Apple Harvest
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20 Things You Didn't Know About Apples

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Apple Harvest
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How 'Bout Them Apples?

When it comes to fruits, few have as juicy a history as apples. They've been deeply symbolic throughout history, inspired works of art and literature, and been demonized for their usefulness in making cider — a small thing when you consider they've also been blamed, perhaps erroneously, for causing Original Sin. They're also (frequently, but not always!) delicious, and humans have been enjoying them — alone and in countless recipes — for thousands of years. As the apple harvest ramps up this fall, here are some little known facts about the fruit that may shock and surprise you.

Related: 25 Creative Caramel Apple Recipes

Malus sieversii
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They Originated in Central Asia

According to a 2019 report released by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, "much of the genetic material for the modern apple originated at the heart of the ancient trade routes in the Tien Shan Mountains of Kazakhstan." This range, also known as the Mountains of Heaven, is still home to the "last wild apple forests on earth," where apple trees can grow up to 60 feet tall.

Related: The True Origins of 19 Classic 'American' Foods

Apples
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We've Been Eating Them for Millennia

According to the same Max Planck report, seeds collected from archaeological sites indicate humans began collecting wild apples across West Asia and Europe more than 10,000 years ago.

Related: 22 Classic Pie Recipes

Plymouth, Massachusetts
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The Pilgrims Brought Them to the U.S.

Apple seeds were brought to the U.S. by colonists who arrived in Jamestown in 1607. At that time, no apples save the crabapple were native to North America. A man and Anglican priest named William Blackstone cultivated the original American apple variety called the Yellow Sweeting that became more popularly known as the Rhode Island Greening — which you can still plant today.

Lots of apples
Magone/istockphoto

There Are Thousands of Types

There are about 7,500 varieties of apples worldwide, with about a third of those existing in the U.S. According to the Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association, although around 100 varieties are commercially grown in the United States, the top 10 of those comprise about 90% of the crop.

Apples in produce aisle
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Apple factory
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… And They Could Be Surprisingly Old

If you thought that apple you're sinking your teeth into was picked within the last couple of weeks, guess again. That's true, anyway, of the apples you buy when they're not in season. According to the USDA, your supermarket apples could be as old as 10 months, possibly more.

Related: 12 Easy Storage Tips to Keep Produce Fresh Longer

Red Delicious Apples
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For Many Years, the Red Delicious Was King ...

After more than 75 years atop the list of most grown apples in the U.S., the Red Delicious was dethroned in 2019. Some would say that was a long time coming. While definitively red, many dispute that the variety is anything near delicious, with bitter, thick skin and an only mildly sweet and juicy interior.

Gala Apple Tree
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... But the Gala Recently Staged a Coup

At long last, a new pomme du jour tops the most-grown list: the Gala, which is sweeter than its predecessor. While the Red Delicious still clocked in at the No. 2 most-produced apple in 2019, it has further competition in apples three through five: the Fuji, Honeycrisp, and Granny Smith, respectively.

Related: Eat Seasonal and Save: When to Buy Fresh Produce Year-Round

Cherry Blossoms
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Apples Have Some Surprising Cousins

Apples are part of the Rosaceae family of flowering plants, which include cherries, raspberries, roses, apricots, almonds, and more than 4,800 other species.

Cosmic Crisp Apples for Sale
Cosmic Crisp Apples for Sale by Bri (CC BY-SA)

There's a New Apple On the Tree

The Cosmic Crisp was conceived of in 1997 when former Washington State University horticulturist Bruce Barritt — who's something of a rock star in the world of apples — crossed the pollen of a Honeycrisp with the stigma of an Enterprise. It took more than 20 years for this new apple, which can reportedly stay fresh in your refrigerator for up to a year, to become available, but it now has its own website and is available in a number of locations nationwide.

Apple Harvest
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The U.S. Produces A Lot of Apples

The nation's 2018 apple crop was 272.7 million bushels. Each bushel averages about 42 to 48 pounds, so we're talking around 11 billion to 12 billion pounds of apples, valued at $3.6 billion. Those totals were creeping up on the top crop of all time, which happened in 1998 and totaled just over 277 million bushels.

