The famed Greek writer, Homer, gave mention of apples growing in his father's garden prior to the 8th century BC. When Eve entered the Garden of Eden she found a fruit so perfect and enticing that she was in awe, and also, she was tempted. Though various historians have claimed this succulent and tempting fruit to be everything from an apricot, banana, or even a pomegranate, it is most often written that it was an apple. The Latin word for apple is pomum, which is also the Latin word for fruit, implying that the apple is the "fruit of fruits", or at least the most noble of them. Today, in French, the apple is still referred to as pomme. These are pretty heavy and ancient facts for something as humble as the apple, which can still be plucked from a tree as we close in on the year two thousand.
Though they are most likely indigenous to the area surrounding the Black Sea, apples have been grown in New England as early as the mid 1600's. Even Benjamin Franklin, who is said to have been an avid farmer and a great promoter of the apple, is said to have had an apple orchard on his land. And let us not forget the famed John Chapman, who eventually became known as Johnny Appleseed because of his penchant for walking across this great land of ours dressed in tattered clothing and armed with nothing more than sacks of apple seeds which he planted by the grove. (It sounds as if good ol' Johnny was a little eccentric and socially challenged.) None the less, apples flourished in the temperate climate of the northern states, and continue to do so. In fact, apples, and pies made with them, have become so ingrained into our culture that the phrase "as American as apple pie" was coined.
Apples, like many fruits, can be utilized in almost any preparation, from soups and sandwiches to savory entrees. Though the area in which apples truly shine is of course desserts, and one of my personal favorites is the famed Tarte Tatin. What's interesting about this French upside down apple tart is the story behind it. This particular apple tart takes its name from the two Tatin sisters who owned a small hotel in the Loire valley of France in the beginning of this century. According to legend, the Hotel Tatin, which was in the little town Lamotte-Beuvron, stood close to the train station. The newly constructed line from Paris brought a fair share of sophisticated clientele to the hotel each day. Trying to impress this new influx of sophisticates, and having a wood-fired stove of old design-one without an oven-they developed a tart made from local apples, which was baked upside-down. This tart was "baked" on top of the stove under a covered dome, and the reason was this: If the delicate pastry came into direct contact with the heat of their wood-fired stove it would most definitely burn before the apples were sufficiently cooked. By placing the apples in the pan first, along with some butter and sugar, and then topping it with the pastry, both the apples and pastry cooked properly while the butter and sugar formed a caramel. Once this process was complete, the tart was inverted onto a plate, right side up. Ingenious pair, those Tatin sisters. Though Tart Tatin is still baked upside-down today, part of the process is done so in a conventional oven with the same, if not more consistent, results. These two sisters became quite famous for their tart, and evidently made their living off of it. Interestingly enough, this took place in an era when it wasn't all that common for women to be so independent. The evidence-or should we say prejudice-is apparent in the original title of the tart which can be found in somewhat older French recipe books: "la tarte des demoiselles Tatin," (the tart of two unmarried women named Tatin).
Just as the old adage suggests ("an apple a day keeps the doctor away"), apples are very good for you. On average, one medium sized apple has only about 80 calories, contain natural fruit sugar, potassium, vitamins A and C, and more than 20% of your daily-recommended intake of dietary fiber. Apples do not contain any fats, cholesterol or sodium; they are more than 80% water. Much of the vitamins, fiber and other nutrients are located in the skin. Thus, when you eat a raw apple-the best way to consume apples-do not remove the skin. Doing so will cut away almost 1/3 of the vitamin C content.
Though apples are available year round, reasonably priced and of good quality, they are at their peak during late summer and early fall. In fact, October is National Apple Month. Select apples that are firm and free of bruises or dents; they, of course, should have an overt fruity, apple fragrance. Apples should be stored in a cool dark place, those kept in refrigeration will last up to ten times longer than if left at room temperature (up to 90 days, according to the US Apple Association). Apples also absorb flavors and odors easily, so it's best to store them away from foods with strong odors. And interestingly, apples emit ethylene, a naturally occurring gas that encourages ripening. Thus, it's best to store apples separate from other produce, or in a plastic bag, to prevent them from accelerating the ripening of other fruits and vegetables.