They're the legacy of Johnny Appleseed and how we got tossed out of the Garden of Eden. They're the death of Snow White (almost). The fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.
Apples, apples are everywhere — especially this time of year — and they come with so much packed inside. They're so common especially here in B.C., home to a quarter of Canada's apples, that we often take them for granted. Groan — another fresh and snappy local apple?
Apples poisoned, polished and otherwise are embedded in our consciousness, mainly because apples are grown in just about every country in the temperate latitudes that informed the roots of our culture. Apple trees, which first grew wild in the mountains of Kazakhstan, are part of the rose family.
They're the most widely grown member of the genus Malus with its 35 species, including crabapples. There were already about 25 named varieties of apples back in the time of Ancient Rome; today we have more than 7,500.
Golden apples from the Garden of Hesperides were the fruit of immortality. The apple described in the "Song of Solomon" meant the richness and sweetness of the word of God that listeners were meant to savour.
If the stuff of myth and legend is too serious for you, try apple cores — they can be fun. Remember the cartoon "apple core" riff by Chip and Dale and our favourite frustrated apple farmer, Donald Duck? "Apple core." "Baltimore." "Who's your friend?" "Me," says the sucker, who then gets splatted in the face with a juicy apple core.
Then there's the guy touting how much bio-waste we could save, along with huge amounts of the fruit itself, if only we'd all eat apple cores. Not to worry about the trace amounts of amygdalin found in the pips that can turn into cyanide. You'd throw up before eating enough apple seeds to harm you. But maybe that's the source of the wicked queen's idea to poison Snow White.
By Jean Chevalier's and Alain Gheerbrant's Dictionary of Symbols, the apple has become such a powerful signifier largely because of the five-pointed star-like chamber that holds the seeds. Cut an apple open on its equator, not one of its longitudinal lines, and you'll see it. The pentagram is one potent symbol, especially in all matters magical and mystic.
So grab a bag of B.C. apples and get started on your latest spell, including enhancing your own health. The old adage, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, is still as valid as it is time worn. Apples are packed with fibre, antioxidants, and flavonoids. Their phytonutrients and antioxidants may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancers, hypertension and diabetes.
Luckily apples are everywhere. According to 2012 data from the UN's FAO, China is the No. 1 apple grower at some 37 million tonnes a year. The U.S. is second with four million tonnes. Despite all our plucky apple growers in B.C. and beyond, Canada is in 35th place with 290,000 tonnes of apples grown annually. Germany, home of the Grimm Brother's Snow White, is the 14th biggest apple grower in the world. The Philippines, Morocco, Palestine, Latvia, Nepal and even tiny Lebanon all grow tonnes of apples each year.
After years of the opposite trend, locals in the Okanagan Valley, where the bulk of our B.C. apples are grown, report that some grape growers are actually going back to tree fruits like apples because the wine grape market is saturated.
I hope so because apples are rich.
Each apple variety has it's own distinctive flavour and texture, which can evolve even after the fruit is picked. Cider apples are high in acid and astringent tannins; dessert or eating apples are crisp and juicy with a nice balance between sweet and sour. Cooking apples are tart, but well-balanced when cooked. Some early "codling" varieties will cook up into a fluffy froth, perfect for applesauce; others stay firm, perfect for pies or strudel.
If you don't like how your apples perform, you may be buying the wrong ones for the purpose or buying them in the wrong season.
Here's a quick guide to some of our best and brightest, many of which were bred right here in B.C. Take your pick:
The best of summer apples are already past, but keep an eye out for next year. Gingergolds, Silkens and Sunrises are all early summer winners. The Sunrise is a cross of McIntosh and Golden Delicious developed at the federal agricultural station in Summerland.
Galas — officially know as Royal Galas — and McIntoshes are considered "early season" apples. Developed in New Zealand, a cross between Golden Delicious and Cox's Orange pippin, Galas are crisp and firm, good September through March. Macs, as the shorthand goes, are an old variety from Eastern Canada introduced in 1870. A good dual-purpose apple, Macs keep well (Sept. – May) and are great for eating and cooking.
Mid-season apples are in their prime now. They're good keepers, too. Golden Delicious, obvious with their bright golden yellow, is another old variety, going back to 1900. An excellent all-purpose apple with a rich unique flavour, Goldens are one of the finest dessert and salad apples grown. Other tasty mid-season apples include Red Delicious; Jonagolds, developed in New York; Ambrosias, a sport of nature first found growing in B.C. in 1990; Chinooks; Crestons; Honeycrisps developed at the University of Minnesota; and the eternally popular Spartans, one of the most versatile apples around with their high aroma and fine flavour, a Mac/Newton cross developed in Summerland in 1936.
Enjoy earlier season apples while you can, saving up for late-season apples that mature mid- to late October like Fujis and Granny Smiths, best enjoyed later in winter. A large apple with cream-coloured flesh, Fujis are indeed from Japan, developed in 1962. The appearance can be so-so but they're a tastily tart and firm apple resistant to bruising. We have Granny Smiths thanks to our friends in Australia. Bred in 1868, Grannies are tart with some sweetness, great for cooking. Braeburns are another popular late-season variety, originally bred in New Zealand in 1952. Like Fujis, Braeburns are big and not highly coloured, but their flesh is firm, crisp and juicy.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who urges you to reach far and wide for your apples.