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Episode
191

The Curious History of Apples

Sep 7, 2021
How Stuff Works
-
22
minutes
Food & drink
Weird history
Business
European history
USA

It is the world's fourth most popular fruit, but many people are not aware of its fascinating history.

In this episode, we'll learn about where apples come from, how they are produced, the amazing story of a man called Johnny Appleseed, and how they have become incredibly commercialised.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Apples, the fourth most popular fruit in the world.

[00:00:31] If you’re wondering what numbers 1, 2, and 3 are, tomatoes are technically the world’s favourite, although I know that some people might consider them to be a vegetable, then it’s bananas, then watermelons, and then comes the topic of this episode, apples. 

[00:00:50] So, in today’s episode, we are going to start with the history of apples, where they come from, how they developed, and why apple production is different to that of the majority of fruits.

[00:01:04] Then, we’ll talk about the weird history of an unusual American, a man so associated with apples that he was given the nickname “Johnny Appleseed”.

[00:01:16] We’ll then talk about apples today, and see how apple cultivation has changed over the years to satisfy the needs of the global economy.

[00:01:26] And finally, we will look at some fun linguistic marks that apples have left on the English language, and I’ll explain how you can use a few phrases that involve apples.

[00:01:41] Let’s get stuck in right away.

[00:01:44] To many of us now, apples are a fundamental part of our diet, and of our cuisine.

[00:01:51] In England, we have baked apples, apple crumble, delicious cloudy English apple juice, and of course, schoolchildren up and down the country are encouraged to eat apples as a snack.

[00:02:05] And for billions of people around the world, the apple is a fruit that features prominently in the national cuisine.

[00:02:13] But, where does it actually come from? And how did it become such a popular fruit?

[00:02:21] To the first question, the answer might surprise you.

[00:02:25] The fruit that you and I know as the apple is thought to have originated from central Asia, probably in modern day Kazakhstan.

[00:02:35] Indeed, the largest city in Kazakhstan is called Almaty, the word Almaty is closely related to the Kazakh word for apple, “alma”. 

[00:02:45] And the Russian version of the city’s name is “Alma-Ata”, which is translated as “father of apples”.

[00:02:54] Names aside, all apples are thought to have originated from this area of the world, from a type of tree called “Malus Sieversii”. 

[00:03:05] Now, this episode isn’t going to go deep into the biological history of apple trees, but there are some important points to note about apples that help us understand firstly how they have developed and changed over time, and secondly how they are grown now.

[00:03:26] So, the first point to understand is that apples are what’s called “extreme heterozygotes”.

[00:03:34] What this means, in practical terms, is that you can take the seeds from an apple, put them in the ground, and wait until an apple tree grows.

[00:03:46] But the apples that this tree produces will probably look nothing like the original apple.

[00:03:54] It will still be an apple, yes, but it won’t be the same. It could be a different colour, different taste, different size, it could be a completely different type of apple.

[00:04:06] This means that, if you find a delicious type of apple, and you think that you would like to plant a tree that will produce more of those delicious apples, you can’t just plant the seeds.

[00:04:20] What you need to do is find a piece of the original apple tree and stick it into a different tree.

[00:04:28] The word for this process in English is “grafting”.

[00:04:32] Now, this is a great simplification of what happens, but the point is that if you want to consistently produce the same kinds of apples, this is how you do it. 

[00:04:44] Planting the seeds won’t work.

[00:04:47] Now, that is the horticultural part of the episode over. 

[00:04:52] Let’s get back to how this is relevant to the history of apples.

[00:04:57] It’s thought that the original apple tree was domesticated anywhere between 4 and 10,000 years ago, it is an incredibly old fruit. 

[00:05:09] Given the fact that it originated from an area in the middle of The Silk Road, apples started to be transported both ways, towards Europe and across the Gobi Desert to China.

[00:05:23] As these apples were transported and their seeds were planted elsewhere, entirely new types of apples would have sprung up

[00:05:33] For people who didn’t know about grafting, the process of attaching a piece of apple tree to another tree, they would plant the seeds and completely new apples would emerge.

[00:05:45] It’s not completely clear exactly when, or how, societies discovered grafting

[00:05:52] There are some theories that it was known as early as the third century BC, based purely on the amount of apples of the same variety that were being produced in The Middle East, but historians are not completely sure.

[00:06:08] The Romans did an excellent job at taking apples all over Europe, and are thought to have been responsible for bringing them to the UK, where they thrived, and have become almost a national fruit.

[00:06:24] The Romans were aware of how to use grafting to reproduce apple varieties, which led to the first “orchards” in Britain - orchards being the collection of trees planted together, all producing the same kind of fruit.

[00:06:40] When the Romans left Britain, at the end of the 4th century AD, knowledge of apple cultivation started to die out, but there is evidence of apple production mainly through old town names given by Anglo-Saxon invaders.

[00:06:58] For example, there is a town in England called Applegarth, which means Apple Orchard, and “Appleton”, which means “where apples grow”, these settlements were presumably given these names because of how many apple trees there were there.

[00:07:15] When the Normans invaded Britain in 1066, they brought with them a love for good food, a renewed interest in apples and a knowledge of how to grow them, plus they were thirsty for cider, the alcoholic drink you make from fermented apples.

