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The Garden Scoop

A is for Apple


Nothing says autumn like apple picking, apple cider, caramel apples, bobbing for apples; apple pie…the list is as endless as the varieties.

So where did our love of apples come from? According to the United States Apple Association the crabapple is the only apple native to North America. While it may not have been eaten straight from the tree the first settlers recognized the potential. Many of the early apples grown in America were not for eating, but rather for drinking. Clean drinking water was not always available but fermented juices were common and often considered safer to drink. The common term for fermented apple juice was applejack. Applejack for breakfast had a very different meaning a few hundred years ago.

Generations of gardeners, mother nature and lots of science has gradually led to the wide assortment of apples that can be found at your local farmers markets, orchards and grocery stores. Early orchards would have had to rely on native bees for pollination since honey bees did not arrive via ship from Europe until the early 1600's. According to the University of IL website on apple facts, there are over 7,500 varieties of apples in the world today. The difference between a crabapple and apple is size. Under two inches is a crabapple.

The vast majority of apple trees are not self-fertile. They need a different variety of apple tree nearby (that blooms at the same time) to pollinate their blossoms. Pollen from apple blossoms is transferred primarily by bees. The seeds are the result of pollination and carry the apple's lineage and genetics. If you plant seeds from an apple you bought at an orchard there is no way to be certain what you will get 5+ years down the road when that tree finally bears fruit. Apple seeds contain a wealth of genetic diversity. Most apple trees are produced by very careful breeding and grafting. An interesting note is that without grafted dwarf stock we would be harvesting apples from extremely tall trees. Since apples bruise easily and are handpicked neither homeowners nor orchardists would want apple trees to reach their potential height. They would need some major equipment to harvest those apples.

In the end, most of us are more interested in taste than science and it turns out we have very strong opinions about what we like or don't like in an apple. The Vermilion County Extension office held multiple apple taste tests in October. Children, senior citizens, veterans all sampled apples for texture, color, sweetness and flavor. It became very evident that taste buds vary. One person's favorite was another's spitter. I could tell you the results but that might sway your opinion. Instead I encourage you to take advantage of the amazing apple varieties that are available and hold your own taste test with your family, friends or even co-workers. You might just find a new favorite!

Master Gardener Adrienne Dahnke helps set up apple tasting for veterans.