The Forbidden Fruit

It seems that Catherine the Great craved Golden Pippin apples and had them brought to her palace in Russia. (When you’re a queen, you can order out for anything.)

Across the pond, another queen, Victoria, had a penchant for baked apples. She hired an expert nurseryman to breed a special variety for her alone, and as a result of her passion, the apple’s popularity during her reign (Victorian England mid-nineteenth century) exploded. Botanists and growers endeavored to create more varieties for both eating and, of course, that ever-popular cider, eager to name their newest species after their employers, usually a member of the royal family. The popular fruit was sold on the streets out of baskets and carts, both in the U.S. and abroad, especially during the Depression.

Apples came to America with the first colonists, who founded Jamestown in the year 1607. Knowing they would need to start farming immediately, they brought apple seeds and cuttings to plant orchards for the settlers. Even though some of the English varieties did not acclimate well to Virginia soil, new and tastier fruit was produced not just for food but for their beloved cider, which was a mainstay of their diet (preferably fermented). The hardy trees flourished and multiplied during the 1600s, helping to feed America’s first generations. As the U.S. was shaping its new government, a folk hero named Johnny Appleseed (1774-1845) who was indeed a real person, introduced the nutritious and popular apple across New England and parts of the Midwest. An avid orchardist, he traveled throughout the countryside, distributing seeds of his favorite fruit. Wandering through the frontier, he was a true free spirit, though historians dispute his solely humanitarian interests. Apparently much of the fruit from his trees was not fit for human consumption but made great cider, and he benefited financially from the trees he planted. (Sorry, folks, but apparently old Johnny liked to imbibe daily, and his hundreds of acres produced plenty of cider, also called applejack.)

Apples were prized for their healing benefits and used for numerous ailments throughout history. And no other fruit has had such legendary impact. Think of the wicked queen offering a poisoned apple to Snow White. And the rebellious Swiss mountaineer William Tell, who was ordered to shoot an apple off the head of his son as a punishment. (Fortunately he was a good marksman and the boy walked away unscathed, the apple did not.) No one is certain that the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was in fact an apple tree, but the Bible tells us that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the fruit, thus resulting in their banishment from Eden. (It could have been kumquats.)