[00:07:34] All of this, combined with the fact that apples grow very easily in Britain, meant that apple trees again became a feature of the English landscape.

[00:07:45] And by The Middle Ages, across much of Europe, apples were a permanent part of the national cuisine, for similar reasons that they are still popular today.

[00:07:58] They are tasty, they grow relatively easily in much of Europe, they are quite cheap, you can transport them easily, they don’t go bad quickly - I mean, you can store them for a long time after picking them from a tree - there are a lot of advantages to apples.

[00:08:18] It was, therefore, no surprise that when European settlers sailed to America, they took this delicious and versatile fruit with them.

[00:08:29] The first orchard was planted in America in 1625, and reportedly, by 1644, 90% of all farms in Maryland contained apple orchards.

[00:08:44] The settlers found an abundance of land in America, and built vast orchards.

[00:08:52] They knew about grafting, but they would also experiment with new apple varieties, testing out how planting different seeds in different types of soil would lead to new, and potentially even more delicious, types of apple.

[00:09:09] Planting a new orchard from apple seeds must have felt a little like playing the lottery, but a lottery that would take years for you to figure out whether you had won or not. 

[00:09:22] You would plant the seeds, then wait typically six years or more before the tree even started producing fruit, and only then would you be able to taste it and see whether it was any good.

[00:09:36] Now, although apple growing was popular almost from the day the pilgrims first set foot on the continent, there is one man who has forever gone down in history for his association with apple growing in America, a man called John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.

[00:09:58] Johnny Appleseed was born in 1774, in Massachusetts. 

[00:10:03] This was at the time of the American frontier, when people were heading west to seek out new land and fortune.

[00:10:13] There were economic incentives for people to move west and settle. One of these was that anyone would receive approximately 40 hectares of land if they planted an orchard of a certain size.

[00:10:28] Johnny Appleseed had some training in apple farming, and he headed out west with his 12-year-old brother.

[00:10:37] So the legend goes, everywhere he went, he planted orchards

[00:10:43] He wasn’t doing this for economic reasons, and he lived a very simple life. He wore simple clothes, was very generous with everyone he met, and he was a vegetarian, which would have been very rare at the time.

[00:10:59] He followed a particular form of Christianity which focussed on love for the natural world, which probably explains his wanting to go forth and plant trees everywhere.

[00:11:13] Importantly for our story, and for the development of apples in the United States, he did not use the technique of grafting, as he believed that it hurt the trees. 

[00:11:26] Grafting involves cutting off a branch of an apple tree, and Johnny Appleseed didn’t want to do this, because he didn’t want to cut and hurt a tree.

[00:11:37] He planted his orchards directly from apple seeds, which, remember, means you have no control over the type of apple trees that would grow.

[00:11:49] What Appleseed would do is plant an orchard, then leave it for someone else to manage and farm, then move further west and plant another one.

[00:11:59] He did this for over 50 years, and left a huge variety of different apples in all of the orchards he planted. Because he didn’t use grafting, all of these apples would have had slightly different tastes.

[00:12:17] Given that the main use of his apples would have been to make cider, which was hugely popular in America at the time, it didn’t really matter that much that they tasted so different. 

[00:12:30] His legacy though, other than being an example told to schoolchildren of how to be a good, honest, kind and generous person, is of creating an enormous variety of apples. 

[00:12:44] Indeed, even now there are 2,500 different varieties of apple grown in the United States.

[00:12:54] Now, this brings us to apples today, and how they have conquered the world, or at least feature in the national cuisines of a large number of countries.

[00:13:05] Partly thanks to Johnny Appleseed, and mainly thanks to the vast size and natural geography of the country, apple production in the United States continued to grow.

[00:13:17] It had a slight hiccup, it dipped slightly, during the Prohibition era, when alcohol was banned, and apple trees were cut down and orchards burned, so that they couldn't be used to make cider.

[00:13:32] Since then though, apple production has continued to increase, and the US is the world’s second largest apple producer, behind China.

[00:13:43] The US produces around 5 million tonnes of apples per year.

[00:13:48] China actually produces more than 8 times the US production, at 42 million tonnes of apples per year. Indeed, almost half of the apples produced in the entire world are grown in China. 

[00:14:05] For those of you living in Europe though, if you’re thinking that you haven’t eaten a Chinese apple, most of the apples grown in China are either eaten in China, or exported to South East Asia.

[00:14:18] So, coming back to apples today, even though the fruit is so variable, and its seeds will naturally produce different trees, and different fruits, a small selection of apple varieties dominate the global apple market.

[00:14:36] There are about 7,500 different varieties of apple grown all over the world, but in the US just 11 varieties are responsible for 90% of apple sales.

[00:14:50] Creating the supposed “perfect apple” is now a real science, and gone are the days of people like Johnny Appleseed roaming around the country scattering seeds and wondering whether a delicious new variety will emerge.

[00:15:07] One of the world’s most popular apples, the Honeycrisp apple, was developed at the University of Minnesota. 

[00:15:15] New versions of apples are even patented, to stop others from copying them. 

[00:15:21] And new varieties of apple are not chosen only for their taste.

[00:15:27] They need to look attractive, they need to be just the right amount of juicy, they need to travel well, they need to not go bad for a long amount of time, they need to be able to be piled on top of each other in supermarkets, there are all sorts of factors that go into the development of new types of apples.

