APPLEPICKERS is part of Slow Food Perth’s ‘food-finders’ food discovery programme for kids. As an ‘applepicker’ you’ll learn about how the apple came to be cultivated as food, its diversity – the varieties once grown and those grown today in different parts of the world, its health benefits, and the role of apples in history.
Origins. The big ‘mother’ – actually both mother and father, a hermaphrodite – of all apples is thought to be Malus sieversii, native to northern Tibet, north-western China, southern Kazakhstan and north-eastern Kyrgyzstan. The former capital of Kazakhstan, in the northern lee of the Tien Shan mountains, is named Almaty, which translates as ‘grandfather of apples’. The world’s deepest mountain lake – Issyk-kul – is just to the south of the city.
Sieversii, which grows at between 1200 and 1300 metres and often is the dominant tree in endemic forest, is thought to have cross-pollinated with M. sylvestris – the European wild apple – to parent today’s common apple species, M. domestica, in eastern Turkey.
The United States’ Agricultural Research Service is continuing with studies which began in 2006 to collect and document genetic material from M. sieversii. The research has found that the species has an extraordinary disease resistance. Material from among the 949 apple tree accessions made in central Asia has been used to grow out 1600 M. sieversii trees at the US National Germplasm Repository in Geneva, near New York. Using genes from sieversii with modern apple varieties has displayed an ability to resist apple scab fungus and fire blight. From this work, researchers have also found an increased tolerance to growing apples at altitude and in dry and near-desert areas.
Diversity. A catalogue of fruit trees growing at the Horticultural Society of Victoria’s Richmond experimental farm in 1863 – in suburban Melbourne – listed more than 280 varieties of apple. These included adam’s permain, cornish gilliflower and duke of gloucester, absent from supermarkets almost a century and a half later. What we can buy today is limited to red delicious, fuji, granny smith and a handful of others, reflecting a huge gap in our food heritage. Look at the 1863 catalogue.
Apple granny. Maria Smith and her husband Thomas sailed to Australia from England in 1838. When they arrived in Sydney they bought some land on the edge of a ‘common’ – a place available for gardening to all people who lived nearby – known as the Field of Mars. A creek ran nearby. Maria and Thomas were good farmers. No just nipping down to the supermarket in the Toyota for them whenever they needed something…Learn about the granny smith apple.
Apple-head. A boy named Isaac grew up in a big house in Lincolnshire, in rural England. Instead of playing with lambs and calves, dogs and horses, he was forever playing with numbers in his head. Isaac was a ‘brainiac’. He was a bit of a nerd. One day he was sitting under a tree when an apple fell from a branch and hit him on the forehead. Rubbing his noggin, he thought about what had made the apple fall rather than rise into the air… Learn about Isaac Newton.
Apple and arrow. In the 1300s, in one of the high forest villages of Switzerland, lived a mountaineer named William Tell. He was very strong and able, and could shoot an arrow from his bow with great accuracy. Tell’s village of Altorf was in a parish – known as a canton – governed by a vindictive and cruel Austrian called Hermann Gessler. Legend has it that Gessler placed his hat on a high pole in Altorf’s market-place and demanded that… Learn about the apple and the arrow.
The apple wars. When people marry, the party attended by a lot of guests – family and friends – usually becomes just that: a party! But sometimes things can go horribly, horribly wrong. In ancient Greece, a goddess called Thetis was to marry an everyday bloke called Peleus. All of the gods were invited to the wedding, except one – a nasty, ugly old aunt-goddess called Eris. She was the goddess of mayhem, mess and really bad manners… Learn about the apple wars.