American As Apple Pie: The Apple's Journey To America
Despite what we see in the produce aisles at the supermarket, there are more than 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, and nearly three times that number around the world. For a nation that's second in the world in apple production, a nation whose identity is intertwined with the fruit, a nation with a proud idiom like "American as apple pie," it's odd to learn that all these apples weren't around when colonists first settled on American soil. Other than certain types of wild crabapples, the apple isn't even from our continent. The apple's journey to America is a curious one, intertwined with colonial tastes, the founding fathers and even a popular legend. Read on to learn more about the apple's deep roots in American history.
The apple was one of the first fruits brought to America. The sweet varieties of European apples and a centuries-old affinity for cider made the apple a priority for Jamestown settlers. However, these early pioneers, displeased with inedible crabapples and the overall selection of wild fruit, experienced some difficulty introducing their European seeds to American soil. When trees did take root, many of them did not thrive for very long due to the differences in climate, and if the apple tree was strong enough, the apples that grew weren't typically as sweet or satisfying. The solution was to chop up the apples and use them for cider, which thrived in the New World.
The Founding Fathers
Colonists in the New World were deeply invested in the type of food they could produce. As the colonies expanded and European nations continued to claim valuable land in North America, an attitude of survival and basic hunger was replaced by a hunger for wealth and a new attitude of commercialization. Property owners, though primarily focused on creating plantations for crops such as tobacco and cotton, also made space for orchards. Like other affluent and commercially motivated colonists, The Founding Fathers, the most famous being Thomas Jefferson, were known to plant a variety of fruits. It's known that Jefferson tried planting nearly 20 different types of apples in his orchard at Monticello and experienced particular success growing apples for cider, which was as popular a commodity at the time as classic children's books are around Christmas.
Unlike American legends like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed's true identity has been known for many years. Johnny Appleseed was called John Chapman in his day. Although the legend makes him out to be a strange, barefoot, apple-sowing wanderer, Chapman is more deserving of titles such as ambitious and industrious. It's true that the Massachusetts-born Chapman traveled far and wide, trekking as deep as Illinois to plant apple trees, but he was motivated by fortune. The law of the land wasn't sophisticated in the 1800s, allowing any pioneer traveling past certain territory to claim land by establishing a home. To prove a home had been established, there had to be evidence. The basic law stated that 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees had to be planted. So Chapman went ahead of settlers, planted seeds, established homes, sold the land, and moved on.
A Quick Decline
You might be wondering how we could go from growing several thousand different apple types to the limited variety available at supermarkets around the country. There are about a hundred different types of apples grown commercially today in the United States, a small number when compared to how many apple varieties existed only a century or two before. The simple reason behind why only a few types of apples make the cut is the same reason why only several brand name vegetables line canned food aisles, the same reason any product beats out competitors.
If you're hoping to wow guests with your homemade apple cider or apple pie, consider seeking out specialty apples from local orchards to find that original taste. Make The Lakeside Collection your source for specialty items like candy stocking stuffers and holiday gifts this Christmas.