History of the Apple
In honor of Tu-B'Shevat (15th day of Sh'vat), we will now talk about a fruit - a very special fruit - the Apple, "King" of all fruits (in Hebrew it is called Tapuach).
Now, why should the apple, in particular, be known as the "King" of all fruits? The answer is: because this fruit has so many virtues. An apple is beautiful, tasty and has a fine fragrance. It can be grown almost everywhere, and it keeps well.?
On the outside it is a colorful fruit. It comes in various colors from green to red to gold. In taste an apple is tasty and juicy, and has various tastes from sour to sweet. One can eat an apple raw, cooked, or baked, and it can be used in various dishes, such as apple tzimmes, (applesauce) apple compote, apple pie, apple strudel, etc.
Apples are very good for one's health. An English saying is: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."
Actually, an apple is good for one's digestion, and also has important vitamins and minerals. Apples also help to clean one's teeth after a meal. No other fruit has so many good qualities. Therefore, it is not surprising that the apple is regarded as the "King" of all fruits.
The original home of the apple is considered to be in the countries of Southwest Asia, including the land of Israel. From there it spread to Europe and the rest of the world. Apples can grow anywhere, excluding extremely hot or extremely cold climates.
The apple is frequently mentioned in the T'NaCh. King Solomon (in Proverbs, 25:11) said: "Golden apples in silver dishes-such is a word in the right place." And when he wanted to compare the love between the Jewish people and the Almighty, he expressed himself thus: "like an apple tree amongst the trees of the forest, is my beloved among the sons" (Song of Songs, 2:3).
The ancient Greeks also planted and cultivated apple trees. A Greek writer in the time of Alexander of Macedonia reported that four kinds of apples were grown in Greece. In ancient Rome, too, the apple was regarded as an important fruit. The Romans helped greatly in spreading the apple trees in European lands. Whenever the Romans conquered a country, they always took apple seeds along and planted them. Thus, they introduced the apple also to England.
How the Apple Came to America
When America was first discovered, the apple was already an important fruit in European lands. The British and the Dutch brought the apple to "New England" and to "New Amsterdam" (New York); the French brought the apple to Canada. From the Atlantic States the apple quickly spread to all of America.
The Americans eat more apples and apple pies than any other people, so that these two things are considered to be almost American national foods. However, as already mentioned, the apple did not originate in America, but was brought there by the first settlers from Europe. Now America takes first place in the world regarding the cultivation and use of the apple. One hundred million bushels of apples a year, on an average, are produced in America (a bushel is 48 lbs.). That is to say, half a bushel of apples a year for each man, woman and child.
In a productive year, the result could be more than one hundred thirty-four million bushels of apples. The price of a bushel could be from $1.50 to $4.00 - depending on the kind of apple. Specially picked apples can cost up to $6.00 or more per bushel.
The American annual harvest of apples yields between one hundred twenty and five hundred million dollars. One third of these apples is dried, canned, converted to juice, etc. Between 2% and 5% is exported.
In some states of America the apple industry is very important. The main states are Washington (which harvests twenty to thirty millions bushels a year), New York (about fifteen million bushels a year), Virginia (about nine million bushels a year), Michigan (around seven million bushels a year), Pennsylvania (about six million bushels), etc.
About ten thousand different kinds of apples are known in the world. More than seven thousand kinds are grown in America. But for commercial purposes only about twenty different known kinds are cultivated. These are special favorites, they keep better than others and do not spoil in transit, excel in taste and quality, etc. The majority of these kinds of apples have been developed in America.
Apples are not planted by seeds, for, strange to say, the trees that would grow from these seeds would not necessarily remain true to the tree from which they were taken.
For instance, should the seeds of an apple be planted, and fruit trees result, it could happen that not all the apples would have the same taste as the apple from which the seeds were taken.
So, it could also happen that by a fortunate chance, an exceptionally fine kind of apple could result. Indeed, it was in such a manner that many of today's well-known apples were cultivated, and became so favored. In such cases, the area where this takes place regards it as a stroke of good fortune.
The U.S. government allows the patenting of such a discovery. This gives a nice income to the lucky discoverer, and becomes a part of history.
In Wilmington, Mass., there is a gigantic stone monument of an apple at the spot where the famous "Baldwin" apple was first discovered. (This juicy apple is gold-colored with red streaks, and has a slightly tarty taste.)
There is a similar monument in Ontario, Canada, where a certain John Mackintosh discovered the apple, since known as the "Mackintosh." This is a yellowish rose-colored apple, very juicy and tasty and one of the famous in America.
In order to ensure that particular apple trees will grow apples according to their origins, their seeds are not sown, but small twigs are implanted in the stems of other apple trees which have good, healthy roots.
From one such healthy apple tree, it is possible, in this manner, to transplant a great number of other apple trees, the fruits of which would be an exact copy of the original tree, in taste, fragrance, and appearance.
Apple trees are planted commercially in gardens, in rows, spaced between thirty and forty feet apart, to facilitate their development and, mainly, to allow sufficient room to get near the tree to care for it and gather its fruit.
The apple trees are sprayed with chemicals to guard them against pests, such as worms and other harmful insects. An apple tree which is properly cared for can bear fruits for a period of thirty years or even longer.
The "Apple Garden"
As already mentioned, the apple and apple tree are often, mentioned in the T'NaCh (in Proverbs, several times in Song of Songs, and also in Joel 1:12).
Our Sages, of blessed memory, declared that the verse: "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest," refers to the time of Mattan Torah, the Giving of the Torah, when the Jews choose the Almighty and He choose the Jews and gave them the Torah and Mitzvoth, which all other nations had refused to accept.
Our Sages say: Why are Jews compared to an apple tree? Because just as in the case of the apple tree, the blossoms appear before the leaves, so too Jews, at the time of receiving the Torah, first said: Naaseh - "We will do," and then said: v'Nishma - "We will understand."
This means that the first thing, the main thing, is doing, namely, to observe the Mitzvoth given to us by the Almighty, whether or not we understand them. The second step is to understand them through learning Torah. Indeed, through observing the Mitzvoth, it becomes easier to understand them (Nishma).
In the Kabbala and Chasiduth--especially Chabad Chasiduth - it is explained that the apple symbolizes the G-dly soul of a Jew (Tapuach comes from the word Nofach - to blow, as in the morning prayer - Elokai Neshama), which the Almighty blew into man as His own "breath," as it were.
The Garden of Eden, where souls are nourished by the light of the Shechinah (Divine presence), is called Chakal Tapuchin, the "Garden (or field) of Apple Trees."
Now that we are better acquainted with the "King of fruits," the wonderful apple, we will surely remember to recite the blessing: Borei P'Ri HaEitz (the one who creates the fruit of the tree), with greater understanding and joy, knowing that a Jew, wherever he may be, is "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest" - as is the Jewish people in general.