Apple a day may not keep doctor away

Have you forgotten, dear reader, about John Chapman, the barefoot rustic, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed, who in the last century before the last century dedicated his life to sowing millions of apple seeds along the western frontier?

The law helped. In those days, a man needed to plant at least 50 apple or pear trees on his property in order to secure a land claim. Chapman, who moved easily between Native American and white societies, kept a few years ahead of the other settlers.

When they moved west, he sold the seedlings from his already established nurseries, which stretched in the 1830s from western Pennsylvania to Indiana.

But legal rectitude was not the secret of the apple's popularity. Nor was it the apples themselves. Chapman's apples came from seedlings (as opposed to grafted apples), and the fruit of seedling apples, as Henry David Thoreau once wrote, was sour enough to set a squirrel's teeth on edge and make a jaybird scream.

Sour apples, however, did make a good, hard cider, and in 19th-century rural America, hard cider was the beverage of choice. Left to ferment a few weeks, cider acquired half the strength of wine. Distilled, it became brandy. Frozen, it produced applejack. Quaffed, it produced derelicts.

The apple's "seedy" history changed in the early 1900's for two reasons: (1) refrigeration, which allowed for a national apple market; and (2) the Temperance Movement, which threatened the fledging industry in its crib.

Angling for market safety, the apple growers repositioned the apple as a wholesome and nutritious food, and buffed the new gloss even further with a popular advertising slogan: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

Prohibition got people to stop drinking apples and the apple industry got people to start eating apples by grafting varieties that were as red as roses and as sweet as pie. The Red and Golden Delicious soon came to dominate the national apple landscape.

Since then, thousands of apple varieties have gone extinct as the apple gene pool has drastically shrunk (even the newly popular Fuji and Gala are genetic spin-offs of the Delicious Duo). As a result of this centralization, today's apple finds itself perched precariously on an agribusiness pedestal.

The seedlings of Chapman's time spawned hardy, new varieties with each generation (parents take note: differences in your children encourage long-term survival!). The modern cloned apple is more predictable and less resistant to pests and diseases. This is because, dear reader, apples receive more pesticides than any other food crop in America. And this is also why the Organic Gourmet always says: buy local, buy organic, buy pesticide-free, and bye for now.


Real applesauce is so easy to make - why buy it? The sauce below makes a great topping on waffles or pancakes and also stands alone as a snack in and of itself.

1 apple (per person) any kind except Red Delicious

one-quarter cup apple juice or fresh-pressed cider or pureed ripe pears (per person) for the first four servings (add two tablespoons for each serving beyond that)

Dash of cinnamon

Peel, core and dice the apples into a saucepan. Add the juice or cider. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15-30 minutes until apples soften. Stir in cinnamon. Serve warm.