“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Lately I have seen some beautiful photos of apple trees by Maybelle’s Mum and Lulu’s mum. They are huge trees with crooked nobbly branches laden with fruit. I have been thinking about writing a post all about apples in history and culture and the apple tree seemed a good place to start. So I will begin by sharing a recent picture of the apple blossom on my mum and dad’s more modest apple tree.
The apple blossom is possibly so pretty because the apple is a member of the rose family. Throughout history apples have been associated with love, beauty, luck, health, comfort, pleasure, wisdom, temptation, sensuality, sexuality, virility and fertility. Oh, there is so much to tell you about apples including a recipe for a superb apple soup at the end of this indulgently long post.
Apples in Childhood
One of my favourite skirts when I was a little girl had smiling apples on it (prettier but less yummy than my attempt at a face with chocolate icing). Looking back I wonder if this was one of the many ways that children are encouraged to eat apples. If so, it worked.
Apples were everywhere when I was growing up. They were always in the fruit bowl and sometimes hanging from the branches of fruit trees outside. I remember my mum picking one from under the apple tree, polishing it on her jeans and telling us to ignore the blemishes. She made us lots of apple desserts – apple sponge (see picture below), apple pie, apple crumble as well as dutch apple cake (from my aunt’s ex-husband’s mother) and apple slice (like her grandnother) .
We mainly ate granny smiths but I also remember the joy of a crisp white fleshed snow apple. We took them for lunch, we fed them to horses, we bought them covered in toffee at the hospital fete. My grandpa had the odd belief that you could not eat an apple and drink water at the same time.
We were told that we should take an apple for the teacher. Our alphabet began with A is for Apple. We sang ‘I wish I was an apple / hanging on the tree / and every time my Cindy passed / she’d take a bite of me.’ Apple Blossom was Strawberry Shortcake’s little sister. We read about apples in stories. The most famous apple is the poisoned one that the wicked stepmother gives to Snow White. Other apples appeared in books such as Dr Seuss’s Ten Apples Up on Top and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
"Ate an apfel avore gwain to bed, makes the doctor beg his bread."
Apples have much more meaning to us than just a piece of fruit. In Australia to reassure someone everything would be alright we would say ‘she’ll be apples’. Apples and pears in cockney rhyming slang means stairs. Men have Adam’s apples. Women have apple shaped bodies (rather than pear shaped). Apples are part of many common expressions:
- Comparing apples and oranges
- One bad apple spoils the whole bushel
- Don’t upset the apple cart
- Apple of my eye
- The apple does not fall far from the tree
- Apple green
- An apple a day keeps the doctor away (see rhyme here)
- How do you like them apples?
Apples feature in religion, myth, literature and music but let us start our exploration of their life with some history of the beloved fruit.
Apples in history
"Malus the Appyll . . . is gracious in syght and in taste and vertuous in medecyne . . . some beryth sourysh fruyte and harde, and some ryght soure and some ryght swete, with a good savoure and mery.
Bartholomeus Anglicus, in Encyclopedia, 1470
Though there is some debate, it seems that the first apple trees produced sweet flavourful apples in Kazakhstan many thousands of years ago. Apples have a long history in many parts of the Middle East and Europe. Charred remains of apples have been found in a Stone Age village in Switzerland. Dried apple slices were found on a royal tomb in Ur (modern day Iran) from 2500 BC and a sale of an apple orchard was recorded in Mesopotamia in 1500 BC. The Greeks were growing several varieties of fruit by the late 300s BC and the Roman Empire started to take apples westward including introducing them to Britain.
It is thought that the Crab-tree apple or the Wild Apple Tree (Pyrus malus) may be a descendant of these early varieties of apple trees brought to the UK around the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. From the 13th Century the Black Death, the War of the Roses and repeated droughts resulted in the demise of apple growing. Henry VIII reversed this trend by instructing his fruiterer, Richard Harris, to establish large scale orchards at Teynham in Kent. Apples were eaten for both dessert and good health. In Tudor times apple pie was popular with a liberal covering of saffron. Dr. John Caius (1510-1573), physician to Edward VI, Mary I, and Queen Elizabeth I, in his Boke of Counseille against the Sweatynge Sicknesse advised his patients to 'smele to an old swete apple to recover his strengthe.'
