October 14, 2013 -
Save the apples!
In our work with the Countryside Conservancy, we came across this 2010 Apple Manifesto compiled by the Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance. The organization claims that our nation’s great “apple culture” is in big, big trouble thanks, in part, to the mind-boggling loss of apple diversity in the last century.
Before we continue with the stunning facts associated with this issue, consider the beauty and tradition of this heartfelt fruit. A quick on-the-go snack, an easy side dish for the kids, a pie-filler, a cider maker, a sauce. Apples are an active and affordable part of our lifestyle and our traditions, even in the off season.
Now, consider this:*
1. Of some 15,000 to 16,000 apple varieties that have been named, grown and eaten on the North American continent, only about 3,000 remain accessible to American orchard keepers, gardeners, chefs and home cooks.
2. Not even one-forth of the 20 million apple trees grown in the U.S. one hundred years ago remain in commercial or home orchards and gardens. Home apple production in the U.S. peaked between World War I and World War II, and now much of the apple juice, puree, and sauce consumed in the United States is produced in other countries.
3. One apple variety, the Red Delicious, comprises 41% of the entire American apple crop, and eleven varieties (of 3,000!!) produce 90 percent of all apples sold in chain grocery stores.
4. One driver of this decline in available apple diversity has been the demise of independently owned nurseries, which have had their business usurped by the garden-and-lawn departments of big-box stores. In a survey of ninety-six commercial nurseries that carried heirloom apples in 1988, 45% of them had gone out of business by 2009.
Granted, if you put these issues in context with other world problems (poverty, crime, war, etc.) apple diversity probably doesn’t rate very high on the problem priority list. Still, it’d be a damn shame to see our country’s crunchy apple crop monopolized for profit. Wouldn’t it?
That said, here are some easy ways you can reinvigorate apple culture in your neck of the orchard:
1. Get to know a new variety. How many can you name? Make a point to sink your teeth into a new one every year. Maybe you can find an aptly titled….Yellow Transparent, Granite Beauty, Duchess of Oldenburg, Winter Banana, Wine Sap, Nodhead, Peck’s Pleasant, Grimes Golden, Green Newtown Pippin, or Christmas apple.
2. Experiment with different varieties for different purposes. Check out this awesome local apple guide on Cleveland.com > Our guide to Northeast Ohio Apples: 12 varieties, where to pick them and how to best use them.
3. Plant an apple tree! Right now is a great time. Buy it at your local independent nursery. Prune it well and enjoy the fruit of your labor.
5. Enjoy your apple in a whole new way. Here’s a great little cocktail recipe from our Bar Man, Dave Hridel.
Add brandy, cider, maple syrup, apples and cinnamon stick to a 16 oz. mason jar and top with hot/boiling water.
*Editor’s note: All apple facts lifted from “Forgotten Fruits Manual & Manifesto: Apples,” by Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT) Alliance. The full report is available here. It’s a great read if you have the time!