The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.
After years of eating bad apples in Grahamstown I was ready to give up on the fruit entirely. But all this changed when I bit into a blood red ‘Crunchy Munchie apple’ from Woolworths. I finally realized why this particular fruit was forbidden in paradise.
This simple looking fruit can, when perfectly grown, be sinfully delightful and tempting. Given its luscious loveliness I was amazed that it was so favoured by the utilitarian aesthete Benjamin Franklin. The perfect apple will be crisp to the bite with just enough sweet juice escaping into your mouth. If gold had a taste it would taste like a perfect apple.
In recent years the apple has become fairly pedestrian as far as food goes. With all the Banting and anti-oxidant pundits out there, the apple a day, has been replaced with the punnet of berries, all too small containers of pomegranates, and dreary packets of dried Goji berries. But the apple was not always so common, and has, for most of our history been revered as sacred. Originating in the mountains of Kazakhstan, Alexander the Great brought the apple to Greece in 328 BCE. The Greeks then introduced it to North Africa. Apples became popular wherever they were introduced. The apple was not only favoured for its taste and dietary benefits but also became enmeshed in local stories, mythologies and legends.
The tree of life in the Garden of Hesperides held the fabled golden apples. Mythical nymphs were strongly associated with this magical garden situated in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. The Garden of Hesperides is probably the basis for the biblical Garden of Eden. While the apple doesn’t actually appear in Genesis it has popularly been interpreted as the fruit that led to the fall of man from paradise.
While Adam became mortal after eating an apple, the Norse pantheon of gods achieved immortality after eating golden apples harvested by the goddess Iðunn.
In One Thousand and One Nights, complied sometime between the 8th and 13th century between present-day India and Persia, the humble apple was imbued with healing powers. In this collection of tales Prince Ahmed travels to Samarkand, the oldest city in central Asia, to buy fragrant apples that could cure any disease if they were smelled by the sick.
On the other side of the world, almost 100 years later, the apple became a symbol of liberation in Switzerland. According to legend William Tell saved his son’s life by shooting an apple off his head. In the legend this act, and Tell’s bravery, was the spark needed to begin the rebellion that led to the formation of the Swiss Confederation.
The apple has also been part of the fairytales told to children. In one of the most famous fairytales, Snow White, the wicked stepmother relied on the ordinariness of the apple to deceive Snow White into eating poison. The apple also makes its way into our scientific lore and was tied to notions of respect and education in the new world. The apple featured strongly in Newton’s recollection to his first biographer William Stukeley about his discovery of gravity. According to Stukeley Newton said:
“After dinner, the weather being warm, we went into the garden and drank thea, under the shade of some apple trees…he told me, he was just in the same situation, as when formerly, the notion of gravitation came into his mind. It was occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood. Why should that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself…”
The tradition of offering teachers apples as presents stems from the 16th century in northern Europe and the 18th century in the United States. During these periods in history teachers were badly paid so parents would compensate the teachers with additional food to help them out. Given the popularity of the apple teachers would often receive baskets full of the fruit. The popularity of the apple was not lost on Benjamin Franklin the famous polymath, printer and politician with his aphorisms. ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’
So the next time you bite into this ordinary everyday fruit remember that, for millennia, this humble fruit has been entwined with our greatest mythical and sacred stories
If you are inclined to try some delicious apples and cook with them. You would do well to make this fabulous and easy classic French Dessert-Tarte Tartin. See here for an excellent recipe by Jamie Oliver.
Sisters Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin developed this accidental pudding in 1880. The sisters owned the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron about 160 kilometres from Paris. The story goes that the tart developed via a felicitous mistake when Stéphanie forgot the apples on the stovetop in the caramel.