Victorian explorers brought new varieties of apples back to the UK. In 1893 George Cadbury planted an apple tree in his workers gardens in Bournville (obviously he knew the chocolate went well with apple). Cox’s Orange Pippin accounts for more than 50% of the dessert apples grown in Britain and is thought to have originated in the 18th Century.
Apples in Australia
“Mrs Horton used to make toffees and toffee apples and sell them at morning recess. If we were lucky enough to have been given money to spend we'd rush down to the back door of their house and form a queue and hope there were enough for us all.”
Ivanhoe Primary School Memories 1940s
Many varieties of apples were grown from early in European Australia’s history, which is written up in One Continuous Picnic by Michael Symons. The state of Tasmania was called the Apple Isle because apples grew so well there. It is said it was Bruny Island in Tasmania where apples were first planted in Australia by Captain William Bligh in 1788. The first crop of apples (six apples) was recorded in 1791.
John Pascoe Fawkner established a fruit tree orchard in Launceston Tasmania and apples trees from this nursery were taken to Portland in 1834 and Melbourne in 1837. However it is the Batman Apple Tree by the Plenty River in Greensborough that is claimed to be the oldest living apple tree in Victoria. It is said that Frederick Flintoff established an orchard at his Brancepeth Farm that included apple trees bought in 1841 from John Batman’s estate after his death in 1839. In the 1880s exportation of apples was stimulated by developments in transport and refridgeration.
The most famous Australian apple is the green tart Granny Smith, which seems to have been discovered by accident by Mrs Maria Ann Smith who migrated to New South Wales in Australia from England in 1838. There are different stories about her throwing out French crabs and finding the new apple tree growing in the rubbish heap. Apparently when asked about it she said, ‘Well, it’s just like God to make something useful out of what we think is rubbish.’ Orchardists in the area took up cultivating the apple after she died. It became Australia’s most exported apple because it was ideal for transporting.
In World War II, there was a glut of fruit in Australia because the British wouldn’t accept apples and pears on the grounds that they were not as nutritious as cheese and meat in a time of reduced transportation. Apple orchards were pulled out, apples were fed to pigs, apple juice was prepared and competitions were held for recipes to use them. The problem did not disappear until the Americans arrived on our shores with their love of apple pie. Children from Ivanhoe Primary School remember the caretaker’s wife selling toffee apples at a penny each for the war effort.
Apples in America
"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."
European settlers took apple seeds and trees to the New World where only crab apples grew as natives. Apples did not flourish till colonies of honey bees were shipped to America. William Blackstone is said to have arrived in Massachusetts in 1623 with a bag of apple seeds that he soon planted in an orchard in Boston. In 1796, in Ontario, Canada, John McIntosh discovered a variety of apple that has come to be known and loved as the Macintosh.
Americans love the legend of pioneer apple farmer, John Chapman (1774-1845), who is better known as Johnny Appleseed. He is famed for introducing apples to large parts of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana, and for his kindness and altruism. He travelled through the countryside in old torn clothes and no shoes, creating nurseries of apple trees for settlers.
One of America’s favourite authors, Louisa May Alcott, loved apples. Her recipe for apple slump can be found on the web. Apparently this recipe was popular in her day and with her family. It sounds like my mum’s apple sponge. Her father, Amos Branson Alcott built their Orchard House among 40 apple trees. He considered apple an ideal fruit and wrote in his journal “Apples have other virtues than those that nourish merely. They refresh the spirits by their taste and perfume. ... Apples had once the reputation of being good for immortality. They are still good for virtue and wisdom. ... For subtlety of thought, for strong sense, grace of diction, for ideas, [one] best betakes himself to conversation with orchards.”
