Since the dawn of mankind, we’ve been kinda obsessed with apples. For tens of thousands of years, apples have been a large part of our diets and our cultures. Blamed for the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, credited as the source of immortality by the Norse Gods, reproved as the cause of the Trojan War, and an all-around great way to get drunk in America since the settlement of Jamestown; as it turns out, apples and people go together like, well, apple butter and smearcase for instance.
Depiction of the original sin by Jan Brueghel de Oude and Peter Paul Rubens.
Norse Goddess Idunn distributing her apples to the Gods to replenish their immortality.
Apples, A Brief History
The ever-popular, mass-produced Red Delicious Apple.
Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Yeah, if that name were Apple Pie. Apples are a member of the rose family. DNA analysis shows that apples originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan, where the great ancestor of today’s domesticated apple still grows. How we went from that sour, practically inedible apple to the shiny Red Delicious we know so well is a long history of finely tuned cultivation and cultural impact. Apples express extreme heterozygosity, in short, the apples grown from a seedling won’t be anything like its parents. Reproducing a particular variety of apple requires a process called grafting.
When settlers first came to America they brought apples with them, however, they were hardly cultivated for eating the way they sometimes were in our European ancestral home. The time and resources it took to graft apples for consumption was not an option. To quickly begin preparing for winter, settlers planted apples from seedlings and most were used to make cider; the fermented beverage being a necessity in a world where sanitation was a concern. This method of planting coupled with the fact that almost every American household had its own apple trees lead us to “The Golden Age of American Pomology”, from 1804 to 1904. During this time, interest in new fruit varieties, including trying and reviewing new fruits, was a cultural pass time and a whopping 14,000 varieties of apples were recorded. Read more about the in-depth history of the apple here.
Apples Today and PA Agriculture
There is no butter in Apple Butter.
The industrial revolution and the steam engine effectively ended the Golden Age of Pomology. Inexpensive shipping methods and mechanical refrigeration made it possible for orchards to distribute year-round. Population growth and the emergence of suburbs brought an end to home orchards. In less than 100 years America went from 14,000 known varieties of apples to about 2,500 varieties grown in the US and less than 100 grown commercially.
Enter our home state, Pennsylvania. Anyone who has lived here for more than a year is aware that, in PA, apples are kind of a big deal. Our state ranks number four in nationwide apple production. Pennsylvania is made up of 67 counties, and apples are grown in every single one. More than 20,000 acres of land in PA is dedicated to apple orchards and produce approximately 440 million pounds of apples during the harvest season, from September to November. Our local Adams County accounts for approximately 70% of that yield alone. That’s a lot of pie. We grow about 100 different varieties of apples, 20 of which are marketed commercially. PA’s leading export varieties being the well-known Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Rome, Empire, and, speaking of pie, Granny Smith.
The National Apple Festival, and Where to Pick a Peck!
Pennsylvania is the host of The National Apple Festival, which takes place in Arendtsvilleevery year during the first two weekends in October. The festival began as an “Apple Harvest Holiday” in 1961 and has since grown to a two-weekend event that has been spotlighted by National Geographic Traveler as one of their “best fall trips”.
The National Apple Harvest Festival is an annual event that takes place every October in Arendtsville, PA.
Ready to stock up on apples for your yearly batch of homemade butters, sauces, and ciders? Check out these local orchards and pick yourself a bushel or a peck.