How do you like them Apples?

 The History of the Apple and the Apple Pie

The History of the Apple and the Apple Pie

The apple - already in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, plays a significant role to the alluring fruit, which has left a lasting imprint on Western cultural understanding to this day.

Indeed, one should not underestimate the fruit's cultural influence on our present world. After all, according to tradition, we owe the discovery of gravity to an apple, an event linked to Sir Isaac Newton, one of the fundamental cornerstones of modern physics and our current comprehension of the universe and our place in it.

And today, hardly anyone can hear the word "Apple" without thinking of technological progress.

But why is the apple so important and ubiquitous, and how did it manage to become an unofficial symbol of an entire nation through the Apple Pie? And was the Apple Pie perhaps not the first soul food of Americans based on apples?

The story, as so often, begins at the roots.


Comparing Apples and … Roses?

Especially as Apple Pie is now so inseparably tied to American culinary culture and over 2,500 different apple varieties are cultivated in America today, it might be surprising to learn that, in fact, only 4 types of apples were native to America before European colonization.

Apples, pears, cherries, strawberries, plums, and peaches are all closely related to each other. And not just that, all these fruits belong to the Rosaceae family, and thus, as the name suggests, are closely related to roses.

Like roses, apples also originate from Central and East Asia, possibly around the region of present-day Kazakhstan, where they were cultivated as early as 10,000 BC. Over ancient trade routes, they gradually moved westward over millennia and were extensively cultivated in Southern Europe by the Greeks and Romans. Through Roman campaigns and conquests, the apple in its current form eventually reached Central and Northern Europe.

The significance of the apple varied dramatically even back then. The Greeks saw it as a potent aphrodisiac, while the Celts regarded it as a symbol of the cycle of death and rebirth. In the Middle Ages, the apple was immortalized in the Bible as a symbol of temptation by evil, hence the scientific Latin name "Malus", literally meaning "evil."

Given this negative reputation, it's somewhat peculiar at first glance that during the Christian-influenced Middle Ages, kings often carried the so-called Reichsapfel (Imperial Apple) as a symbol of their rule, alongside a crown and scepter. The solution to this puzzle lies in the double meaning of the apple within the context of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The Reichsapfel is not actually an apple. Its Latin name "Globus cruciger" simply means "cross-bearing globe" and is an allusion to the, according to the contemporary understanding, world-spanning rule of the ancient Roman Empire.

How the apple varieties spread to America before the arrival of European settlers is not definitively known, but it's theorized that they potentially arrived with the ancestors of American fauna or even the forebears of indigenous people from Asia via the Bering Land Bridge to the New World.

The 4 apple varieties that were proven to be native to North America before the arrival of Europeans were all crabapples. These apple varieties are particularly sour and have limited use as food. In some Southeast Asian regions, related species are used as souring agents and spices.

Why the ancestors of the Native Americans should have taken the rather unappetizing apples on their arduous journey or whether they came to North America through other means is unknown, especially since the indigenous people never cultivated or systematically used these plants as a food source.

As a food source, the apple actually arrived in the New World with European settlers in the early 17th century.

The first settlers faced a significant challenge. Large-scale agriculture was largely unknown in the northern part of the American continent at that time, with scarcely larger population centers like those found in the South American civilizations of that era.

While there were native fruits such as mulberries, plums, cherries, persimmons, and crabapples, these grew wild and sporadic as part of the local vegetation and didn't initially suit the taste of the newcomers. Fortunately, the settlers came well-prepared with seeds and saplings from their homeland, and in the early days of colonization, gardening became an integral part of the daily lives of all settlers, with orchards becoming a staple of every piece of land.

Initially, the settlers struggled, which couldn't really be blamed on their efforts. The problem was simply that there was no way to pollinate the trees. As mentioned earlier, apples and other fruits are closely related to roses. This means, among other things, that they cannot self-pollinate and rely on the assistance of birds or insects for reproduction.

As a result, even after the usual four to five years of growth, the trees bore few fruits. It wasn't until the import of European honeybees about a decade later that large-scale harvests could finally begin.

Experiments with peaches, apricots, figs, and, unexpectedly, apples, proved particularly fruitful. While not all varieties adapted well to the often harsh winters of the land, some persevered and became a consistent component of the first large-scale agriculture in North America.

Nevertheless, the journey to the Apple Pie was still far from over. Although recipes from the Old World had been known for a long time and local resources were now available, the American settlers had other urgent plans for their hard-earned fruits: alcohol.

