“October is the apple-scented month… Apples into boxes, into baskets, apples in transit; gold and scarlet pyramids and in the market place….Apples for bowls, apples for lunchboxes.” These lines from a 1959 newspaper column perfectly sum up the sight in stores, farmers’ markets, orchards and roadsides at this time of year. Apples are everywhere. There are thousands of varieties, including long established, commonplace types (Granny Smith, Red Delicious and McIntosh), later hybrids (Pink Lady, Honeycrisp and Fuji), and brand new ones with eye-catching names (Cosmic Crisp, RubyFrost and Juici). Just a few of the many heirloom apples with long histories include Cox’s Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet and Duchess of Oldenburg. This post highlights how apples feature in Library collections, and suggests some tasty ways you can enjoy them.
Apples originated in Kazakhstan, central Asia. They spread along trade routes, and were transported further by the Romans. Centuries later, colonists took varieties to the New World. Mentions of the apple go back thousands of years. They are present in mythology; the fable of Paris and the golden apple is just one of many Greek examples. Mythological apples tend to cause problems – look up the stories listed on page 34 of A Dictionary of Mythology and you’ll see what I mean. The fruit features in Norse myth, in the legend of the goddess Iduna and her apples of immortality. You can read this version in Tales from the Norse Grandmother. The Three Apples is a Middle Eastern story included in this 1915 edition of The Arabian Nights.
Apples feature in the Bible too. In spite of debate over whether “apple” is really an accurate description of what Adam and Eve ate, it’s accepted as the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. The phrase “comfort me with apples” comes from the Old Testament Song of Solomon, beautifully illustrated in this modern version from the Library’s Hebraic Division.
Digitized books in the collections document the role the apple has played over the years in American eating habits and agriculture. The Apple, King of Fruits, (1800) is all about apple cultivation. The Invaluable Apple (1921) offers pages of information and advice. Forget the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” – this book recommends that you eat at least three daily! The last few pages are full of recipes; the apple omelet and apple fritters sound pretty good. The contents page of Dainty Desserts (1922) lists many apple recipes. Some might be a good fit for the Thanksgiving table, like Cranberry-Apple Pudding or a baked Apple Compote (try it with pears if you can’t find quinces). A section on apple salads starts on page 129 of The Blue-Book of Salads (1916).
The Library’s digitized newspapers are a goldmine for all kinds of apple-related recipes. Some are very old indeed, like these instructions for making cider from a 1790 edition of the Gazette of the United-States. Cookery columns provided all kinds of apple cuisine and lore. These two articles explain how apples feature in the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Passover. A Toast to King Apple (1932) combines cooking tips with history. Recipes provide a real snapshot of a particular era, when tastes were different. Some haven’t aged well. Sweet and Sour Apple Cabbage Salad with condensed milk? No thanks! I doubt I’ll be whipping up an Apple-Avocado Salad with mini marshmallows either, but Apple Pizza might be worth a try. Apple Brown Betty, Marbapple ginger cake and Apple Walnut Muffins all sound delicious, and are pretty simple recipes.
Apples crop up elsewhere in the newspaper collections too. They feature in cartoons, and in letters to Santa, as shown by these pages from 1910 and 1916. A 1914 column touted apples as a “moral force”. Papers encouraged increased apple consumption to replace European markets lost when World Wars I and II broke out – a reminder that apples were big business. Training schemes taught workers how to “scientifically” pack the fruit for transportation.
Here are a few additional resources you might like to explore:
- A is for Apple Pie is a beautifully illustrated picture book, in which letters of the alphabet chart the progress of an apple pie from creation to consumption.
- Familiar Lessons for Little Girls: A First Book of the Art of Cookery (Harriet J. Willard, 1886) was written for school and home. Chapter XIII is all about apples.
- The Apple Tree Sprite (Margaret Warner Morley, 1915) explains all about apple cultivation and history.
- An Orchard Ancestral, (Mary Matthews Bray, 1911) is a fond memoir of a family orchard, interspersed with apple lore and information.
- Learn all about the famous Johnny Appleseed here. There are several pictures of his gravesite in the Prints and Photographs online catalog.
October 21 is National Apple Day, the perfect time to enjoy the crisp days and crisp apples of fall. How many different varieties can you try this year?