The apple has gotten a bad rap. Supposedly, Eve picked an apple in the Garden of Eden and took a bite and then convinced poor clueless Adam to take a chomp, too. From there, it’s all downhill for humanity. Man has to toil all the days of his life and women have to suffer in child birth. You would think God would have put a few more warning signs around that apple tree.

But was it an apple tree? In the Bible it just says “the tree in the middle of the garden.” Whoa! How did the apple manage to become the forbidden fruit responsible for the downfall of man? Why not a nectarine or a pear?

Worse yet, as a nurseryman, where are all the flowers in the Garden of Eden? The Bible doesn’t mention any flowers whatsoever in Genesis. Sure, it mentions plants, but only those that produce seeds and fruit. There are lots of animals that Adam gets to name, but apparently God forgot to tell him to name the plants. No petunia? No pansy?

Actually, I think that Eve was the one who got to name the plants. Think of the early roles of man and woman. The man hunted so it would be natural for him to name the animals. The woman gathered. She would name the plants of course. The garden is sort of an extension of the kitchen and no man can ever find where things are in the kitchen. As usual, women get the blame and no credit for doing all that naming and organizing.

Anyway, back to the apple.

Malus sieversii is the scientific name for the ancestor of the original apple. It grows wild in the mountains of Kazakhstan, which was on the route of the Silk Road. The apples there vary from shrubby bushes to trees that can grow 60 feet tall. The apples come in various sizes from small nut size up to a large standard apple size. Colors of the fruit range from green to yellow to red to purple. Genetically, the apple is very diverse, and more than any other fruit its seedlings are a mixed bag rarely like their parents.

The Sunset Western Garden Book lists 60 different apple trees, yet over a hundred years ago, there were thousands of varieties. In the store, a selection of 10 varieties would delight most apple aficionados. What happened to the diversity? Apples need to store well. They have to be able to be shipped and have a nice color.

Most have fallen by the wayside as consumers, growers and marketers eliminate most varieties.

In the early 1800s, a man called John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, was just barely ahead of civilization; planting his apple seeds along creek beds to sell young trees to the people going west. He was a crazy and eccentric man but he did provide a service. To get free land, people needed to plant 50 apple trees on their property to show they were interested in staying for the long term. Chapman sold the trees and then moved on to establish another tree nursery always on the edge of the frontier. Back then, the apple represented civilization.

What’s interesting is the crazy diversity of the seedlings he sold. Apples don’t come true from seed but that’s how Johnny did it. Many trees produced apples that Adam would have spit out instead of getting us into all this trouble. According to breeders, you might get only one real winner in 80,000 seedlings.

What did the people do with the millions of inedible apple trees that Johnny sold?

Well, Disney may have tried to sell Mr. Appleseed as a cartoon character friendly to children but the real reason people wanted apple trees was for one thing: Alcohol. Where on the frontier are you likely to find booze? With apples, people could make hard cider with about the same alcohol content as beer. Freeze the hard cider and it produces a liquid that refuses to ice called applejack, which is about 66 proof. Virtually every homestead in America produced hundreds to thousands of gallons of cider that often took the place of beer, wine and even water.

Oh dear. It wasn’t until the last century that people actually thought about eating an apple instead of drinking it. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” was a marketing slogan by growers to keep the temperance movement from cutting into their sales. Those axes that the early prohibitionists wielded weren’t just to chop up drinking establishments; they were also to chop down apple trees.

Maybe God was onto something when he tried to keep us away from that wormy old apple. Actually, a lot of theologians think the more likely fruit was the pomegranate. That would make a lot more sense actually, but you can’t take a big satisfying bite out of a pomegranate. You can, however, make pomegranate wine.

Don Urbanus is a Burson business owner. Contact him at