Cider, Perry, Mobby, and Brandy - the majority of American apples, pears, and peaches ended up in bottles, rather than on plates.

At first glance, this might seem wasteful, but there's a simple explanation. High-quality fruits require time and effort. Fruits grown from saplings and seeds often grow irregularly and vary greatly in quality. However, the typical American colonist, with land to cultivate far larger than any available leased land in Europe, simply did not have the time for more elaborate planting techniques, such as grafting, which would essentially clone the trees, minimizing variations and alterations in the fruits.

For alcohol fermentation, on the other hand, fruits of lower quality sufficed, and a good cider could also be produced from misshapen apples.

Especially cider, with its relatively uncomplicated production process, quickly became a cornerstone of American agricultural culture and, one could argue, the soul drink of early Americans. And that was long before the Apple Pie ever reached the continent as a soul food contender.

The Tale of Johnny Appleseed

America today is associated with the dreamy image of the land of unlimited possibilities - a place where anyone can carve their own path with enough determination and ingenuity. Nowadays, this is referred to as entrepreneurship, with globally recognized figures like Steve Jobs, who transformed from a garage tinkerer to a tech leader with worldwide cult status - all under the "Apple" brand.

However, you don't have to wait for the digital revolution or the early 21st century to find examples of this business acumen and inventiveness.

Johnny Appleseed is an American legend.

According to folklore, he befriended a wild wolf, slept in a hollow tree trunk, and wore the pot he cooked his dinner in as a hat during the day. While this might sound like a typical folk tale, it has quite real origins:

John Chapman, a follower of the Swedish scientist, philosopher, and theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, was a well-known figure in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was probably his unusual quirks, like his fervent quoting of theological texts and his fashion sense consisting of a burlap shirt and bare feet, that contributed to Johnny's adventurous qualities.

Nevertheless, Chapman's real deeds are also curious. His work began by planting an initial apple orchard in Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania, using seeds he had collected from local cider mills. As settlers moved further west, Chapman reportedly packed up his belongings and handed his orchard over to a poor family, while he sailed down the Ohio River in a makeshift catamaran constructed from two tree trunks. Chapman scouted routes that future settlers would likely take westward and grew apple saplings there from his seeds. When, as he expected, the settlers arrived, he sold or gifted them the saplings.

Throughout his work, Chapman established hundreds of orchards, many of which he handed over to other settlers as he moved on, reappearing only sporadically every few years - not to collect rent, but to check on the orchards and, if necessary, improve them.

In his later years, Chapman is said to have even forgone financial compensation for his services, content with a dry place to sleep, a warm meal, and perhaps a receptive ear for his views on religious texts and doctrines.

While many of the stories about Johnny Appleseed are likely victims of well-intentioned exaggeration and embellishment, it's undeniable that he played a significant role in spreading apples across the continent and in the settling of the land itself.

Like their forebears, many of the westward-moving settlers found comfort in the taste of alcohol, not to mention its health benefits, and cider was, as mentioned, an easily producible version, even for the average American of that time in their home kitchen.

Apple Cider

The history of cider goes back almost as far as that of apples themselves.

The beverage made from fermented apples, which we now know by that name, owes its existence to an early European civilization as well - not the Romans or Greeks, but rather the Celts.

As early as 3,000 BC, the Celts crafted a lightly alcoholic drink from the otherwise nearly inedible crabapples. The Romans, who had extended their conquests to Britain, quickly adopted the recipe from the locals there and refined the production using their own apple varieties.

Through Roman trade routes, this Celtic precursor to alcohol spread rapidly across Europe and the Mediterranean, remaining a popular drink across Eurasia even after the fall of the Roman Empire.

But cider wasn't just a refreshing beverage as we know it today, especially not in its British birthplace. From the 13th to the 19th century, 4 pints (about 2.4 liters) of cider were a consistent part of payment for farmers and fieldworkers in England. In the 14th century, children in many places were baptized with cider, not water, as the lightly alcoholic drink was considered cleaner than plain water.

It was primarily for this reason that early settlers in America initially used their fruits to produce alcoholic beverages. The alcohol content was much lower due to the methods used at the time, but it was sufficient to kill many bacteria. Thus, consuming these lightly alcoholic drinks was much safer than drinking from local water sources.

The rise of cider in America only began to decline in the early 20th century with the further spread of beer due to new waves of immigration from Europe.

As American as Apple Pie (?)

A pinch of cinnamon and cloves, a crispy baked crust, and of course, perfectly cooked apples - that's how one envisions the ideal apple pie.

