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About Apples » History

History of Apples

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Apples have influenced society in more ways than just for food. Throughout history, apples have been used to symbolize human emotions and temptations through religion, mythology and folktales. Love, beauty,health, passion, knowledge, immortality, sexuality, pleasure and wealth have all been linked to apples. The irresistibility and desire of fruit has coincided with conflict, marriage, sin and paradise. The legend of Johnny tells of a man of solidarity and peace, who traveled throughout Pennsylvania,Indiana, Illinois and Ohio planting trees and apple orchards. Johnny carried very little with him,wore no shoes and wore a metal cooking pan atop his head. His kind and gentle nature was noticeable to all those around him.It is also said the Sir Isaac Newton began research into his theories on gravitation after watching an apple fall from a tree. With these wide-ranging stories of legend, myth and imagination, it appears that man's fascination with apples in particular,extends far beyond the many varieties and uses that accompany this fascinating fruit.

Apples, species Malus domestica, are members of the Rose family and have five flowers with five petals and five sepals. Their cousins include peaches, plums, pears, almonds, raspberries, strawberries,cherries and apricots (1).It is believed that the apple tree is the first fruit tree to be cultivated and while there is some debate, many historians believe Romans were the first to plant and harvest the fruit and that its origins are rooted from Southwestern Asia, between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Without efforts to cultivate the fruit,apples might have remained in an inedible form - sour and filled mostly with seeds - like its wild ancestors from ancient Asia and Europe (2).

The Nile Delta and the Rhine Valley were two regions that saw dramatic increases in apple cultivation in the 13th century BCE and first century CE, respectively. Ramses II had ordered the cultivation of apples in the Nile Delta and every region on the Rhine Valley was being used to cultivate apples and an estimated 37 different varieties existed by the first century CE. Apple cultivation continued to gain momentum and by the mid1600s there were about 60 varieties of apples. That number increased to 92 by 1670 and in the 1860s there were 643 different varieties.

Atone point, the word "apple" symbolized all fruits and vegetables and its name was actually bestowed on melons, avocados, cashews, dates, eggplants, lemons,oranges, peaches, pineapples, pine nuts, pomegranates, potatoes, quinces and tomatoes. Explorers from Europe had returned home and brought with them these new kinds of fruits and vegetable sand they simply ran out of names to call them (3).

In the early 1600s when Colonists came to America, they found crabapple trees growing in the wild. They sent for seeds and cuttings from English apples along with bees for pollination. Planting apple orchards was among the first tasks they undertook. Apples became very important and many uses for them were discovered. Colonists found ways to dry apples to preserve them and methods to make apple butter and apple pies. Apples provided juice, cider, vinegar and food for their animals and as old trees were chopped down, the wood was used for making toys and furniture and burned for warmth in the winter.

Today, apples are still one of the largest cultivated fruits in the world. In 2004, about 130 billion pounds of apples were produced worldwide, in 91 countries on about 13 million acres. In the United States, 35 states produce apples with an estimated worth of $1.76 billion.

Michigan is the nation's third largest producer of apples. About 37,000 acres are used for apple production, with the majority of farms covering less than 200 acres, and 950 apple growers living and working in regions near Lake Michigan and along the western part of the state. Located a few miles northwest of Grand Rapids is an area known as the Fruit Ridge. This first-class growing region sits on elevations of up to 800 feet and benefits from rainfall that comes off the coast of Lake Michigan providing natural irrigation.

Michigan currently produces an average of 18 million bushels of apples each year. Beginning in the 1950s, Michigan became popular with its bagged apples. Michigan also plays a vital role in processed apples. About 60 percent of Michigan's apples are processed into another product such as pie filling, applesauce, jellies, butter, juice, cider and vinegar. Michigan is also the leading producer of slices for commercially-prepared apple pie.