[00:15:50] And when apple producers think they have found a winning formula, they launch new varieties of apples in a similar way to if they were launching a new chocolate bar or breakfast cereal. At the end of 2019, the producers of Honeycrisp and Enterprise came together to create an apple called Cosmic Crisp, which had a $10 million marketing budget behind it.

[00:16:20] So, things have come a long way since the days of Johnny Appleseed.

[00:16:25] And as with anything that has been a fundamental part of society for so long, apples have also made a mark on the English language.

[00:16:35] English is, of course not unique in terms of its use of apples in idioms: French listeners will be familiar with what “falling into apples”, “tomber dans les pommes” means - for the non-French speakers, it means to faint, to pass out, to lose consciousness, and I’m sure there are some fun and interesting expressions in your language based around apples.

[00:17:01] But here are a few in English that you might come across, and might want to use for yourself.

[00:17:09] Firstly, “ bad apple”. If someone is a bad apple, they are fundamentally a bad person, they have a bad character. It’s normally used to refer to one person who is bad among a group of good people.

[00:17:25] You might think, ok, well if someone is a good person, can I call them “a good apple”?

[00:17:32] No, sorry. You can call them a good egg, which is pretty much the opposite of a bad apple. 

[00:17:39] Confusing, I know.

[00:17:42] Our second apple expression is “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. You might be familiar with a similar expression in your language, and in English it means, as you might imagine, eating apples is good for you.

[00:17:56] Third, is the expression “it’s like comparing apples to oranges”. You can use this expression if you think someone is making an unfair comparison, that they are comparing two things that shouldn’t be compared.

[00:18:12] So, for example, if you are comparing someone’s English ability to their cooking skill, you could say “that’s like comparing apples to oranges”.

[00:18:25] Our fourth expression, our penultimate expression, is an expression I particularly like, and that's “how do you like them apples?”

[00:18:35] You can say this as a comeback, as a way of replying to someone else to show that you have actually done something better, and surprising.

[00:18:45] For example, a child taking a test might ask their friend what score they got, they might say “I got a B”, and the other one might turn the paper around, show the “A” grade, and say “how do you like them apples”.

[00:19:02] You might think that it sounds grammatically incorrect, because of course it should be “how do you like those apples”, or “these apples”. Indeed, as I was writing this episode, Google Docs tried to correct my grammar, but the expression really is “them apples”.

[00:19:22] And our final apple-related expression is “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. 

[00:19:30] This is used to communicate the fact that a child is similar to their parents, so if there was a child that was, let’s say, very talented at the violin, and the child's mother was a famous musician, you might say “well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. 

[00:19:50] It’s actually more frequently used to describe negative qualities, so let’s say that a child does something bad, or gets into trouble, and they had a parent who also got into trouble, you might say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

[00:20:08] Although on one level this phrase makes etymological sense, because the idea is that similar talents are passed down the family, when you know about how apples actually reproduce, you realise that this expression doesn’t make much sense at all.

[00:20:27] So, there we have it, a brief look at the curious history of apples.

[00:20:34] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that next time you take a bite out of a Golden Delicious, a Fuji, a Granny Smith, Braeburn, or whatever type of apple is most popular in the country you live in, then you’ll know a little bit more about the fascinating history of this delicious fruit. 

[00:20:55] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:59] What is the most popular type of apple where you are from?

[00:21:03] This episode focussed on the history of apples mainly in the English-speaking world, but tell me, what stories are there about apple pioneers in your country?

[00:21:13] And finally, there are no doubt so many fun expressions that use apples in your language. 

[00:21:20] What are they, and what do they mean?

[00:21:22] I would love to know. You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:33] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:39] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Apples, the fourth most popular fruit in the world.

[00:00:31] If you’re wondering what numbers 1, 2, and 3 are, tomatoes are technically the world’s favourite, although I know that some people might consider them to be a vegetable, then it’s bananas, then watermelons, and then comes the topic of this episode, apples. 

[00:00:50] So, in today’s episode, we are going to start with the history of apples, where they come from, how they developed, and why apple production is different to that of the majority of fruits.

[00:01:04] Then, we’ll talk about the weird history of an unusual American, a man so associated with apples that he was given the nickname “Johnny Appleseed”.

[00:01:16] We’ll then talk about apples today, and see how apple cultivation has changed over the years to satisfy the needs of the global economy.

[00:01:26] And finally, we will look at some fun linguistic marks that apples have left on the English language, and I’ll explain how you can use a few phrases that involve apples.

[00:01:41] Let’s get stuck in right away.

[00:01:44] To many of us now, apples are a fundamental part of our diet, and of our cuisine.

[00:01:51] In England, we have baked apples, apple crumble, delicious cloudy English apple juice, and of course, schoolchildren up and down the country are encouraged to eat apples as a snack.

[00:02:05] And for billions of people around the world, the apple is a fruit that features prominently in the national cuisine.

[00:02:13] But, where does it actually come from? And how did it become such a popular fruit?

[00:02:21] To the first question, the answer might surprise you.

[00:02:25] The fruit that you and I know as the apple is thought to have originated from central Asia, probably in modern day Kazakhstan.

