The Garden Gate: Is the popular apple part of your daily diet?

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By Ellen Probert Williamson

It is truly amazing what a little research about a single species of bird can turn up.

Take the chickadee, for instance. Edward Howe Forbush, an ornithologist in Massachusetts, set out to make his apple orchard especially attractive to chickadees during the winter to find out what they liked to eat. He offered them various things but found they preferred to forage.

He discovered the eggs of caterpillars, cankerworms and some other enemies of trees were their favorites. A single bird would eat more than 250 eggs at a single meal.

He also discovered each chickadee would eat more than 30 a day in the spring, when cankerworms were hatching and preparing to lay more eggs. One bird prevents the births of thousands of cankerworms in just one day.

But the real proof was in Forbush’s apple trees. They had luxurious foliage and a good fruit crop that year, while other apple trees in the region were stripped of their leaves and had almost no fruit.

All this was because the chickadees were protected and offered food during the winter, when eggs and moths were not available.

In many of the northern states, October is the time for annual expeditions to cider mills for fresh apple cider and doughnuts warm from the baking. Cider mills flourish at this time of year and are usually crowded with visitors who flock to watch the great presses crush bushels of apples and create gallons of cider. Everyone loves to watch the giant waterwheels in the rivers and streams on which banks the cider mills are built and which supply power to turn the presses.

Farmers in the area bring bushels of apples to the cider mill and then return home with jugs of fresh cider to immediately enjoy or store to make vinegar later on — just as they have done for generations.

Supermarkets are offering many varieties of apples, and cookbooks are replete with recipes for apple concoctions of all kinds.

In colonial times, apples were dried for winter use. Apple butter and applesauce were put up in crocks and jars, and apples were stored in attic bins to brighten future winter meals.

The apple tree, in all its hundreds of varieties, is the most important and most widely cultivated fruit tree in temperate zones. It has been grown for more than 3,000 years in its native regions of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

The apple (its botanical name is Pyrus malus) is a round-crowned tree which grows to about 40 feet and may live to be more than 100 years old. The ancient Romans were familiar with 22 varieties of apples. In 1670, the Grand Duke, Cosmo III of Tuscany, gave a lavish banquet in his castle at which 56 varieties of apples were served in various forms.

Today, there are more than 5,500 horticultural forms of apple, thanks to hybridization and cross-breeding by botanists and horticulturists.

Ever since the days of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, apples have played their part in legend, science and history. They are just as important today as they were in ancient Rome.

Apples were raised in the orchards of the Phoenicians.

In Greek mythology, one of Hercules’ goals was to obtain the golden apples of the Hesperides, which were vigilantly guarded because they were considered to have the ability to bestow immortality on those who had them.

Isaac Newton is purported to have realized the truth of the law of gravity when an apple fell from a tree under which he was sitting and struck him on the head.

Our earliest settlers included apple seeds among the precious seeds they brought with them to what would become New England.

Peregrine White, first known English child born to the Pilgrims in America, in later years told of planting apple seeds in his parents’ garden.

Apples were among the first American products to be exported to England and were sent to London long before the American Revolution.

Later, John Chapman, famous in history as Johnny Appleseed, went traveling about Ohio in his role of itinerate preacher and planted apple trees wherever he went.

Even now, more than 160 years later, some residents of the oldest Ohio towns will point with pride to a gnarled, ancient apple tree and claim it was planted by Johnny Appleseed.

Apples can fit into any course of a meal and are good to munch on at any time between meals. They are equally to be found in school lunch boxes or fancy tortes and pies.

They are one of our favorite fruits and have even become part of our everyday speech. We say “the apple of our eye” or “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” for instance.

Apples have long been part of the insignia of the medical profession. In the 14th century, they were part of high fashion as pomanders, stuck with cloves and carried or worn.

Apples are filled with vitamins, carbohydrates, and fiber. They are really a basic food, as they have been since Adam and Eve.
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Ellen Probert Williamson lives in Kingston. Her column appears regularly in the Roane County News.