In the USA they not only have the Big Apple (New York) but they like to say ‘as American as apple pie’. But the archetypal mom didn’t just bake apple pie. She made applesauce, apple butter, apple cobblers, apple slump, brown betty etc etc. The apple variety ‘Delicious’ is the most widely grown apple in the USA. It was discovered by a Quaker farmer in Iowa in the mid 19th Century.
What is perhaps the most famous American apple is no apple at all. When I was searching the net for interesting Apple information, the most frustrating item that came up over and over was the Apple computer company. The first ever computer that I bought was an Apple Classic II. After owning a few PCs I now have an Apple laptop. But I had never connected the fruit and computers. So I was surprised to read that the best known version of how Apple computers got their name was that it was named after Steve Jobs summer work on apple farms and his admiration for the Beatles record label.
Apples in religion and mythology
“Comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.”
Song of Solomon 2.5
Stories and mythology in many cultures have a similar theme of a garden of paradise filled with fruit trees that are beautiful, sensual and irresistible, leading to a consequential calamity of seduction. One might conclude that the apple has a lot to answer for. The common occurance of the apple in these stories might be explained by the fact that as late as the 17th Century ‘apple’ was a term used for any fruit.
Hence, the Bible mentions the apple ten times but does not name it in what has become one of the most famous stories of the apple: the creation story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. In this story Eve is tempted by the snake to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God casts Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and off they go carrying the burden of original sin that they bequeath to all their descendents. This was the first sin of many.
The Fall of Man by Hugo Van Der Goes in 1470 depicted the apple as the forbidden fruit, starting the trend among other artists to paint the apple tree in the Garden of Eden. (You only have to look at opening credits of tv drama Desperate Housewives to see this motif continues to this day.) If not for this apple, Jesus Christ would not have had to die on the cross to save us from our sins. The apple could also be said to be the cause of all the grief men have given women for this deed over the years! Perhaps one might argue it is responsible for feminism!
And you should never leave anyone off your wedding guest list who has golden apples. In Greek mythology, the goddess of discord, Eris, was excluded from the wedding of Peleus and Thetis and tossed a golden apple inscribed ‘for the most beautiful one’. The apple was claimed by three goddesses: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. When Paris of Troy was appointed to select the recipient, Aphrodite tempted him with the beauty of Helen, which led to the Trojan War.
Nor should you accept the offer of strangers to hold onto the world for you or to give it back to you for a minute while he makes his cloak more comfortable. This is how Heracles tricked poor old Atlas into getting him golden apples from the Garden of Hesperides in the Eleventh Labour of Hercules. If I was Atlas I would also want to leave Heracles holding the heavens and walk away with the precious apples I had stolen for him.
Golden apples also appear in Norse mythology. They were used to woo Geror by Freyr, the Norse god of agriculture, weather and fertility. Apples are given to the gods by goddess Iounn to give eternal youthfulness. The goddess Frigg sends an apple to King Rerir after he prays for a child. His wife’s consumption of an apple results in a six-year pregnancy and a son.
Apples can be a sign of death as well as fertility. It is told that the prophet Mohammed inhaled the fragrance of an apple brought to him by an angel just before his last breath of life. In Islam, man can forestall death by ritual prayer or distributing alms but when the angel of death returns with the apple of paradise, the spirit must leave.
Then there is near death in the Swiss story of William Tell, an archer who was arrested for refusing to salute as directed by the local governor. He is promised freedom if he can shoot an apple off his son’s head with an arrow. He was an expert marksman and split the apple with a single shot. However he had a second arrow which was intended for the governor if he had killed his son.
Lastly, I found many references to apples in Celtic mythology. Wands of druids were made from wood of the yew or the apple. Avalon means isle of the apples in Arthurian legend. Souls were confined in an apple in the stomach of a salmon, escape was made by following a rolling apple, apple trees grew from graves, fairy lovers fed apples to sustain life and entice him.
Bear good fruit,
Or down with your top
And up with your root.
19th Century Waissaling Rhyme from South Hampshire
Apple wassailing is an old English custom involving drinking of cider and chanting around apple trees in orchards to assure good yields. It is one of the many traditions and superstitions that involve apples. Many involve fertility and love.