[00:02:35] Indeed, the largest city in Kazakhstan is called Almaty, the word Almaty is closely related to the Kazakh word for apple, “alma”. 

[00:02:45] And the Russian version of the city’s name is “Alma-Ata”, which is translated as “father of apples”.

[00:02:54] Names aside, all apples are thought to have originated from this area of the world, from a type of tree called “Malus Sieversii”. 

[00:03:05] Now, this episode isn’t going to go deep into the biological history of apple trees, but there are some important points to note about apples that help us understand firstly how they have developed and changed over time, and secondly how they are grown now.

[00:03:26] So, the first point to understand is that apples are what’s called “extreme heterozygotes”.

[00:03:34] What this means, in practical terms, is that you can take the seeds from an apple, put them in the ground, and wait until an apple tree grows.

[00:03:46] But the apples that this tree produces will probably look nothing like the original apple.

[00:03:54] It will still be an apple, yes, but it won’t be the same. It could be a different colour, different taste, different size, it could be a completely different type of apple.

[00:04:06] This means that, if you find a delicious type of apple, and you think that you would like to plant a tree that will produce more of those delicious apples, you can’t just plant the seeds.

[00:04:20] What you need to do is find a piece of the original apple tree and stick it into a different tree.

[00:04:28] The word for this process in English is “grafting”.

[00:04:32] Now, this is a great simplification of what happens, but the point is that if you want to consistently produce the same kinds of apples, this is how you do it. 

[00:04:44] Planting the seeds won’t work.

[00:04:47] Now, that is the horticultural part of the episode over. 

[00:04:52] Let’s get back to how this is relevant to the history of apples.

[00:04:57] It’s thought that the original apple tree was domesticated anywhere between 4 and 10,000 years ago, it is an incredibly old fruit. 

[00:05:09] Given the fact that it originated from an area in the middle of The Silk Road, apples started to be transported both ways, towards Europe and across the Gobi Desert to China.

[00:05:23] As these apples were transported and their seeds were planted elsewhere, entirely new types of apples would have sprung up

[00:05:33] For people who didn’t know about grafting, the process of attaching a piece of apple tree to another tree, they would plant the seeds and completely new apples would emerge.

[00:05:45] It’s not completely clear exactly when, or how, societies discovered grafting

[00:05:52] There are some theories that it was known as early as the third century BC, based purely on the amount of apples of the same variety that were being produced in The Middle East, but historians are not completely sure.

[00:06:08] The Romans did an excellent job at taking apples all over Europe, and are thought to have been responsible for bringing them to the UK, where they thrived, and have become almost a national fruit.

[00:06:24] The Romans were aware of how to use grafting to reproduce apple varieties, which led to the first “orchards” in Britain - orchards being the collection of trees planted together, all producing the same kind of fruit.

[00:06:40] When the Romans left Britain, at the end of the 4th century AD, knowledge of apple cultivation started to die out, but there is evidence of apple production mainly through old town names given by Anglo-Saxon invaders.

[00:06:58] For example, there is a town in England called Applegarth, which means Apple Orchard, and “Appleton”, which means “where apples grow”, these settlements were presumably given these names because of how many apple trees there were there.

[00:07:15] When the Normans invaded Britain in 1066, they brought with them a love for good food, a renewed interest in apples and a knowledge of how to grow them, plus they were thirsty for cider, the alcoholic drink you make from fermented apples.

[00:07:34] All of this, combined with the fact that apples grow very easily in Britain, meant that apple trees again became a feature of the English landscape.

[00:07:45] And by The Middle Ages, across much of Europe, apples were a permanent part of the national cuisine, for similar reasons that they are still popular today.

[00:07:58] They are tasty, they grow relatively easily in much of Europe, they are quite cheap, you can transport them easily, they don’t go bad quickly - I mean, you can store them for a long time after picking them from a tree - there are a lot of advantages to apples.

[00:08:18] It was, therefore, no surprise that when European settlers sailed to America, they took this delicious and versatile fruit with them.

[00:08:29] The first orchard was planted in America in 1625, and reportedly, by 1644, 90% of all farms in Maryland contained apple orchards.

[00:08:44] The settlers found an abundance of land in America, and built vast orchards.

[00:08:52] They knew about grafting, but they would also experiment with new apple varieties, testing out how planting different seeds in different types of soil would lead to new, and potentially even more delicious, types of apple.

[00:09:09] Planting a new orchard from apple seeds must have felt a little like playing the lottery, but a lottery that would take years for you to figure out whether you had won or not. 

[00:09:22] You would plant the seeds, then wait typically six years or more before the tree even started producing fruit, and only then would you be able to taste it and see whether it was any good.

[00:09:36] Now, although apple growing was popular almost from the day the pilgrims first set foot on the continent, there is one man who has forever gone down in history for his association with apple growing in America, a man called John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.

[00:09:58] Johnny Appleseed was born in 1774, in Massachusetts. 

[00:10:03] This was at the time of the American frontier, when people were heading west to seek out new land and fortune.

[00:10:13] There were economic incentives for people to move west and settle. One of these was that anyone would receive approximately 40 hectares of land if they planted an orchard of a certain size.

[00:10:28] Johnny Appleseed had some training in apple farming, and he headed out west with his 12-year-old brother.