Today, it symbolizes American soul and comfort food like few other dishes. However, the American history of the apple pie is quite short and less significant for the country's history compared to, for example, the influence of cider.

The oldest documented recipe for apple pie originates from England and dates back to the year 1381. The pie bears many resemblances to today's typical apple pie, featuring a top crust and filling. Even the list of ingredients, while a bit peculiar in wording, doesn't sound entirely unfamiliar: "good apples, good spices, figs, raisins and pears."

The ingredients were colored with saffron, covered with a top pastry crust, and baked until the desired degree of fruit tenderness was reached. There are variations of this recipe with and without a bottom crust, the latter of which appears to have been added later.

With the widespread availability of apples on the continent, it didn't take long for this sweet dessert to spread beyond national borders and give rise to various local variations.

The Dutch Apple Pie, also known as "Appeltaerten", starts out much like its English cousin. After an initial baking, however, the top crust is removed, and the contents are whisked with some cream. The pie then goes back into the oven until the interior mixture dries out.

Another variation is the French Apple Tarte. Here, the English pie's blueprint is turned upside down. Instead of a top crust, the tarte has only a bottom crust on which the ingredients that would otherwise serve as filling are stacked. Caramelization helps maintain the shape of the cake after slicing. An interesting exception is found in Tartes from Normandy, which follow the British example more closely, including the top crust.

In Sweden, too, apple pie is a dessert beloved by all age groups. However, this version is more of an apple crumble, mixed with breadcrumbs instead of a traditional pie crust. The Swedes have another variation of apple cake, the "äppelkaka", a sponge cake with pieces of apple mixed in.

Lastly, there's the Austrian version: Apfelstrudel. Except for the apples, there are hardly any similarities to the English recipe here. One layer of thin puff pastry (instead of the typical thick pie crust) is spread with apple compote and then rolled into a log. Unlike other apple pies, strudel is baked in a rectangular pan instead of the traditionally round pie dish. The slicing approach is also different. Apple pie and its variations are usually served in triangular slices. Strudel, due to its rectangular shape, is more often cut and served in slices, similar to stollen.

What remains consistent across all variations are the traditional toppings. For apple pie, Apfelstrudel, appeltarte, etc., a scoop of ice cream or dollop of whipped cream or vanilla pudding is typically served.


But back to America.

As the yields of local American fruits began to increase with the import of European honeybees and as hygiene standards and thus water quality improved, settlers were finally free to use their fruits for purposes other than just making cider.

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before the first domestic ovens were filled with the scent of freshly baked apples.

The first recorded mention of an American apple pie dates back to the year 1697, and the first purely American cookbook, "American Cookery" from 1796, even contains two different recipes for this, as it's described, "typically American" dessert.

Interestingly, the European origin of the dish was systematically downplayed from this point onward, and apple pie was declared a symbol of American patriotism, which we still recognize today. In the 1940s, the iconic slogan "As American as Apple Pie" emerged as an expression of national pride.

Ultimately, this purely American episode serves more as an epilogue in the centuries-old history of apple pie rather than the purely American national saga that many promote it to be.

If you're curious about how Sabine Ryan bakes her apple pie, you can find her personal recipe here:

And for those who want to try it themselves, we have everything an aspiring pie baker needs:


Der Apfel fällt nicht weit vom Stamm

Mit der großen Ertragssteigerung wurden Äpfel schnell zu einem Konsumgut. Die heimischen Obstgärten verschwanden immer mehr, während sich Amerika immer weiter in eine urbane Gesellschaft verwandelte. Am Ende wurde die Vielzahl an importierten und neu gezüchteten Apfelsorten von 2 Arten weitgehend aus dem Alltag der Amerikaner und dem Massenmarkt auf dem Kontinent verdrängt.

„Red Delicious“ und „Golden Delicious“ aus der Stark Bro’s Nursery in Louisiana sind seit den 1920ern feste Haushaltsnamen. Und natürlich gibt es auch zu diesem Erfolg eine kleine Geschichte zu erzählen.

Die Herkunft der Art „Red Delicious“ ist wenig spektakulär, handelt es sich hier doch nur um eine Züchtung aus den Firmeneigenen Obstgärten, die sich als besonders ertragreich erwies.

Die Geschichte hinter der Sorte „Golden Delicious“ ist da schon etwas reißerischer.

