Green apples on trees
The apple tree originated in Central Asia

A Brief History of the Apple

The apple emerged as a celebrated fruit at the beginning of history. Whether you start with Adam and Eve or the anthropological data on Stone Age people in Europe, the apple was there. Greek and Roman mythology refer to the apple as symbols of love and beauty. When the Romans conquered England about the first century B.C., they brought apple cultivation with them. William Tell gained fame by shooting an apple off his son’s head at the order of the invaders of Switzerland.

The Pilgrims discovered crabapples had preceded them to America, but the fruit was not very edible. The Massachusetts Bay Colony requested seeds and cuttings from England, which were brought over on later voyages of the Mayflower. Other Europeans brought apple stock to Virginia and the Southwest, and a Massachusetts man, John Chapman, become famous for planting trees throughout Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. He became known as Johnny Appleseed.

As the country was settled, nearly every farm grew some apples. Although some were very good, most of the early varieties would be considered poor today. Of nearly 8000 varieties known around the world, about 100 are grown in commercial quantity in the US, with the top 10 comprising over 90% of the crop.

Our modern orchards combine the rich heritage of apple growing with research and field trials to grow an annual US crop exceeding 220,000,000 bushels. New varieties are still being discovered and cultivated, with the best eventually becoming “household” words like McIntosh, Delicious, Rome, and Cortland. Recent arrivals include Honeycrisp, Gala, Gingergold and more than a few “throwbacks” to antique varieties enjoying a resurgence.

Clearly, an apple combines the best attributes of “something old and something new.”