[00:10:37] So the legend goes, everywhere he went, he planted orchards

[00:10:43] He wasn’t doing this for economic reasons, and he lived a very simple life. He wore simple clothes, was very generous with everyone he met, and he was a vegetarian, which would have been very rare at the time.

[00:10:59] He followed a particular form of Christianity which focussed on love for the natural world, which probably explains his wanting to go forth and plant trees everywhere.

[00:11:13] Importantly for our story, and for the development of apples in the United States, he did not use the technique of grafting, as he believed that it hurt the trees. 

[00:11:26] Grafting involves cutting off a branch of an apple tree, and Johnny Appleseed didn’t want to do this, because he didn’t want to cut and hurt a tree.

[00:11:37] He planted his orchards directly from apple seeds, which, remember, means you have no control over the type of apple trees that would grow.

[00:11:49] What Appleseed would do is plant an orchard, then leave it for someone else to manage and farm, then move further west and plant another one.

[00:11:59] He did this for over 50 years, and left a huge variety of different apples in all of the orchards he planted. Because he didn’t use grafting, all of these apples would have had slightly different tastes.

[00:12:17] Given that the main use of his apples would have been to make cider, which was hugely popular in America at the time, it didn’t really matter that much that they tasted so different. 

[00:12:30] His legacy though, other than being an example told to schoolchildren of how to be a good, honest, kind and generous person, is of creating an enormous variety of apples. 

[00:12:44] Indeed, even now there are 2,500 different varieties of apple grown in the United States.

[00:12:54] Now, this brings us to apples today, and how they have conquered the world, or at least feature in the national cuisines of a large number of countries.

[00:13:05] Partly thanks to Johnny Appleseed, and mainly thanks to the vast size and natural geography of the country, apple production in the United States continued to grow.

[00:13:17] It had a slight hiccup, it dipped slightly, during the Prohibition era, when alcohol was banned, and apple trees were cut down and orchards burned, so that they couldn't be used to make cider.

[00:13:32] Since then though, apple production has continued to increase, and the US is the world’s second largest apple producer, behind China.

[00:13:43] The US produces around 5 million tonnes of apples per year.

[00:13:48] China actually produces more than 8 times the US production, at 42 million tonnes of apples per year. Indeed, almost half of the apples produced in the entire world are grown in China. 

[00:14:05] For those of you living in Europe though, if you’re thinking that you haven’t eaten a Chinese apple, most of the apples grown in China are either eaten in China, or exported to South East Asia.

[00:14:18] So, coming back to apples today, even though the fruit is so variable, and its seeds will naturally produce different trees, and different fruits, a small selection of apple varieties dominate the global apple market.

[00:14:36] There are about 7,500 different varieties of apple grown all over the world, but in the US just 11 varieties are responsible for 90% of apple sales.

[00:14:50] Creating the supposed “perfect apple” is now a real science, and gone are the days of people like Johnny Appleseed roaming around the country scattering seeds and wondering whether a delicious new variety will emerge.

[00:15:07] One of the world’s most popular apples, the Honeycrisp apple, was developed at the University of Minnesota. 

[00:15:15] New versions of apples are even patented, to stop others from copying them. 

[00:15:21] And new varieties of apple are not chosen only for their taste.

[00:15:27] They need to look attractive, they need to be just the right amount of juicy, they need to travel well, they need to not go bad for a long amount of time, they need to be able to be piled on top of each other in supermarkets, there are all sorts of factors that go into the development of new types of apples.

[00:15:50] And when apple producers think they have found a winning formula, they launch new varieties of apples in a similar way to if they were launching a new chocolate bar or breakfast cereal. At the end of 2019, the producers of Honeycrisp and Enterprise came together to create an apple called Cosmic Crisp, which had a $10 million marketing budget behind it.

[00:16:20] So, things have come a long way since the days of Johnny Appleseed.

[00:16:25] And as with anything that has been a fundamental part of society for so long, apples have also made a mark on the English language.

[00:16:35] English is, of course not unique in terms of its use of apples in idioms: French listeners will be familiar with what “falling into apples”, “tomber dans les pommes” means - for the non-French speakers, it means to faint, to pass out, to lose consciousness, and I’m sure there are some fun and interesting expressions in your language based around apples.

[00:17:01] But here are a few in English that you might come across, and might want to use for yourself.

[00:17:09] Firstly, “ bad apple”. If someone is a bad apple, they are fundamentally a bad person, they have a bad character. It’s normally used to refer to one person who is bad among a group of good people.

[00:17:25] You might think, ok, well if someone is a good person, can I call them “a good apple”?

[00:17:32] No, sorry. You can call them a good egg, which is pretty much the opposite of a bad apple. 

[00:17:39] Confusing, I know.

[00:17:42] Our second apple expression is “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. You might be familiar with a similar expression in your language, and in English it means, as you might imagine, eating apples is good for you.

[00:17:56] Third, is the expression “it’s like comparing apples to oranges”. You can use this expression if you think someone is making an unfair comparison, that they are comparing two things that shouldn’t be compared.

[00:18:12] So, for example, if you are comparing someone’s English ability to their cooking skill, you could say “that’s like comparing apples to oranges”.

[00:18:25] Our fourth expression, our penultimate expression, is an expression I particularly like, and that's “how do you like them apples?”