Laut der Firmenlegende wurde Mitinhaber Paul Stark aufmerksam auf die Früchte des Farmers Anderson Mullins, der 2 Jahre in Folge Kostproben an die Firma geschickt hatte, in Hoffnung auf eine Zusammenarbeit. Beeindruckt von den Früchten, reiste Stark 1.000 Meilen per Zug und dann nochmal weitere 20 Meilen per Pferd bis nach Odessa, West Virginia. Dort angekommen kam er sich vor wie das Opfer eines bösen Streichs. Die Bäume, die er inspizierte, waren nur ein Mix aus wilden Setzlingen und eingezüchteten Mischlingen. Voller Enttäuschung wandte sich Stark zum Gehen, als er innehielt und auf einem kleinen Hügel nahe am Fluss einen einzelnen Baum stehen sah, der wirkte „als sei er direkt aus dem Garten Eden“ dorthin gepflanzt worden und dessen Äste sich unter der schweren Last zahlreicher großer Äpfel bogen.

Stark kaufte den Baum umgehend für das heutige Äquivalent von $100.000 und ließ zum Schutz vor lokalen Fruchtdieben den Baum in einem riesigen Metallgerüst, ähnlich einem Vogelkäfig, sichern – das Markenzeichen der Firma für die folgenden Jahre.

Der Erfolg dieser Apfelsorten spiegelt sich im modernen amerikanischen Konsumgeist wider. Anders als hierzulande, wo die Obstauslagen oft mit Sorten wie Gala, Braeburn, Pink Lady & Co. eine große Auswahl bieten, gilt in vielen amerikanischen Läden nach wie vor die Devise „one red, one yellow, one green“ – oder anders gesagt: „Red Delicious“, „Golden Delicious“ und „Granny Smith“.

On a Sidenote:

Die typisch grüne Apfelsorte „Granny Smith“ ist keine amerikanische Apfelsorte. Gezüchtet wurde sie durch Zufall von Maria Ann Smith, einer gebürtigen Engländerin, die mit ihrem Mann Mitte des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts nach Australien auswanderte. Die Äpfel für ihre Züchtung stammten der Überlieferung nach aus Tasmanien.

Diese begrenzte Auswahl heißt aber nicht, dass Äpfel eine untergeordnete Rolle in den Vereinigten Staaten spielen. Die USA sind weltweit auf Platz 2 der Apfelproduzenten, übertroffen nur noch von China, und der Apfel ist die zweitmeistkonsumierte Frucht im Land, direkt nach der Banane. Der Großteil der über 2.000 modernen Apfelsorten in den USA dient allerdings zum Export oder wird in kleinen lokalen Gebieten vertrieben.


An Apple a Day keeps the Doctor away

Wer kennt diesen Spruch nicht?

Anders als mit „As American as Apple Pie”, steckt hier allerdings mehr als nur ein Quäntchen Wahrheit hinter der alten Weise. Denn der Apfel hat tatsächlich viele gesundheitsfördernde Eigenschaften, auch wenn diese nicht an die ihm im 19. Jahrhundert zugesagten, fast magischen Qualitäten heranreichen.

Äpfel sind frei von Fett, Natrium und Cholesterin und sind gleichzeitig eine gute Quelle von Ballaststoffen und Vitamin C, einem der wenigen Vitamine, die der menschliche Körper nicht selbst produzieren kann.

Auch eignen sich Äpfel wunderbar als Diätsnack. Nicht nur sind sie wie gesagt fettfrei, sondern die Ballaststoffe und das in den Äpfeln enthaltene Wasser sorgen schnell für ein Völlegefühl, das Heißhunger und ähnlichen Symptomen vorbeugt.

Und im Gegensatz zu anderen Früchten sind Äpfel auch noch praktisch und leicht zu essen - auch unterwegs. Anders als bei Orangen & Co. ist kein lästiges Schälen nötig.

Also statt dem Energy-Riegel oder dem Protein Shake bei der nächsten Diät einfach mal in den sauren Apfel beißen, dann schmeckt das nächste Stück Apple Pie – egal ob britisch, amerikanisch, französisch oder österreichisch – gleich umso besser.

Wer das Aroma von frisch gebackenem Apple Pie, spritzigem Cider & Co. ganz ohne Gewissensbisse genießen will, dem empfehlen wir aber unsere köstlich riechenden Duftkerzen von Country Candle:


Und wenn ihr jetzt noch nicht genug vom Apfel bekommen habt, dann seid gespannt auf unseren nächsten Blog, in dem wir uns den wohl weltbekanntesten Apfel ganz genau ansehen – den Big Apple.