Apple of my eye," "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" and "as American as apple pie" are all very common phrases in our language. Be it good health, familiarity or love, all are used to denote something we hold to be very important to our concept of culture in America. They also call attention to a humble fruit that not only shaped our language, but has also found its way into our landscape, built our economy, our taste in food and drink, our cultural heritage, our mythology and even our religious beliefs.
The apples we have in our grocery stores today, however, are a far cry from the ones our grandparents remember. Dick Laws, who has grown apples and other fruit on Green Bluff for the last 40 years, says even the ubiquitous modern Red Delicious is very different from the Red Delicious he grew when he first started raising apples.
"The Red Delicious I grew then had a thinner skin and was more tender than the variety the growers are producing now."
The number of apple varieties available to us in the markets is also very different than those of our grandparents or even our parents. Of the more than 7,500 varieties of apples known worldwide, we normally see no more than four or five in our modern grocery stores. Understanding a little of the apple's history may help explain.
As near as botanical historians can figure, the apple originated in the mountains and valleys between the Tien Shan Mountains on the Chinese-Russian border and the shores of the Black Sea. Stories passed down from shepherds told of whole forests of fruit trees. Even today, wild forests of fruit trees are still found in the region. The name of the old Soviet city of Alma Ata in Kazakhstan in the heart of this region means "father of apples."
Cultivation of the apple probably began nearly 8,000 years ago as grain farmers began clearing fruit forests to plant. They would save the best producing trees and plant around them. As the great trade routes between China and the civilizations of Egypt and the Tigris-Euphrates Valley developed, apple fruit was part of the trade goods carried back and forth. As civilizations spread through Europe and Asia, the apple moved with them often becoming a sign of wealth and good taste.
And as they moved, new varieties evolved. The best of the "new" fruits were treasured and traded between cultures, often being given a name that reflected their origin. As agriculture grew more sophisticated, farmers learned how to graft branches and buds of one variety onto another and how to cross-pollinate to produce new varieties. The zenith of apple culture was reached during the Victorian era of the last half of the 1800s, when the characteristics of new varieties had the same status as a prized vintage wine. So why do we only see a few varieties in our stores?
Two things have happened since the end of the Victorian era that contributed to this. First, as the populations migrated from the rural agrarian society to the urban consumer society, they stopped growing their own fruit. As each generation put more time and distance between the generation that knew the most about different varieties of apples and themselves, they forgot or never learned about the differences between apples. The second thing can only be attributed to the power of mass marketing.
As Laws points out, about 40 years ago the apple industry began to promote the idea that a good apple had to be red. "As a result, all the nurseries began to propagate fruit to be red. For a long time they forgot about taste and eating quality."
As this thinking filtered down through the wholesalers and into the retail stores, people began to look for color more than any other trait.
"As a result," says Laws, "the nurseries ruined a lot of the old varieties trying to get them red at the expense of other qualities. Those non-red varieties they couldn't breed more red into were dropped from production because people did not want them."
So the epitome of the apple became the dark red Red Delicious -- the symbol of the Washington state apple industry.
Fortunately, however, taste and eating quality are beginning to take prominence over color. In the last few years, apples such as Granny Smith, a bright green apple developed in Australia; Fuji, a mottled yellow and red apple from Japan; and several varieties of the Golden Delicious have appeared on the shelves of the local grocery. In fact, according to statistics put out by the Washington Apple Commission, just under half of Washington's 1999 harvest of 95.5 million boxes of apples had names like Rome Beauty, Pink Lady, Jonagold, Braeburn, Fuji, Granny Smith, Cameo, Yellow Delicious and Criterion. Each has its own characteristics from the tart crunchy Granny Smith to the mellow tender varieties of Yellow Delicious. There are, however, so many more varieties out there to try.
Thanks to Laws and the other growers on Green Bluff, some of those varieties are available for sampling only a short 20-minute drive from Spokane. October is the perfect time to sample them as Green Bluff celebrates its Harvest Festival each weekend during the month.
Here are some of the varieties to try:
Gravenstien and McIntosh -- Both are tart-sweet, tender, juicy apples that ripen in early and mid-September respectively. They are most often used for cooking and eating fresh. As both break down easily when cooked, they make a very nice, thick applesauce. The Gravenstien is believed to have originated in Germanic Europe around the early-1600s. The McIntosh was found in Canada around 1811.
Wagner -- A sweet, crisp apple that ripens in October. It holds its shape when cooked, making it a good pie apple. Because of its keeping or storage ability, it was the standard market apple in the United States around 1900. It was first raised in New York state in 1791.
Jonathan -- A crisp, sweet, juicy flavor with a refreshing acidic overtone that ripens in October. Used both for fresh eating and cooking. It was first found on a farm in New York in 1826.
Winesap -- A dark red apple with sweet, juicy flavor. Considered a good keeping apple that can be used for cooking, fresh eating and cider making. It was first described in 1817 in New Jersey. Ironically, over the years it was replaced by Stayman's Winesap and then by the already familiar Red Delicious.
Green Bluff and members of the Green Bluff Growers Association invite you to sample some of the many varieties of apples you won't find in the grocery store at their annual October Harvest Festival.
Every weekend through October, the nearly two-dozen growers on the "Bluff," and a lot of their friends, are opening their farms and orchards for some old-fashioned family fun and a chance to sample and buy some of their freshly-picked apples, pears, pumpkins, potatoes and other vegetables. It is something they have been doing for the Spokane community for more than 100 years. While many things have changed and our lives have jumped to hyper speed, the joy of watching kids hunt for the best pumpkin or that first bite of a just-picked sweet apple that sends juice running down your chin has not.
This year at Beck's Harvest House and Orchard, you will find boxes of freshly picked McIntosh, Jonamac and Gravenstien apples. Later in October will be Galas, Jonagold, Empires, Red and Yellow Delicious, Wagners, Criterions and Rome Beauties, just to name a few. Fresh cider is available to wash down the barbecue and apple pie. While you sit and listen to the live music, the kids can check out the straw bale maze.
Up the road at Siemer's Pick and Pack, you will find apples, potatoes, pumpkins, cabbage, cider, honey, jam, gourds and cornstalks for fall decorating. The young-at-heart can take on the cornfield maze that, if navigated successfully, leads to the castle in the center of the maze. Round all this out with animals for petting, food, live music and craft people.
At Walter's Fruit Ranch, the Fruit Loop Express will take you into the orchard for a little apple picking. After you've worked up an appetite doing that, set a spell with a piece of homemade pie or browse the gift shop for some early Christmas shopping.
Some of the other growers have all the makings of a good Halloween scarecrow on hand; others will have fresh cider for tasting and fall decorating things such as corn stalks, pumpkins and maybe even some straw available. If you have never tried freshly dug potatoes or carrots, pick some up. Each weekend will be different, so plan a couple of trips over the month.
& & & lt;i & Green Bluff is easy to get to from either Spokane or the Spokane Valley. From Spokane, take the Newport Highway at the Division Street Y to the Day-Mt. Spokane Road and follow the signs. From the Valley, take Argonne Road north from I-90 about 12 miles. Argonne changes to Bruce Road at Bigelow Gulch Road but keep going north following the signs until you come to the "T" intersection of the Day-Mt. Spokane Road and turn right. Most farms will be open around 9 am, rain or shine. For more information, check out the Growers Association website at www.greenbluffgrowers.com. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &