Apples have been part of the human experience since the beginning of human history. Apples have been found as a part of the diet of early humans in anthropological research and recorded in the story of Adam & Eve. Greek and Roman mythology refer to apples as symbols of love and beauty. And when the Romans conquered England about the first century B.C.E., they brought apples with them.
Apples in the Americas
In the 1600s, apples made their way to North America, too. Crabapples preceded European colonists to America, but the fruit was not very edible. The Massachusetts Bay Colony requested seeds and cuttings from England, which were brought over on subsequent voyages to Boston. Other Europeans brought apple stock to Virginia and the Southwest, and a Massachusetts man, John Chapman, became famous for planting trees throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. You might know him by his nickname, “Johnny Appleseed.”
As the United States and Canada were settled, nearly every farm grew some apples. Although some of these apples were very good for eating and cooking, most of the early varieties would be considered poor quality today. Often, they were used for cider, and the ground-up apples were fed to livestock.
A Worldwide Sensation
Today, nearly 8,000 varieties of apples have been identified around the world. About 100 varieties are grown in commercial quantity in the U.S., with the top 10 of those varieties comprising over 90% of the crop.
Modern orchards combine the rich heritage of apple growing with research and field trials to grow an annual U.S. crop exceeding 220,000,000 bushels. New varieties are still being discovered and cultivated, with the best eventually becoming household words like McIntosh, Delicious, Empire, Rome, Spartan, Cortland and Northern Spy. Recent arrivals include Fuji, Honeycrisp, Gala and Liberty. But many antique or heirloom varieties are enjoying a resurgence. It can certainly be said that today’s apples combine the best attributes of the past and the present.