Apples – there are 7,500 varieties in an assortment of colors and tastes and textures. They are standard fruits in our stores and enter figuratively into our literature and culture. Thor and the other Asgardian gods relied on apples. They have been found in prehistoric graves and in the middens of bronze age settlements. The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were all early cultivators. The Tudors had apple cultivators in their royal orchards.

What is the apple’s origin? Some might guess that they emerged from some Garden of Eden. Most scholars of the Bible agree that “apple” is a translation and other fruits or even just the generic “fruit” is closer to the original meaning. Very few people would say the origin is in Kazakhstan.

The plant is Malus sieversii. It is a wild apple, of which there are few left in the world. Kazakhstan is still pretty undeveloped but new development now threatens these wild apples with possible extinction. Not only building, but using the tree’s wood for that building is a threat.

 

The Turkish word for apple is “alma” and the fruit is strong in their culture. One of their biggest cities is named Almaty, and you will find apples abundant in their grocery stores and at roadside stands.

The range for  M. sieversii is sometimes known as an “Eden of Apples” and covers Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,  Uzbekhistan (former Soviet republics) and a narrow area of China. Wild apples evolved in the “Fruit Forest” that once was a vast tract of land covering nearly all of what is now Eastern Europe and into Asia.

These wild apples, like most heirloom fruits and vegetables, aren’t what Americans want and find in their supermarkets. One clear difference. They are small, unlike the ones we tend to buy that have been bred to be big. In Turkish stores, they are sold fresh and often have leaves intact on their stems.

Traditionally, apples were used fresh, preserved and used for cider, and the “windfalls” (those that fall and are not eaten by humans) are common feed for pigs.

 

M. sierversii along with  M. sylvestris, another variety that is not very tasty and rarely eaten by anyone but deer, are probably the two varieties that started things off. More than 3,000 years ago, the European crab apple and the wild Kazakh apple were crossbred and led to the many varieties we know today.

 

 

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