As autumn is once again upon us, it’s a reminder to pause and enjoy the fruits of our labor—especially if that fruit is the apple. Between baking apples into delectable desserts and enjoying a hot cup of apple cider on a cool evening, the apple is synonymous with autumn in America. After all, the phrase “as American as apple pie” has entered the global lexicon for a reason. So how did America fall in love with the amazing apple?
Contrary to popular belief, apples are not native to North America. The only species native to North America is the appropriately named crab apple, which is sour and good for making preserves. Apples as we know them were brought over with the colonists from Europe and were rafted onto native trees. As early as 1629, Captain John Smith wrote that peaches, apples, apricots, and figs “prosper[ed] exceedingly” in the new climate. There were challenges, too, as the late spring frosts, virtually unheard of in England, killed off many species before they could take hold. Those that did take hold created some of the varieties of apples that we know and love today.1,2
One of the other causes for the many apple varieties in America is that apple seeds are notorious for being inconsistent. Apple trees grown from seeds often bear little to no resemblance to the tree that they came from, with the fruit produced being just as inconsistent. By 1905, apples had become so numerous in variety and so popular that the US Department of Agriculture published thealmost-400 page tome Nomenclature of the Apple: A Catalog of the Known Varieties Referred to in American Publications from 1804 to 1904. All in all, the volume contained over 17,000 different apple names.
Apple varieties fell in and out of favor, depending on the wavering tastes of the population. One apple that was popular in the 1920s, the Ralls Genet, had its moment in the sun for being resistant to late spring frosts. Although you can’t go to your local supermarket to get a bushel of this variety, you can find it hidden in another popular variety: In 1939, intrepid Japanese apple breeders combined the “Ralls Genet” with the “Red Delicious,” creating one of America’s favorite apples, the Fuji.
You definitely aren’t seeing over 17,000 different varieties when you go to the grocery store. Nowadays, there are about 7,500 types of apple grown around the world, with 2,500 of these grown in the United States alone. The next time you visit the grocery store, take a moment to explore the variety of apples you can choose from. When it comes to baking, Granny Smith apples are a staple in the kitchen. For all your delicious fall desserts, try baking with the sweet and crisp Pink Lady apple. If you’re making a sweeter dessert, such as an apple strudel or chèvre tart, try the SweeTango. This cross between a Honeycrisp and a “Zestar!© Apple” (yes, it was copyrighted with an exclamation point) has notes of honey and spices, making it the perfect complement to all your fall desserts.2,3
The history of the apple in America is as varied as the people who live here. This fall, branch out into new varieties and explore the taste of Americana right in your kitchen.
1. Trees.net, March 2, 2021
2. BBG.org, June 2, 2005
3. 10best.com, November 12, 2020