[00:18:35] You can say this as a comeback, as a way of replying to someone else to show that you have actually done something better, and surprising.

[00:18:45] For example, a child taking a test might ask their friend what score they got, they might say “I got a B”, and the other one might turn the paper around, show the “A” grade, and say “how do you like them apples”.

[00:19:02] You might think that it sounds grammatically incorrect, because of course it should be “how do you like those apples”, or “these apples”. Indeed, as I was writing this episode, Google Docs tried to correct my grammar, but the expression really is “them apples”.

[00:19:22] And our final apple-related expression is “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. 

[00:19:30] This is used to communicate the fact that a child is similar to their parents, so if there was a child that was, let’s say, very talented at the violin, and the child's mother was a famous musician, you might say “well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. 

[00:19:50] It’s actually more frequently used to describe negative qualities, so let’s say that a child does something bad, or gets into trouble, and they had a parent who also got into trouble, you might say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

[00:20:08] Although on one level this phrase makes etymological sense, because the idea is that similar talents are passed down the family, when you know about how apples actually reproduce, you realise that this expression doesn’t make much sense at all.

[00:20:27] So, there we have it, a brief look at the curious history of apples.

[00:20:34] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that next time you take a bite out of a Golden Delicious, a Fuji, a Granny Smith, Braeburn, or whatever type of apple is most popular in the country you live in, then you’ll know a little bit more about the fascinating history of this delicious fruit. 

[00:20:55] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:59] What is the most popular type of apple where you are from?

[00:21:03] This episode focussed on the history of apples mainly in the English-speaking world, but tell me, what stories are there about apple pioneers in your country?

[00:21:13] And finally, there are no doubt so many fun expressions that use apples in your language. 

[00:21:20] What are they, and what do they mean?

[00:21:22] I would love to know. You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:33] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:39] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Apples, the fourth most popular fruit in the world.

[00:00:31] If you’re wondering what numbers 1, 2, and 3 are, tomatoes are technically the world’s favourite, although I know that some people might consider them to be a vegetable, then it’s bananas, then watermelons, and then comes the topic of this episode, apples. 

[00:00:50] So, in today’s episode, we are going to start with the history of apples, where they come from, how they developed, and why apple production is different to that of the majority of fruits.

[00:01:04] Then, we’ll talk about the weird history of an unusual American, a man so associated with apples that he was given the nickname “Johnny Appleseed”.

[00:01:16] We’ll then talk about apples today, and see how apple cultivation has changed over the years to satisfy the needs of the global economy.

[00:01:26] And finally, we will look at some fun linguistic marks that apples have left on the English language, and I’ll explain how you can use a few phrases that involve apples.

[00:01:41] Let’s get stuck in right away.

[00:01:44] To many of us now, apples are a fundamental part of our diet, and of our cuisine.

[00:01:51] In England, we have baked apples, apple crumble, delicious cloudy English apple juice, and of course, schoolchildren up and down the country are encouraged to eat apples as a snack.

[00:02:05] And for billions of people around the world, the apple is a fruit that features prominently in the national cuisine.

[00:02:13] But, where does it actually come from? And how did it become such a popular fruit?

[00:02:21] To the first question, the answer might surprise you.

[00:02:25] The fruit that you and I know as the apple is thought to have originated from central Asia, probably in modern day Kazakhstan.

[00:02:35] Indeed, the largest city in Kazakhstan is called Almaty, the word Almaty is closely related to the Kazakh word for apple, “alma”. 

[00:02:45] And the Russian version of the city’s name is “Alma-Ata”, which is translated as “father of apples”.

[00:02:54] Names aside, all apples are thought to have originated from this area of the world, from a type of tree called “Malus Sieversii”. 

[00:03:05] Now, this episode isn’t going to go deep into the biological history of apple trees, but there are some important points to note about apples that help us understand firstly how they have developed and changed over time, and secondly how they are grown now.

[00:03:26] So, the first point to understand is that apples are what’s called “extreme heterozygotes”.

[00:03:34] What this means, in practical terms, is that you can take the seeds from an apple, put them in the ground, and wait until an apple tree grows.

[00:03:46] But the apples that this tree produces will probably look nothing like the original apple.

[00:03:54] It will still be an apple, yes, but it won’t be the same. It could be a different colour, different taste, different size, it could be a completely different type of apple.

[00:04:06] This means that, if you find a delicious type of apple, and you think that you would like to plant a tree that will produce more of those delicious apples, you can’t just plant the seeds.

[00:04:20] What you need to do is find a piece of the original apple tree and stick it into a different tree.

[00:04:28] The word for this process in English is “grafting”.

[00:04:32] Now, this is a great simplification of what happens, but the point is that if you want to consistently produce the same kinds of apples, this is how you do it. 

[00:04:44] Planting the seeds won’t work.

[00:04:47] Now, that is the horticultural part of the episode over. 

[00:04:52] Let’s get back to how this is relevant to the history of apples.

[00:04:57] It’s thought that the original apple tree was domesticated anywhere between 4 and 10,000 years ago, it is an incredibly old fruit. 

[00:05:09] Given the fact that it originated from an area in the middle of The Silk Road, apples started to be transported both ways, towards Europe and across the Gobi Desert to China.