In Irish and Scottish folklore, if you peeled an apple in one piece and threw it over your shoulder, it would form the letter of the initial of your future husband. Apples were sometimes used as a tool of divination. Remnants of these traditions exist in a chid’s game of twisting the stem of an apple while saying the alphabet and the letter you say when the stem breaks is the initial of the person you will marry.
In Greece in the 7th Century BC the bridal couple would share an apple as a symbol of their marriage and hopes for a fruitful union. In ancient Greece unattached people would throw apples at each other (ouch!) as a sign of their romantic interest. If the woman caught the apple, she had accepted the offer of love. (If she didn’t catch it and it hit her, I guess she wouldn’t feel loving towards the potential beau.) I even read that apple pips were spat at the ceiling as a way of foretelling love but it was not clear how this would be done. In medieval Germany, a man who ate an apple steeped in the perspiration of the woman he loved (eugh!) was likely to succeed in the relationship.
Many are familiar with apple bobbing or apple dooking (as E says in his lovely Scottish accent) at Halloween. It came from the pagan festival of Samhain which celebrated the fertitlity of the harvest. Girls could put the apple they bobbed under their pillows and dream of their future spouse.
Halloween also is a time to remember the dead. In her Fruit Book, Jane Grigson tells us about how it is celebrated in Brittany, France. People bring apples and medlars (an apple-like fruit) to the church on All Saints Day to offer the harvest to the ‘amiable crowd of dead souls’. Apples and medlars were also sold to pay for masses for the dead. A man would carry an ‘arbre des morts’ or stick with his best new apples stuck to it, and people would bid for the apples.
In Cumberland, England, people would suspend apples from strings over the hearth. When the apples were fully roasted, they fell into a bowl of spiced, mulled wine that was waiting for them beneath. Apples also traditionally appeared in the mouth of a roast hog.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated with sweet apple dipped in honey to symbolise the wish for a sweet and joyous year ahead. Apple cake and apple bread also seem to be quite popular at this point in the Jewish calendar.
Apples in literary history
“The deer was, as you know, sanguis, in blood; ripe as the pomewater, who now hangeth like a jewel in the ear of caelo, the sky, the welkin, the heaven; and anon falleth like a crab on the face of terra, the soil, the land, the earth.
Love’s Labour Lost (Act IV Scene II), William Shakespeare
Apples are found throughout literary history. One early example is Homer’s The Odyssey in which he refers to ‘blushing apples’. Shakespeare referred to apples in his plays. The Merchant of Venice (1, 3) has the quote “A goodly apple rotten at the heart.” In Henry IV Falstaff is invited to eat apples with caraway (5.3.2-3).
Fairy stories also have their fair share of apples. Snow White chokes on the poisoned apple. The apple tree features in the fairy story the Two Sisters in which the good sister shakes the apples from the branches and is sheltered by the apple tree, but the bad sister doesn’t shake the branches and there is no room for her to hide from the witch. Two Aesop’s Fables have apples in them: The Peasant and the Apple Tree which teaches that ‘self interest alone moves some men’, and The Pomegranate, Apple Tree and Bramble which teaches to stop ‘vain disputing’. In the Tales of the Arabian Nights is an apple that cures all ills in the Story of Prince Ahmed and the fairy Perie Banou. According to Wikipedia, in the same collection of stories, is "The Three Apples" which is "the earliest known murder mystery and suspense thriller with multiple plot twists and detective fiction elements."
More recently in an Agatha Christie's 1969 mystery, Hallowe'en Party, a girl is drowned in the apple-bobbing tub. In 1952 Daphne Du Maurier wrote a short story called ‘the Apple Tree’ about a man who suspects his dead wife’s spirit resides in the apple tree in his garden. Filipino, Alberto Florentino wrote a play called The World is an Apple, which, according to his website, was voted most popular/most performed play in the Philippines. Apple was the code to open the keystone in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
William Morris lived in the Red House in Bexleyheath, Kent, which was surrounded by an orchard with many apple trees. Today it is open to the public who can celebrate Apple Day there. Virginia Woolf ‘s reference to ‘death among the apple trees’ in The Waves echoes her memory in “A Sketch of the Past” of connecting in her mind an apple tree with a guest’s suicide.
