by Chris Ellis
I have been anxiously waiting for this year’s apple crop to be harvested. I have felt a void in my diet for the last several months when, even amidst all the other fruits of summer, local apples have not been available. There is nothing that can replace an apple. I eat one every day when they are available. Hurrah!! The apple harvesting started back in August and will continue until we get our first hard frost. Some of the first few varieties of the season (Paula Red, Ginger Gold, Zestar, and Sansa) are the BEST: tart and crisp, with spectacular flavor. The first bite of one of those early apples is indescribably delicious and hard to beat. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
The apple is a member of the rose family, Malus domestica. The original apple tree has been reported to have been grown in the mountains of Kazakhstan in Central Asia. Apples migrated via the many travelers who passed through there to the rest of Asia and Europe. In the last millennium thousands of hybrids and cultivars of apples have been developed through a variety of mechanisms including grafting of trees or simple planting of different apple seeds. The apple came to this country via the early colonists and the Pilgrims in the early 1600s. Most of the apple trees that were brought from Europe did not survive the hard winters in New England so the early colonists planted seeds from fruit they had brought with them and many new varieties were introduced in this country and were spread along Native American trade routes. It has been said that a seed of one variety planted will often bear something different. John Chapman, also known as “Johnny Appleseed,” was a key person involved in spreading apple seeds all across the country. Today it has been estimated that there are 7,000-8,000 different varieties of apples. Most of the apples grown in the world are from China but the U.S comes in second, followed by Italy and France. Apples have been growing in Vermont since the 1700s. Most of the early orchards were along Lake Champlain but then spread to other parts of the state. Today this area has several large orchards and many small ones so we have an abundance of apples to choose from, both traditional as well as heirloom varieties. Vermont is home to the Macintosh apple, which comprises almost 70% of all apples grown here because the tree is well suited for Vermont’s long cold winters. One large local orchard, Scott Farm, has about 90 varieties of heirloom apples, thanks to the enthusiastic orchardist Ezekiel Goodband who researched and brought back to life many long forgotten antique apples from all over the world as well as Vermont.
A popular fruit, the apple has many nutritional attributes. First and foremost there is a lot of evidence showing that plant compounds in apples can help regulate blood sugar levels thru a variety of mechanisms that include: the slowing down of carbohydrate absorption; lowering the rate of glucose absorption; and stimulating the pancreas to release more insulin, which in turn rids the blood of glucose. Apples have also been shown to have cardiovascular benefits due to their impact on elevated blood fat levels. Apples provide a significant source of fiber in the diet. Studies show that people who consume apples right before a meal decrease their calorie intake. Promising research also shows that apples are protective against the incidence of cancer, specifically lung cancer. Regular intake of apples has been shown to reduce the risk of asthma too. Keep in mind, all these benefits are only based on eating the whole apple, not applesauce or apple juice. Most of the special plant compounds, the polyphenols, are found right underneath and on the skin, so intake of the whole apple is crucial. Buy organic or low-spray apples or apples that are grown using integrated pest management whenever possible to limit pesticide residues since apples are listed in the Dirty Dozen list by the Environmental Working Group.
There are many varieties of apples (as you know) and the choice depends on your own personal taste, but by all means try as many as you can when they are available freshly picked. I judge an apple by its tartness, taste, and crunchiness, so if it’s soft, it’s used for cooking not for eating. Some of my favorites are Empire and Cortland, and there are several heirloom varieties that are very delicious too, but it’s hard to choose which are my favorites. I love all the names of the heirlooms since they refer back to where and when they came from. Some of them are: Esopus Spitzenburg, Ashmead's Kernel, Calville Blanc d'Hiver, Maiden Blush, Cox's Orange Pippin, Grimes Golden, and the very small Pitmaston Pineapple.