Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Don't You Just Love Apples?

Hi All!
Sorry for the long wait between posts. Summer has wrapped up successfully. I've managed to instill some kind of appreciation for the forest into 44 little minds and have learnt a great deal myself. One of the biggest lessons was that after a full day of running around with kids, I barely have the energy to crawl into bed. I tip my hat to all the prolific parent bloggers out there.

In other news, we have successfully moved into a tiny Harlem apartment near hubby's Hogwarts-like new University. Although out guest room is still filled to the brim with boxes, the internet fairy has finally come to grace our home with high speed connectivity to the World Wide Web. Oh Joy!

Right let's get on with the posting. This being my first NYC post, I figured it should be about apples. For two reasons, the first being well this is the BIG APPLE and the second is because I really love apples and hubby and I will soon be heading north for an apple picking party!

For your enjoyment, a little something I wrote a while back and has come into season again.

An Apple A Day Keeps the Doctor Away

North America was built on apples and its derivatives. Legend has it that a certain Johnny Appleseed traveled the United States of America in the 18th century sowing apple nurseries that he would give to the newly arrived settlers. At this time, apples were mostly used to make cider, an alcoholic beverage made by the fermentation of apples. At a time where prohibition didn’t allow for other spirits, this sweet beverage was greatly appreciated by the settlers after a hard day of taming the American wilderness.

Eventually the temperance movement also got cider banned. An intensive marketing scheme was then put in place to save the apple orchard. This is when the slogan “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” came in to play and Americans started to eat instead of drink this abundant fruit. This slogan is not just a huge conspiracy to save the apple
industry; they are actually good for you. The high levels of antioxidant compounds help reduce the risk of cancer. Certain compounds found in apples could protect the brain from the damage that triggers Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and like most fruits, it contains Vitamin C. It is also said to help with heart disease, weight loss and cholesterol levels.

How about a bit of Natural History?

Apples were artificially spread across the Americas as they are not native to this continent; they are originally from Kazakhstan where the wild variety, Malus, dominates the forest and grows to heights of up to 6 feet. Each tree is intrinsically different, producing apples of all shapes and sizes. Malus is the epitome of genetic variability as every single seed contains the genetic instructions for a completely new and different variety. This heterozygosity allows apples to rapidly adapt to new environments successfully and explains why they have managed to fool so many of us into thinking they belong. Each tree has the possibility to produce thousands of new varieties because each apple contains five seeds so that when you cut the apple through its equator there is a star shaped positioning and each tree produces hundreds of apples per year.

If you follow this reasoning, the Macintosh apple that so many of us enjoy is a chance discovery. How do we conserve its characteristics if seeds produce a totally different fruit? The answer is cloning or more precisely grafting. This technique developed by the Chinese was first d
ocumented in 5000BC and consists of selecting a shoot of the desired plant (scion) and encouraging it to fuse with the roots of a stock plant, in most cases another fruit tree. Most commercial apples are derived from five original trees: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Macintosh, and Cox’s Orange Pippin. The first Mac was first introduced to the U.S. market in 1870 yielded its last crop in 1908. The Granny Smith was the first green apple to be enjoyed as a snack as the general tendency was red is good, green was bitter and unripe. It was found by a certain south-eastern Australian named Mrs. Smith in 1868. If you think about it, each Macintosh or Granny Smith apple you eat is genetically identical to that of a parent that lived 100 years ago. This genetic stagnation is problematic as it stops the apple from adapting to the ever changing predators that attack it. As a result, apple orchards are one of the cultures that require the most pesticides.

History has shown us that relying on a genetically poor culture is not a very wise idea; many shall remember the 1840 potato blight in Ireland that caused the death of
thousands from starvation. Potatoes are not native to Europe; they come from Central America and are generally vegetatively propagated by planting pieces of the tuber. This means that your potatoes are genetically identical. When a fungus attacked this homogeneous population there was no resistance possible and it was wiped out. The impact of the loss of an appreciated apple variety is not nearly as catastrophic (unless it's your livelihood) but this means we won't be enjoying Macintosh apples for ever. So appreciate them while you can and indulge in this season's harvest by snacking and making tarts, pies, and other delicious desserts!

What is your favorite apple based treat?

I must admit I am quite partial to apple slices dipped in caramel. OH boy oh boy oh boy!

Take Care!

Michael Pollan - The Botany of desire
Apple via


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