An apple a day …
It feels like autumn has arrived here, in north central North Dakota. You can feel it in the crispness of the morning air. The days are getting shorter, some of the leaves are starting to show a hint of fall color, and the flowers are beginning to look weathered and tired. Though I am sad to see summer go, the apples have started to ripen and that makes fall’s arrival a little bit sweeter.
The apple tree originated in the mountains of Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, can still be found today. The apple, a member of the rose family, is thought to have been domesticated 4,000 to 10,000 years ago in the Tian Shan Mountains. In United States, we have only been growing apples for a few hundred years. They were brought to North America by European colonists. Apple trees are now cultivated worldwide. Today, there are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples resulting in a range of desired deliciousness. Even the pickiest of eaters cannot resist a tempting apple.
Apple’s popularity is shown in the numbers. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the estimated world production of apples for 2019/2020 is expected to reach around 75.8 million metric tons. China is the world’s leading producer of apples, estimating a near record level of 41.0 million metric tons. The United States comes in third, at an estimated 4.8 million. That is a lot of apples!
Apples will grow in zones 2-9. The best apples are grown in areas that have medium to high humidity, cold winters, and moderate summer temperatures. An apple tree can live for 100 years or more. As living proof, an old, gnarled apple tree located in Savannah, Ohio is certified to be the last survivor of the thousands planted by Johnny Appleseed over 150 years ago. It is still producing apples, sometimes even too many.
Apples can range from soft in texture to a hard, crisp texture. There are apples for fresh eating, some for cooking, and some for preserving; some for juice and others for wine and ales. Some apples are sweet and some are tart. Some apples come to harvest in summer, some in autumn.
One of the most common beliefs about apples is that they need a frost to become sweet and ripe. According to the Carrington Research Extension Center, this is simply not true. The warm days and cool nights of fall drive sugar production. Apples can withstand light frosts, but the frost is not needed to complete the ripening process. When temperatures fall below 28 degrees F, ice crystals can form within the cells. The amount of damage to the fruit depends on the temperature and also how long the cold temperature lasts. If the day is cold and cloudy prior to the freeze event, the fruit will freeze faster than if the day had been warm and sunny. If your apples are frozen and still hanging on the tree, leave them there until they thaw. These apples will need to be used promptly. In the north, we can find many cultivars of apple that ripen early August. These apples are great for eating fresh, cooking, and really anything you want to do with an apple; however, they do not store well.
Usually when we think of apples, we think of a bright red fruit, but not all ripe apples are red. Granny Smith, for example, will remain green, making it harder to tell when they are ripe. While there is no 100% way to know that the apple you are picking is at its prime ripeness, there are a couple ways to check. First of all, how easily does it pull from the tree? For many apple trees, the apples will come off easily if they are ready. You can cut the apple open and look at the seeds. If an apple is ripe, the seeds will typically be brown. Really, the best way to tell if an apple is ripe, is to take a bite and taste it.
No matter the color of the seeds, they are not edible. Apple seeds contain small amounts of amygdalin, a sugar and cyanide compound. Eating the seeds of an apple or two will cause no problem, but consuming an extremely large amount can cause adverse effects. The average adult would have to chew and swallow around 85 seeds before experiencing such adverse effects. Though apple seeds are not edible, they are not without use. Apple seed oil is manufactured for the use in cosmetics.
Apple trees can be used in the landscape as well. Apple trees will grow in less than ideal soils, but it is important to have good drainage for its root system. It is best to have a soil test done before you plant your new tree, as apple trees prefer a near neutral pH level. Apple trees need to be planted in an area that receives 6-8 hours of full sun, preferably morning sun. Apple trees can grow from 10 to 30 feet tall and nearly as wide. They are moderately fast-growing, but growth slows with age. Apple trees bloom in the spring, set fruit, and take anywhere from 100 to 200 days to reach harvest, depending upon the variety. In order for your apple tree to bear fruit, it must be cross-pollinated with a tree of a different apple variety; so, be sure to plant more than one tree.
From biblical times on, the apple has gotten a bad rap as “the forbidden fruit.” In the book of Genesis, the “forbidden fruit” is not identified specifically as an apple but often portrayed as such. It could have been an apple, but could it have been a pear, banana, or even a peach? No one will ever know for sure. What if it was a banana? The poor larynx would be called Adam’s banana instead of “Adam’s apple” …Oh, the horror!
Maybe, Walt Disney had it out for apples too. The wicked witch always had a beautifully red, poison apple at the ready for that non-expecting, beautiful, young girl to eat. Just another reason why apples get a bad rap. I miss Steve Jobs, he did so much for Apple.
Why do apples have a bad reputation? Afterall, the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is used often to remind us to eat healthier snacks. The saying can be traced as far back as 19th century Wales. The original phrase was “Eat an apple on going to bed and you will keep the doctor from earning his bread.” There are no miraculous health effects from eating apples, but they are a nutritious snack. Apples are high in fiber, vitamin C, and various antioxidants. I think even back then they knew the benefits of eating healthy.
The proverb “one bad apple spoils the barrel” is often times used to describe a person who is a bad influence. Why is a bad person compared to a bad apple? Well, it turns out, that one bad apple can, in fact, spoil the barrel – just like people. In the case of the apple, ethylene gas, a naturally occurring gas that causes fruit to ripen, is to blame. As a kid, I remember being told to eat the bruised apples first, so they did not spoil the rest. Either my mom was teaching life lessons about being a good person or how to keep the good fruit from going bad. Whatever her reason, I am pretty sure I never got to eat a “good” apple growing up.
Online — For recipes or more information about apples, NDSU Extension has several websites you can visit: