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Apples    

 

     My school lunchbox as a kid generally contained a baloney or peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and banana or an apple. The apple was always a Red Delicious or Golden, from a far away cold state named after our first president. When I lobbied for a Twinkie over the fruit, I always got the, “an apple a day keeps the Doctor away” answer.  I hated that saying. As I’ve aged, I ‘ve grown into the wisdom of it, and generally now reach for the apple, unless I am at the state fair where I’ll fall off the wagon for a fried Twinkie, which I instantly regret after I’ve eaten two or three. 

     But, back to apples.  An amazing variety of them now happily people the fruit section of any major market’s produce section.  Though apples are generally a cooler weather product, some very good ones can and do grow here in Arizona.

     As with any fruit, if you plan to plant a few trees in your yard, research local varieties, that come from stock that is desert hardened.  Some that have done very well here, are Anna’s, Golden Dorsett, Ein shemer, Pettingill, and Beverly Hills. Some apple tress can self-pollinate, but for best results and bigger crops, it is best to plant at least two trees. An Anna alongside a Golden Dorsett or Ein shemer, for example, is an excellent pairing. All of these are a delicious eating apple. As for planting, generally plant trees early, mid-January to March. Roots can set in and your trees acclimate before the extreme summer heat.

     Apples have a rich history in Arizona.  Pies and sauces have always been a treat from cities to homesteads. In the “wilds,” alcohol was hard to find, and expensive. But with an apple tree, you had juice and cider for the kids. Let the cider harden, and the adults were dancing.

     As early as the 1880’s apples were being grown by Anglo farmers in Oak Creek Canyon. From about 1915 to 1975, tree fruits, especially apples, were the economic mainstay of the Sedona economy.  Remnants of pioneer-era heirloom trees can still be found in Red Rock State Park, Junipine Resort, and Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge.

     A wonderful day trip or overnighter is to visit the Sedona area Mid-August all the way to October, but this time with a “historical apple” focus.  You can sample area apples “on site,” picked fresh, at peak of ripe, unwaxed (as is added to commercial apples). Slide Rock State Park orchard is open to the public for tours and has an apple market August to fall, as well as a U-pick option.  Junipine and Garland’s orchards are private and not open except to guests. but fruit from these old orchards can be found at Sedona Farmer’s Market, a roadside stand on 89A in Oak Creek Canyon across from the Butterfly Gardens Inn, and at Flagstaff Community Market.  Look for wonderful heirloom varieties not found at our big markets. The very names invite a bite: Arkansas Black, Black Twig, King David, Orange Pippin, Spitzenberg (a favorite of Thomas Jefferson), and Wolf River (an apple so big that it is touted as the “one apple makes a pie” apple).

     Although Arizona is not a huge apple producer, our product is considered high end, with a reputation for sweetness. The very heat and excessive sunshine (300+ days a year average) that makes it tough to grow apples here, gives our apples that  sweetness boost.  Also, the warm climate gives apples grown here a 3 to 4 week jump over apples maturing later in colder climes. So there is always a niche and market for our product. As it relates to volume of apples produced, look farther southeast in Arizona, to Briggs & Eggers 460 acre farm in the Wilcox area. They’ve been a USDA certified organic farm since 1989. At the height of the season they’ll pack 1,000 boxes a day. They ship about 500 tons of apples a year, to markets from San Diego to San Francisco, and on the east coast from Florida to New York.

     For just plain family fun, though, it is hard to beat Apple Annie’s open to the public farm, also in the Wilcox area. From U-pick to “we picked and baked it for you,” if it’s apple, you’ll find it here. Sauces, ciders, candies, syrups, tarts, turnovers, pies from Dutch, to apple-cranberry, apple-rhubarb, apple-cherry, you name it, you can taste it there. Yum.

     Now that we’re apple-minded, let’s fan out from the local to some general fun apple facts.  The whole “apple thing” really began with the crabapple.  An ancient variety is believed to be the “first parent” of all apples, as such it the would have the dubious distinction of being the apple that caused the Adam-Eve mischief.  Crabapples are the only native apple found in the U.S. The rest came to us with explorers and immigrants. About 7,500 varieties of apple are currently found and grown worldwide. Apples account for 50 % of the world’s deciduous fruit tree production. New varieties are constantly being developed (and then patented). Unfortunately, countless heirloom varieties have been lost.  Apples range in size from mega three-pounders down to walnut size. Regardless of size, it generally will take 4 to 5 years for a tree to bear fruit. It takes the energy from 50 leaves to produce one apple.

     Perhaps as a youth you dunked for an apple at a Halloween or fall party?  Ever wonder why apples float? It’s because about 25% of an apple is air. Americans eat more apples than any other fruit, with the exception of tomatoes, which are classed as a fruit. We average from one to two apples a week, consumed. Apples, of course, are a wonderful food source. They are low in calories (about 80 for a medium-sized one) but high in fiber (bowel health), boron (increases mental alertness), malic acid (natural tooth whitener), and are fat, sodium, and cholesterol-free.  Want the max from your apple health-wise?  Don’t peel them. Two thirds of the fiber and lots of antioxidants are found in the peel. Do wash them thoroughly, though, before eating, as most commercial apple unless organic, have been sprayed. As for keeping apples at home, put them in your frig. Left out, at room temperature they will ripen (and spoil) 6 to 10 times faster than if refrigerated.

      Apples, as a farmed fruit, came to the U.S. with the pilgrims.  A tree planted by Peter Stuyvesant in his Manhattan orchard was still bearing fruit when a derailed train hit it in 1866. In colonial times, apples were called winter banana, or melt-in-the-mouth.  One of George Washington’s hobbies was pruning his apple trees. In 1730, the first apple nursery was opened in Flushing, New York. Newton Pippin apples were the first apples exported from America in 1768.  Some of these were sent to Benjamin Franklin during a London stay. Finally, I’ll close as I started. My mom’s saying that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” actually comes down to us from an old English adage, “To eat an apple before going to bed, will make the doctor beg his bread.”  If he did, I bet it was a Twinkie.

Anthony de la Torre
Sun City Grand resident

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