Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thanksgiving - "As American as Apple Pie?"

Gala, my favorite for fresh eating.
        Name the most popular fruit pie in North America. Apple? That would be my guess, though I don’t have any figures to back it up. It’s one of the pies I like to prepare for Thanksgiving, but I’ll guarantee that the Pilgrims did not eat apples for their 1621 celebration. Why? The wild varieties that the Pilgrims encountered would have been crabapples. The apples we know and love today are not native to this continent! Yet we consider them typically American. Do Europeans view potatoes and tomatoes imported from the New World in a similar light?
        The Greeks grew apples and passed their knowledge on to the Romans, who spread it throughout Europe through their conquests. Colonists brought apple seeds and plants with them to the New World. As they moved west, taking this fruit with them, they sometimes discovered apple trees, but these had been planted by American Indians who had themselves carried seeds with them as they fled before the encroaching European civilization.
       As children, we learn about Johnny Appleseed, a professional nurseryman who collected apple seeds from cider presses in Pennsylvania beginning about 1800 and embarked on his legendary travels westward, going as far as Ohio, planting trees and reportedly giving away thousands of seeds and saplings. He is portrayed as a ragged, eccentric man welcomed into isolated settlers’ homes as a carrier of news from the outside world. He is also known as a missionary. He was not, however, a poor man, but owned 1200 acres of orchards.
       Considering that apples are as non-native as most of our forefathers, "American as apple pie" is the perfect description of who we are, a people imported from elsewhere to grow and spread across this continent.
       If you have ever noticed that apple blossoms resemble tiny roses, it won’t come as a shock to you that apples are members of the rose family. There are literally thousands of varieties, but we all have our favorites. I love the crisp, juicy taste of a Gala. For pies I like Jonathons or MacIntoch. Check out the "complete" list of varieties at Using the "wrong" variety, as for example in baking a pie, can give you applesauce instead of apple chunks.
       For a modern Thanksgiving, apples could appear in pie, muffins, salads, sauces, drinks and... what else? My husband’s family’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner always included a Waldorf salad of whipped cream, walnuts and apples. Do you traditionally serve apples for this holiday meal? Will apples be a part of your Thanksgiving this year?

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