Apples also inspire some wonderful omagery in poetry. Robert Frost wrote ‘that the apple’s a rose’ in “After Apple-Picking”. In a poem called “listen” by e e cummings, he gives us the lovely line ‘i picked you / as an apple is picked by the little peasants for their girls’. Sylvia Plath wrote a juvenile poem called “Apple Blossom” at the tender age of 11 and many years later referred to the fruit in a more mature way in a poem called “Metaphors” about pregnancy with the line ‘I’ve eaten a bag of green apples’. John Drinkwater wrote a poem called “Moonlit Apples” that finishes with the line “oh moonlit apples of wonder’.
Irish poet, WB Yeats wrote the following lines in The Song of Wandering Aengus, which inspired band names, songs and books (Ray Bradbury – Silver Apples of the Moon):
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands.
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
Apples in Music history
“If you live with the people who live with ease
The red apple bush, the blue apple tree”
Apples appear throughout music history in all sorts of ways. In a version of the children’s nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’ one line goes “Two sticks and an apple, says the bells of whitechapel”. The Beatles’s record label was Apple Corps. Chris Martin of Coldplay and Gwyneth Paltrow named their daughter Apple. A Broadway musical about Adam and Eve was called the Apple Tree. A German record label is called Screaming Apples. Morton Subotnick had an album called “Silver Apples of the Moon” that E tells me is cold academic electronic music. Apples also occur in a great variety of song titles and band names.
- Apple Bed – Sparklehorse
- Apple Bite – Soundgarden
- Apple Blossom – The White Stripes
- Apple Blossom Time – Andrew Sisters
- Apple Bomb – Deerhoof
- Apple Bush – Alice Cooper
- Apple Tree - Wolfmother
- Don’t sit under the apple tree (with anyone else but me) – Glenn Miller
- Golden Apples of the Sun – Judy Collins
- The Laughing Apple – Cat Stevens
- One Bad Apple – the Osmonds
- Apple – a British psychedelic rock band
- The Apples – Scottish indie dance band
- The Apples – an Israeli funk band
- The Apples in Stereo – American Indie Rock Band
- Fiona Apple – American singer songwriter
- Green Apple Quick Step – post-grunge band from Seattle, USA
- Hot Apple Pie – American country music band
- Laughing Apple – Alan McGee’s first band in Glasgow
- Silver Apples – New York electronic band
Miscellaneous apple trivia:
Apples . . . “are in bowls and baskets, under the stairs and in the passage and on the kitchen dresser; spotty windfalls, a couple of dozen outsize Bramleys, mixed lots of unidentified garden apples, sweet and sour, red, yellow, brown, green, large and small, from old country gardens…”
Elizabeth David on an apple-glut autumn
- Isaac Newton formulated his theory of gravity after watching an apple fall from a tree, which is often depicted in cartoons as the apple falling on his head.
- American food writer, Ruth Reichl’s, 2002 memoir is called Comfort Me with Apples
- A popular children’s board book after my time is Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett.
- The Apple is the name of a 1980 musical science fiction film.
- The Apple was an American automobile manufactured by Apple Automobile Company from 1917 to 1918.
- A Hong-Kong-based newspaper is the Apple Daily,
- Elizabeth David wrote an article titled “Big Bad Bramleys”. The English Apple and Pear Board was not amused.
- A store in San Fransisco is called Green Apple Books and Music.
- Little Apple Books is a publisher in New York.
- The first scene of Lord of the Rings features a worm wriggling out from the core of an apple held by Gollum.
- The most famous and most abused apple pie in film history might well be in teen sex comedy, American Pie.