[00:05:23] As these apples were transported and their seeds were planted elsewhere, entirely new types of apples would have sprung up

[00:05:33] For people who didn’t know about grafting, the process of attaching a piece of apple tree to another tree, they would plant the seeds and completely new apples would emerge.

[00:05:45] It’s not completely clear exactly when, or how, societies discovered grafting

[00:05:52] There are some theories that it was known as early as the third century BC, based purely on the amount of apples of the same variety that were being produced in The Middle East, but historians are not completely sure.

[00:06:08] The Romans did an excellent job at taking apples all over Europe, and are thought to have been responsible for bringing them to the UK, where they thrived, and have become almost a national fruit.

[00:06:24] The Romans were aware of how to use grafting to reproduce apple varieties, which led to the first “orchards” in Britain - orchards being the collection of trees planted together, all producing the same kind of fruit.

[00:06:40] When the Romans left Britain, at the end of the 4th century AD, knowledge of apple cultivation started to die out, but there is evidence of apple production mainly through old town names given by Anglo-Saxon invaders.

[00:06:58] For example, there is a town in England called Applegarth, which means Apple Orchard, and “Appleton”, which means “where apples grow”, these settlements were presumably given these names because of how many apple trees there were there.

[00:07:15] When the Normans invaded Britain in 1066, they brought with them a love for good food, a renewed interest in apples and a knowledge of how to grow them, plus they were thirsty for cider, the alcoholic drink you make from fermented apples.

[00:07:34] All of this, combined with the fact that apples grow very easily in Britain, meant that apple trees again became a feature of the English landscape.

[00:07:45] And by The Middle Ages, across much of Europe, apples were a permanent part of the national cuisine, for similar reasons that they are still popular today.

[00:07:58] They are tasty, they grow relatively easily in much of Europe, they are quite cheap, you can transport them easily, they don’t go bad quickly - I mean, you can store them for a long time after picking them from a tree - there are a lot of advantages to apples.

[00:08:18] It was, therefore, no surprise that when European settlers sailed to America, they took this delicious and versatile fruit with them.

[00:08:29] The first orchard was planted in America in 1625, and reportedly, by 1644, 90% of all farms in Maryland contained apple orchards.

[00:08:44] The settlers found an abundance of land in America, and built vast orchards.

[00:08:52] They knew about grafting, but they would also experiment with new apple varieties, testing out how planting different seeds in different types of soil would lead to new, and potentially even more delicious, types of apple.

[00:09:09] Planting a new orchard from apple seeds must have felt a little like playing the lottery, but a lottery that would take years for you to figure out whether you had won or not. 

[00:09:22] You would plant the seeds, then wait typically six years or more before the tree even started producing fruit, and only then would you be able to taste it and see whether it was any good.

[00:09:36] Now, although apple growing was popular almost from the day the pilgrims first set foot on the continent, there is one man who has forever gone down in history for his association with apple growing in America, a man called John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.

[00:09:58] Johnny Appleseed was born in 1774, in Massachusetts. 

[00:10:03] This was at the time of the American frontier, when people were heading west to seek out new land and fortune.

[00:10:13] There were economic incentives for people to move west and settle. One of these was that anyone would receive approximately 40 hectares of land if they planted an orchard of a certain size.

[00:10:28] Johnny Appleseed had some training in apple farming, and he headed out west with his 12-year-old brother.

[00:10:37] So the legend goes, everywhere he went, he planted orchards

[00:10:43] He wasn’t doing this for economic reasons, and he lived a very simple life. He wore simple clothes, was very generous with everyone he met, and he was a vegetarian, which would have been very rare at the time.

[00:10:59] He followed a particular form of Christianity which focussed on love for the natural world, which probably explains his wanting to go forth and plant trees everywhere.

[00:11:13] Importantly for our story, and for the development of apples in the United States, he did not use the technique of grafting, as he believed that it hurt the trees. 

[00:11:26] Grafting involves cutting off a branch of an apple tree, and Johnny Appleseed didn’t want to do this, because he didn’t want to cut and hurt a tree.

[00:11:37] He planted his orchards directly from apple seeds, which, remember, means you have no control over the type of apple trees that would grow.

[00:11:49] What Appleseed would do is plant an orchard, then leave it for someone else to manage and farm, then move further west and plant another one.

[00:11:59] He did this for over 50 years, and left a huge variety of different apples in all of the orchards he planted. Because he didn’t use grafting, all of these apples would have had slightly different tastes.

[00:12:17] Given that the main use of his apples would have been to make cider, which was hugely popular in America at the time, it didn’t really matter that much that they tasted so different. 

[00:12:30] His legacy though, other than being an example told to schoolchildren of how to be a good, honest, kind and generous person, is of creating an enormous variety of apples. 

[00:12:44] Indeed, even now there are 2,500 different varieties of apple grown in the United States.

[00:12:54] Now, this brings us to apples today, and how they have conquered the world, or at least feature in the national cuisines of a large number of countries.

[00:13:05] Partly thanks to Johnny Appleseed, and mainly thanks to the vast size and natural geography of the country, apple production in the United States continued to grow.

[00:13:17] It had a slight hiccup, it dipped slightly, during the Prohibition era, when alcohol was banned, and apple trees were cut down and orchards burned, so that they couldn't be used to make cider.

