The History of the Apple

Oregon Growers Apples The saying "As American as apple pie" is referred to as the symbol of America. The word "apple" comes from the Old English word "aeppel." There are approximately 10,000 different kinds of varieties of apples grown in the world with more than 7,000 of these varieties grown in the United States. Apples are a member of the rose family of plants and the blossoms are much like wild-rose blossoms.

Native Americans appropriated what they liked, cultivating apples extensively. There are between 25 to 30 kinds of wild apples grown throughout the world with seven kinds in the U.S. Most wild apples are crab apples with small, sour, hard fruit. The crab apple is the ancestor of many of the varieties of apples grown today.

Carbonized remains of apples have been found by archeologists in prehistoric lake dwellings in Switzerland, dating back to the Iron Age. There is also evidence to show that apples were eaten and preserved by slicing and sun drying during the Stone Age in Europe.

In North America, Henderson Lewelling (1809-1879), an Iowa nurseryman, traveled the Oregon Trail to Oregon with four wagons, his wife, and eight children. Three yoke of oxen were required to pull the lead wagon in which were the approximately 700 one-year old grafted fruit trees. During most of the trip, the family traveled alone or with small companies as its slow pace irritated those traveling with them. Eliza Luelling, one of the daughters, later related that a Christian Indian told her father that the nursery saved the lives of the family when they camped near a large band of Indians:

"He said that the Indians believed that the Great Spirit lived in trees, they thought that he must be under the special care of the Great Spirit, and so they did not harm him."

Along with his future son-in-law, William Meek, form a partnership and planted a nursery in the spring of 1848 near Milwaukie, Oregon. Today, in front of a military building in the city of Vancouver, a historic apple tree with a plaque on it, records the following story:

In 1847, Henderson Lewelling (know for promoting the fruit industry in Iowa, Oregon, and California) came to Oregon in a covered wagon with his wife, children and 350 fruit trees that had survived the long journey. It is said that he took such good care of those trees on the trip that they were watered every day and only water that was left was given to his family. He brought apples, pear, quince, plum and cherry trees. He went into partnership with William Meek, who arrived with a bag of apple seeds and found a nursery. By 1850, their first crop produced 100 apples. It was the time of the Gold Rush in California, and when they rushed to San Francisco with the apple crop, prospectors were so hungry for fresh fruit that he sold them for $5 each. They used the money to build more orchards.

In 1908 Sydney Babson (1882-1975) traveled around Oregon seeking "just the right spot" to start his apple orchard. He carefully tended his tiny apple seedlings as he traveled with only a small tend and his pack. He believed that when his eyes beheld just the right location for his orchard, he would receive "a sign from God." Emerging from his tent one morning, he looked towards the beauty of Mt Hood. Sydney took this as the sign he was looking for and began to plant his apple orchard. Sydney devoted his life with single-minded purpose to these orchards for over 60 years. In 1960 he was named "Orchardist of the Year." Today, the Hood River Valley is one of the major growers of apples.

-Written by Linda Stradley for What’s Cooking America?

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