Whether whole, sliced, candied, dried or baked in a pie, apples have been a reason to anticipate the approach of autumn since the earliest days of our country. Apples have a diverse following- from those who simply appreciate the flavor to the health-conscious, who tout the benefits of the anti-oxidant and phyto-nutrient rich nature of these low-calorie snacks. Then, of course, there are the cooks…those who try everything under the sun to come up with new, and innovative new ways to prepare a fruit that George Washington, Christopher Columbus, and even Alexander the Great have all enjoyed.
Apples were discovered in Kazakhstan around 328 BCE– and Alexander the Great is credited with bringing them back to Macedonia. In Asia and Europe, winter apples have been an important dietary staple for centuries thanks to their long shelf life compared to other fruits and vegetables. Up until the 20th Century, apples were stored during the winter in frost-proof cellars, but as advances came in ways to transport the fruit the necessity for long-term storage has dwindled.
In the United States, the first apple orchard is thought to have been near present-day Boston in the 1620′s. Apple trees– likely only root stock– were brought over by colonists from Europe only a few years prior. As the centuries wore on, advances in irrigation in the Pacific Northwest led to Washington’s multi-billion dollar annual apple production. Washington produces around half of the apples grown in the United States today, with Michigan, New York, California, Pennsylvania, and Virginia taking up the bulk of the rest.
Remember, you can search for pick-your-own orchards near you on Heartland Trails! This year, do your local agricultural economy a favor and try your hand at picking a bushel for all of your holiday cooking needs. There are over 7,500 different varieties of apple worldwide, and while we would never expect anyone to come home with such a haul, we do encourage our readers to try different varieties themselves… Much like a wine tasting, an apple tasting can clue you and your friends and loved ones in to the variance of flavor, color, texture and ‘bite’ that makes each variety unique…we’re sure there will be at least one you’ll enjoy over the others. Have fun in the orchard, everyone!