Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Apple



Somerset in January, 2017. It’s dank, damp and dark. Some drunken souls are standing in an apple orchard, cider in hand, chanting away evil spirits and waking up the apple trees from their winter sleep.

This is nothing new.


After several failed assassination attempts against Snow White, the queen calls upon the darkest magic to poison something so beautiful that nobody could resist it: a plump, red and white apple.


In the early 2000s, a group of Japanese scientists determined a ‘recipe’ for recreating the smell of an apple. This would be used in research towards electronically recording and reproducing smells, like we do with sound and pictures.


Helen’s face may have launched the ships, but the Trojan War wouldn’t have happened had Eris not thrown an apple marked ‘to the fairest’ into a wedding feast. This ‘apple of discord’ led to a fight over which goddess was the most beautiful. This ended with Aphrodite being given the apple, after she had bribed Paris by promising to set him up with Helen, Queen of Sparta.


My gran never gave me her apple pie recipe

I said I prefer a tarte tatin anyway

which must be as American as apple pie


Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, takes its name from the Kazakh word for apple, ‘alma’. Malus sieversii, the primary ancestor of the domesticated apple (malus pumila), is native to this part of Central Asia. The species is vulnerable to extinction, though, and it’s more common to find Korean salads in Almaty’s markets than wild malus sieversii.


The Latin words for ‘evil’ and ‘apple’ are basically the same, malum. This might help explain why the forbidden fruit in the bible, though not mentioned, is widely depicted as an apple.


I saw a man throw a knife at an apple on my 8-year-old brother’s head – it was part of a performance at a country fair.

This dramatic way to prove you’re a good marksman comes from Germanic folktales. The story of Swiss nationalist hero William Tell is the best-known example.


The saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away is a bit misleading, but at least you can get good vitamin A, C and fibre from a whole apple – just don’t expect much from apple juice.


In the early 19th century, Lord Byron spent his holidays in Burgage House in Southwell, a small town in England’s East Midlands. Also in Southwell, around the same time, a young girl planted an apple tree in a garden. Every Bramley apple in the world is descended from this tree.


Apple seeds are not clones of their parents. The only way to be sure of growing the same type of apple with a new tree is to cut some of the tree and graft it onto new rootstock. This process was developed in China and slowly spread westward to Persia, then Greece around 2,500 years ago.


In 2010, a scientific consortium successfully sequenced the entire genome for a Golden Delicious apple. It was found to have almost 60,000 genes, the highest number of any plant ever studied and almost twice as many genes as humans.


Sent from my iPhone

This series is inspired by Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of looking at a Blackbird. David McKenzie looks every month at the most normal food you can imagine and offers a fresh view on it. In thirteen different ways.

Image: Peter Paul Rubens, Das Paradies (Adam und Eva / Der Sündenfall), 1616


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