I couldn’t resist a few apple jokes. You’ll probably groan more than laugh at these but they are a bit of fun:
- How do you make an apple turnover? Push it down hill.
- How do you make an apple puff? Chase it round the garden.
- Why did Eve want to move to New York ? She fell for the Big Apple !
- Dad, do you like baked apples? Yes son, why? The orchard's on fire.
- Why did the farmer hang raincoats all over his orchard? Someone told him he should get an Apple Mac
- Fred came rushing in to his Dad. "Dad!" he puffed, "is it true that an apple a day keeps the doctor away?" "That's what they say," said his Dad. "Well, give me an apple quick ? I've just broken the doctor's window!"
Useful websites about apples:
Well, as you will see from this very long post, there is a lot to say about apples (hence my lack of posts over the last week). These days I am still a wee bit fussy about my apples and prefer them fresh to stewed but love to eat them. I have learnt how much better they taste in season and look forward to the crisp sweet apples of autumn. It is so easy to throw one in my bag, they look so gorgeous in my fruit bowl and they crunch so satisfyingly when I sink my teeth in.
I love savoury apple recipes. My mum taught me to love apples with chocolate or cheese. I recently discovered apple flavoured liquorice which I highly recommend. I have also a found a few great sweet apple recipes – particularly an Apple and Date Cake. For more of my apple recipes, go to my Index by Ingredient. Below is a list of some of the apple recipes from around the web I would love to try.
At the bottom of this list you will find one of my latest favourite apple recipes – Curried Apple Soup. It is adapted from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I made some changes – a few more spices, some Brussels sprouts that give additional nutrients but not an overwhelming taste, and potatoes which I think I wouldn’t use next time. I had to try this recipe because I loved the idea of using the apple peelings and cores to make a stock for the soup (reminiscent of Freezer Stock). This is an easy and unusually delicious soup with a subtle spiciness, more an entrée (ie a starter or appetizer) than main course.
I am sending this post to Cindystar for Weekend Herb Blogging #205, the weekly event founded by Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen and now coordinated by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once.
- Anna Del Conte’s Apple and Olive Oil Cake – Nourish Me
- Apple Chutney – Rachel’s Ramblings
- GF Apple Onion and Feta Socca - The Book of Yum
- Apple Pie Coffee Cake with Cheddar Cheese – Baking Bites
- Apple Quesadillas – Where’s the Beef
- Apple and Spinach Tart – Ear Me Delicious (also see quiche at Leftover Queen)
- Apples in Toffee Sauce – A Wee Bit of Cooking
- Autumn Apple Bread – Baking and Books
- Baked Apples with Baklava Stuffing – Souvlaki for the Soul
- Buttermilk, Beetroot and Apple Muffins – Tinned Tomatoes
- Cheese Apple Pie – Serious Eats
- Chocolate Brownies with Apple – The Yum Blog
- Mock Green Papaya Salad – Diet, Dessert and Dogs
- Vanilla Apple Crisp with Caramel Sauce – Closet Cooking
- 3 tbsp butter
- ½ tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
- 2 medium cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 onions, chopped
- 4 cups of chopped apple
- 1 potato (cubed and microwaved 3 minutes – optional)
- 350g Brussels sprouts (trimmed and microwaved 3 minutes – optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- juice from 1 lemon
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1 tsp dry mustard
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 1 cup yoghurt/sour cream/buttermilk (I used yoghurt and a little buttermilk)
- Peels ad cores from the apples used in the soup
- Skins (cleaned) from onions and garlic
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 5 cardamom pods
- 5 cloves
- 2½ cups apples juice
- 2½ cups water
To make the stock, combine all ingredients in a stockpot ad simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and stand at least one hour. Strain and discard solids.
Melt butter in a stockpot. Fry onion, ginger, and garlic for 5 minutes. Add all ingredients except stock and yoghurt/buttermilk. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add stock, bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Add yoghurt/buttermilk and puree. Warm gently if required. Serve warm with bread and cheese for a light supper or as an entrée.
On the stereo:
I Am Sam Soundtrack: Various Artists