Apples on the Home Front

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By Heidi Lewis

How is it that apples are so inextricably linked to our sense of home? We find it in imagery and language in many things, from the old trope “as American as apple pie” to the idiom “apple of my eye.” Cultural anthropologists and critics point to our pioneering heritage as the source. Yet certainly their taste, portability, and nutrition also contribute to their status.

Apples have meant “home” since our pioneer days. Many land grants for the expanding territories stipulated that homesteaders plant in the neighborhood of 40 apple trees to keep claim to the land. These apples were often sprung from seed and were rarely good, fresh eating apples. But they were still used for cider and vinegar or dried and made into fillings for many a pasty (or pie). Apples became a staple food for children throughout the expansion.

Pioneer farmers started to cultivate their wild apples, culling and honing for sweet, edible fruits. And this is when the revolution in apple varieties hit. In tandem with the American astuteness for branding and marketing, a cavalcade of lovely apple names hit the market—each one enticing people to buy them based on the moniker. Who could resist the Westfield Seek-No-Further, Ladies Favorite, Hubbardston Nonesuch, or American Nonpareil? Those are apples of antiquity now.

Along with the special “pick me” names, many names denoted places. Red Rome apples were named for Rome Township, Ohio; New York gave us Cortland apples named for Cortland County, Newton Pippins from Long Island, and Empire apples after the Empire State. Doctor of Germantown and York apples hail originally from Pennsylvania, and Arkansas Black and Ozark Gold apples hail from their named region but grow superbly in other areas. With a hometown name or not, apple varieties have their own regionalism and fierce fandom. Just look at the hometown parties for apples, like the Gravenstein Apple Fair in California and McIntosh Apple Day in Montana.


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