred for durability and consistency, rather than for their taste; these apples had none of the lure of apples of old. Luckily for us, the resurgence in all things heirloom has lead to an explosion of new varieties in recent years, so once again, buying an apple can be an exciting, mind-altering experience.
Varieties of Apples
There are literally thousands of varieties of apples throughout the country and the world, each of them outfitted in a unique array of colors, and each with its own distinctive taste. While many markets are improving their offerings, there is really nothing like going to an orchard and picking your own apples, especially since orchards near you will offer the varieties which grow best in your particular climate. Below we’ve shared a few of our favorite kinds, both for the poetry of their names and the particular succulence of their fruit.
This recent hybrid has created quite a stir. Very sweet with a wonderfully crisp texture, many believe this to be the “perfect” apple.
This classic New England apple is exceptionally sweet and at its prime in October (we also really dig the name).
This supermarket staple is incomparably more delicious when tree-ripened and fresh.
This yellow apple with red stripes is excellent for cooking and cider-making.
This apple is widely available in orchards on the east coast and is an excellent all-purpose apple.
Dossier by China Millman. Originally published on September 20, 2009.