[00:13:32] Since then though, apple production has continued to increase, and the US is the world’s second largest apple producer, behind China.

[00:13:43] The US produces around 5 million tonnes of apples per year.

[00:13:48] China actually produces more than 8 times the US production, at 42 million tonnes of apples per year. Indeed, almost half of the apples produced in the entire world are grown in China. 

[00:14:05] For those of you living in Europe though, if you’re thinking that you haven’t eaten a Chinese apple, most of the apples grown in China are either eaten in China, or exported to South East Asia.

[00:14:18] So, coming back to apples today, even though the fruit is so variable, and its seeds will naturally produce different trees, and different fruits, a small selection of apple varieties dominate the global apple market.

[00:14:36] There are about 7,500 different varieties of apple grown all over the world, but in the US just 11 varieties are responsible for 90% of apple sales.

[00:14:50] Creating the supposed “perfect apple” is now a real science, and gone are the days of people like Johnny Appleseed roaming around the country scattering seeds and wondering whether a delicious new variety will emerge.

[00:15:07] One of the world’s most popular apples, the Honeycrisp apple, was developed at the University of Minnesota. 

[00:15:15] New versions of apples are even patented, to stop others from copying them. 

[00:15:21] And new varieties of apple are not chosen only for their taste.

[00:15:27] They need to look attractive, they need to be just the right amount of juicy, they need to travel well, they need to not go bad for a long amount of time, they need to be able to be piled on top of each other in supermarkets, there are all sorts of factors that go into the development of new types of apples.

[00:15:50] And when apple producers think they have found a winning formula, they launch new varieties of apples in a similar way to if they were launching a new chocolate bar or breakfast cereal. At the end of 2019, the producers of Honeycrisp and Enterprise came together to create an apple called Cosmic Crisp, which had a $10 million marketing budget behind it.

[00:16:20] So, things have come a long way since the days of Johnny Appleseed.

[00:16:25] And as with anything that has been a fundamental part of society for so long, apples have also made a mark on the English language.

[00:16:35] English is, of course not unique in terms of its use of apples in idioms: French listeners will be familiar with what “falling into apples”, “tomber dans les pommes” means - for the non-French speakers, it means to faint, to pass out, to lose consciousness, and I’m sure there are some fun and interesting expressions in your language based around apples.

[00:17:01] But here are a few in English that you might come across, and might want to use for yourself.

[00:17:09] Firstly, “ bad apple”. If someone is a bad apple, they are fundamentally a bad person, they have a bad character. It’s normally used to refer to one person who is bad among a group of good people.

[00:17:25] You might think, ok, well if someone is a good person, can I call them “a good apple”?

[00:17:32] No, sorry. You can call them a good egg, which is pretty much the opposite of a bad apple. 

[00:17:39] Confusing, I know.

[00:17:42] Our second apple expression is “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. You might be familiar with a similar expression in your language, and in English it means, as you might imagine, eating apples is good for you.

[00:17:56] Third, is the expression “it’s like comparing apples to oranges”. You can use this expression if you think someone is making an unfair comparison, that they are comparing two things that shouldn’t be compared.

[00:18:12] So, for example, if you are comparing someone’s English ability to their cooking skill, you could say “that’s like comparing apples to oranges”.

[00:18:25] Our fourth expression, our penultimate expression, is an expression I particularly like, and that's “how do you like them apples?”

[00:18:35] You can say this as a comeback, as a way of replying to someone else to show that you have actually done something better, and surprising.

[00:18:45] For example, a child taking a test might ask their friend what score they got, they might say “I got a B”, and the other one might turn the paper around, show the “A” grade, and say “how do you like them apples”.

[00:19:02] You might think that it sounds grammatically incorrect, because of course it should be “how do you like those apples”, or “these apples”. Indeed, as I was writing this episode, Google Docs tried to correct my grammar, but the expression really is “them apples”.

[00:19:22] And our final apple-related expression is “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. 

[00:19:30] This is used to communicate the fact that a child is similar to their parents, so if there was a child that was, let’s say, very talented at the violin, and the child's mother was a famous musician, you might say “well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. 

[00:19:50] It’s actually more frequently used to describe negative qualities, so let’s say that a child does something bad, or gets into trouble, and they had a parent who also got into trouble, you might say “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

[00:20:08] Although on one level this phrase makes etymological sense, because the idea is that similar talents are passed down the family, when you know about how apples actually reproduce, you realise that this expression doesn’t make much sense at all.

[00:20:27] So, there we have it, a brief look at the curious history of apples.

[00:20:34] I hope it's been an interesting one, that you've learnt something new, and that next time you take a bite out of a Golden Delicious, a Fuji, a Granny Smith, Braeburn, or whatever type of apple is most popular in the country you live in, then you’ll know a little bit more about the fascinating history of this delicious fruit. 

[00:20:55] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode. 

[00:20:59] What is the most popular type of apple where you are from?

[00:21:03] This episode focussed on the history of apples mainly in the English-speaking world, but tell me, what stories are there about apple pioneers in your country?

[00:21:13] And finally, there are no doubt so many fun expressions that use apples in your language. 

[00:21:20] What are they, and what do they mean?

[00:21:22] I would love to know. You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:33] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:39] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]