Apple legends and lore
We all know many legends and stories concerning apples. Eve was supposedly tempted by the Devil to eat one. In Greek legends, Heracles was to find and pick the golden apples in the Garden of Hespirides as one of his Twelve Labors. The Norse goddess Idun is noted as the keeper of the apples and the goddess of eternal youth. The Celts celebrated their first day of winter on October 31st and part of the celebration was gifting red apples to family and friends. The magical Isle of Avalon, home of Morgan le Fay was known as the Isle of Apples and they were associated with faeries and the dead. It was also reportedly where King Arthur was taken to be healed and reborn. There is one problem with all of these apple legends; the word apple was used by the ancients to describe any fruit that wasn't a berry. The golden apples of China were actually oranges. Even nuts were called apples. Just like we learned a few weeks ago that the word corn was used to describe any grain, the word apple was a generic term for any fruit. It gets confusing, to say the least.
The fruit we know as the apple originated in Central Asia, probably in today's Kazakhstan. That's where the tree that we believe modern day apples originated from grows wild. This tree is the Malus sieversii and the fruits look like our modern apples, just smaller and not as sweet. The fruits are red and larger than the crabapples that are native to the Northern Hemisphere's temperate zone. The leaves on the trees turn a bright red in the autumn, unlike modern apples. There are between thirty and fifty species of wild apples and they are all members of the Roseaceae (yes, roses) family. However, the Malus sieversii is pretty much accepted as the original apple. Over the centuries, trees that produced larger and sweeter fruit were saved and cultivated. The ancients were even familiar with grafting and examples of grafted trees and directions on how to do this were fairly common as early as 2000 B.C.E. among the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans.
Growing apples isn't all that hard. They need a period of winter chill, so grow best between USDA Zones 3-8, however there are special varieties that the warmer winter areas need to plant because they do not require as long of a chill period. They need full sun and well-drained conditions. Plant the saplings with the graft union about two inches above the soil. Water well and prune regularly to remove weak branches and let light into the interior of the tree. Shorten stems that become droopy and remove old limbs when the fruiting spurs age to make way for a younger branch. Apples are not self fruitful. That means that you need two different trees to properly pollinate. Depending on which variety of apple you plant, there is a list of other apples that will be best for a pollinator. Both apple trees will produce fruit. Check with your local garden center or County Extension Service to see which varieties do best in your neighborhood. If you do not have the room or the climate for apple trees, there's always your local farmer's market or fruit stand. My two apple trees were uprooted by high winds last year, so I purchased my apples and they were wonderful.
Apple pie preserves
I have a great fruit and vegetable stand in my little town and they also have a greenhouse where I purchase annuals for my containers. This week, Harvest Time had a new crop of apples and so I loaded up. I purchased about five pounds of various varieties to make Apple Pie Preserves and all I can say is Wow! They taste like apple pie in a jar. I made up a batch and processed them for preserves, but chances are, they aren't going to last long enough to spoil. I peeled and sliced 14 cups of various apple varieties using Fujis, Honeycrisp, Galas and Ginger Golds. I put those in a large stockpot with 8 cups of white sugar and ½ cup of light brown sugar, the juice of a lemon, 3 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg and ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves. I also added just a splash of orange juice to moisten things up a bit. I slowly brought this to a boil and cooked on medium heat until everything was reduced by half. The apples and liquid turned a lovely cinnamon brown and the fruit turned transparent. This took about an hour. You don't want to hurry things and I stirred every now and then to keep them from sticking. There is quite a bit of moisture in these apples, so be patient. There's no set consistency for this recipe. We like ours thick, however if you prefer a more syrupy texture, you don't have to cook as long. Check the thickness of the syrup by spooning a couple of teaspoons of the liquid onto a saucer and putting it in the freezer for 5 minutes. The liquid should firm up. When you feel that they have cooked long enough...I know, because my ancestors whisper over my shoulder... “ That's enough, you're done now.”... (You'll have to find your own cooking spirits to channel, mine stay with me.) Remove the preserves from the heat and spoon up into hot, sterile canning jars. Wipe the rims with a damp paper towel and place hot lids and rings on the jars. I ended up with 5 pints. Process for 8 minutes in a boiling water bath. If you do not have a water bath canner, use your largest stockpot with a tea towel in the bottom. These preserves are wonderful used as a jam, they also work well on waffles and ice cream. A few spoonfuls on dough circles will make nice hand pies and they are also quite tasty spooned over cheesecake. This recipe takes an afternoon and the results will wow your friends and family. Did I mention that these preserves make great holiday gifts too?