Once upon a time I lived in the land of apples. As a college student at SUNY Plattsburgh, I remember picking apples for cash over at least one long weekend, even camping out in the orchard overnight with a group of friends. Then later, in St. Lawrence County, during my first marriage, we owned a farm that had a number of apple trees. What a pleasure it was to stroll from tree to tree tasting their fruit. We dried apples and made apple butter. We also took large quantities of apples to a cider mill.
Well, those days are long gone, but on a recent trip to Plattsburgh, we had the pleasure of visiting Banker Orchard. My husband bought a load of apple wood for grilling. I especially took a liking to Empire apples, a small dark red variety which manages to be both sweet and tart. Reading about them, I discovered they are a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious. The New York Apple Country web page is a good place to learn about apple varieties, browse recipes and figure out which variety of apple is best for pies.
As a child I had a fascination with Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman, 1774 - 1845). So I decided it was time to sift the facts from the lore of this beloved American folk hero. He did not become known as Johnny Appleseed until late in his life. He never married, and was quite a wanderer. He wore old clothes and often went barefoot. Chapman never married. He established several small apple nurseries in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, but rarely stayed to tend them, preferring life on the road as a missionary for the Swedenborgian Church. Because he did not believe in grafting apple trees, most of the varieties he grew were wild, often only suitable for cider making. He got most of his seeds from cider mill pulp, also known as pomace. Johnny Appleseed was a vegetarian, and was known for his kindness and respect for animals. All in all, an eccentric fellow who truly followed his own path.
Apples are thought to be the earliest cultivated fruit, first raised in Turkey and Asia Minor. Apples came to America with some of the first colonists. Worldwide, there are some 7,500 cultivated varieties of apples. I was surprised to learn that China is by far the world's largest producer of apples, followed by the United States, Iran and Turkey. Eating "an apple a day" is wise indeed, as they are a good source of fiber and antioxidants. I leave you now to go create some sort of apple-themed treat involving apples, cider, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, brown sugar, honey and phyllo dough!