Washington Apple Orchard
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The Top Apple-Producing State Is Washington

Because of its relatively pest-free climate, rich volcanic soil, and abundant water sources, Washington — with five distinct growing regions — is by far the largest apple-producing state in the U.S. It grew 171 million of those 2018 bushels. It's followed by New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and California.

Apples
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They Can Really Vary in Size

Apples can range from grapefruit-like to around the size of a golf ball. Baldwins, Cameos, and Cortlands are some of the larger varieties, while Tiddly Pommes and Rockits rank down at the lower end. The largest apple ever recorded, however, was a Hokuto that clocked in at 4 pounds, 1 ounce, and was discovered in Hirosaki City, Japan, on Oct. 24, 2005. By contrast, an average apple weighs less than half a pound.

Sekai Ichi apples, Japan
Sekai Ichi apples, Japan by Sakurai Midori (CC BY-SA)
Drawing of Jonathan Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed
Wikimedia Commons

Johnny Appleseed was a Real Dude

Mention his nickname and a lot of people aren't sure if he was a real person. He was. Appleseed's real name was John Chapman, and he was an American missionary and conservationist who hailed from Massachusetts. He was preaching more than just the gospel, however, as Chapman was quite the apple zealot, too. He ultimately planted more than 100,000 square miles of orchards across Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, and Indiana. Many of those he planted, however, were not known for being particularly sweet, so it's thought that most of Chapman's apples went toward making cider.

Related: Fact or Fiction: 30 Food Legends Revealed

Hard Cider
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Apple Cider Was Once More Popular Than Beer

It would be hard for anyone who's ever watched the commercials during an NFL football game to comprehend, but cider used to be far more popular than beer in this country. In fact, according to American Table, it was more popular and far more widely available than beer, wine, whiskey, or bourbon. That is until the Prohibitionists got fired up and advocated chopping or burning down apple orchards. "Within a relatively brief period of time," reports the website, "hundreds of apple varieties unique to the United States were destroyed."

Related: 15 Non-Alcoholic Beers to Get You Through 'Sober September'

Garden of Hesperides by Burne Jones
Wikimedia Commons

The Fruit Carries Some Heavy Symbolism

Throughout mythical and biblical history and otherwise, the apple has come to represent some pretty heavy ideals, both good and evil. In Norse mythology, the fruit represented immortality and perpetual youth. In Celtic mythology, wisdom and knowledge. Greek gods and goddesses were often depicted holding apples because they symbolized health, wealth, beauty, power, and youth. And then there's the opposite end of the spectrum, biblical symbolism, where apples have come to represent temptation, sin, and evil.

Depiction of the original sin by Jan Brueghel de Oude and Peter Paul Rubens
Wikimedia Commons

The Book of Genesis Never Mentions Apples

While yes, apples have come to represent some not-so-pure ideals in biblical mythology, it's worth noting that in the Old Testament, the word "apple" doesn't exist — the passage only ever mentions "fruit."

Still Life with Basket of Apples, Vincent van Gogh
Wikimedia Commons

They're Well Represented in Art, Literature, and Business

Homer wrote about them in "The Odyssey" about three millennia ago. Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson both crafted poems about apples. The fruits were painted by masters such as Cézanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Raphael, and Warhol. And, of course, the apple — with a bite out of it — is the iconic symbol of Steve Job's company logo. The logo's graphic designer, Rob Janoff, noted in 2009 that the bite represented nothing more than scale — "so people get that it was an apple (and) not a cherry."

Knobby Russet
Knobby Russet by Leslie Seaton (CC BY)

They Don't All 'Look' Like Apples

There are some apples that you'd never guess were apples. For example, the Knobbed Russet, which — yep — looks like a potato, although a mildly horrifying, Jabba the Hutt-esque one. Or the Api Etoile, which grows in a star shape. Or the knobby, almost artichoke-like Custard Apple. There are even apples that can look luminously white (some Yellow Transparents) or dark and inky (Black Diamonds). For a peek into the fascinating world of apple diversity, check out the Instagram of apple provocateur William Mullan, aka the Pomme Queen.

Looking to find some of those more unusual apple varieties? Check out these Unique Farmers Markets Where You Can Still Get Fresh Produce Safely.