The climate of the Great Lakes and good soil of the state offer excellent sites for growing the finest apples in the world.The lakes temper cold temperatures, protecting apple trees from frost damage in the spring and postponing frost in the fall. The longer growing season gives later varieties a chance to ripen. In the late summer through fall, cool weather is ideal for harvest, resulting in flavorful crisp apples.

Michigan's cold winters provide a dormant period, a time of inactivity following harvest. The buds that formed on the branches at the end of the previous summer need to be dormant to develop properly. These tiny buds contain all the parts that a tree will need for a whole year's growth. They contain next spring's new leave sand flower parts. When the days become warmer and longer, these new leaves and flower buds begin to open. A new growth cycle has begun.

Harvesting begins in mid-August for late summer varieties and continues throughout October, which is National Apple Month.In Michigan, October is apple cider month. Different varieties of apples ripen at different times. When an apple is ripe, the complex sugar or carbohydrates break down into simple sugars. This transforms the tart, green apple into a sweet-tasting one. This final ripening time is also when the color-producing materials, or pigment, in the skin begin to change color. This change is caused by sunlight reacting with the sugar in the apple. It creates the red or yellow coloring. Apples color best during sunny days and cool nights.

Growers take great care to harvest each variety at the proper time for long-term storage. Apples are checked for firmness by a device called a pressure tester, which measures the pounds of pressure in the apple. Each variety has to be picked at a specific firmness in order to store well. Apples are also tested for ripeness by a simple starch test. A special device called a refractometer measures the sugar content.

Picking apples is one area modern technology has yet to master. Apples have to be hand-picked to prevent bruising. Most grower shire migrant or seasonal workers to harvest the crop. Housing is often furnished for them on the farm. Migrant families typically begin arriving to orchards in late August and early September.

Apples are picked and placed in buckets that workers wear. Apples are lowered through a cloth bag on the bottom of the bucket into bins on the ground.  Careful handling is the name of the game to avoid bruising. Bins are then loaded by a tractor with a fork lift or loader onto a wagon or truck. They are marketed on the farm or transported to storage.

Bins of apples are stored either in refrigerated storage (short-term) or controlled atmosphere(CA) storage rooms (long-term).Developed in the mid 1950s, modern technology has invented perfect storing conditions. In CA storage,oxygen is reduced to 1.5 percent (air normally contains 20 percent oxygen) and carbon dioxide is kept at 3 to 5 percent.The room is then sealed at a temperature between 31 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the room is sealed, it cannot be entered until the shipper is ready to pack the apples and send them to market. By removing the oxygen from the air, the apple is "put to sleep." The ripening process is stopped. Even after months in CA storage, an apple can be as crisp and fresh-tasting as it was the day after picking. Consumers can now enjoy apples year-round.

Storage rooms are opened and bins full of apples are brought out by forklifts. The bins are lowered into a water tank where apples are floated onto a conveyer belt. As they roll down the belt, they are washed, waxed, graded,sized and bagged. Then they are marketed and shipped by privately owned cooperative sales organizations. Michigan apples are shipped by refrigerated trucks, rail cars or boats all over the U.S. They are also shipped to places like Puerto Rico, Canada,United Kingdom, Mexico, Costa Rica and Trinidad.

Many of the family-owned and operated farms are in their third or fourth generations,but the growers never stop learning or gaining understanding of the industry. Innovation, including technological advancements, improves cultivation techniques and the use of new chemicals has been a crucial part in the sustained success of fruit growers across the state. Adapting to new chemical restrictions, applying new technology advancements, facing labor issues, planning ahead for future market fluctuations and protecting the farm from Mother Nature are a few of the daily challenges presented to these farmers. The ability to handle these challenges is often the difference between success and failure.

The Michigan Apple Committee works directly with growers to help maintain profitability, sustainability and success through market development, research and education.

1.  Wikipedia

2. www.vegparadise.com/highestperch39.html

3. www.vegparadise.com/highestperch39.html

4. Origin, History of Cultivation - www.uga.edu/fruit/apple.htm