Confession: There’s no way for this essay not to end with “how do you like them apples?” so in order to at least attempt to flip the script, here it is at the beginning. Furthermore, the impulse to begin with a confession for an exposition of apple significance feels equally sage, since the most consistent theme among pomacious metaphors and parables throughout history seems to be the threshold between innocence and guile. And speaking of sage, I want to point out that it happens to be an excellent flavor companion for apples, as is evidenced in numerous recipes for Thanksgiving stuffing.
The original metaphor. The “a ha!” moment. The pivotal turning point. The ultimate gift, but perhaps one not to be trusted. The highest expression of a thing. Apples. Not only for snacking, picking, and cooking, you know, as they have never failed as a literary device or as a point of historical interest. So, how ‘bout them?
Not only a Christian metaphor, apples appear in many religious origin stories in a similar “awakening” moment. Human is simple and pure. Human is tempted. Human eats apple. Now human is flawed but knowledgeable. There is much semantic argument as to the use of the word “apple” in translation, as it can stand in for a number of probable tree fruits, but in any case it’s only after Adam and Eve’s inaugural apple pick that we all collectively realized we needed to find the requisite outfit for the occasion.
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And along with knowing everything, the tree of knowledge also taught us we were supposed to be drinking this stuff straight up for gut health.
William Tell was a 14th Century Swiss revolutionary who inspired a 19th Century Italian operatic composer to write an overture that would be forever co-opted for the portrayal of 20th Century American Southwestern folklore in film and television. You may recognize the music as the theme to the Lone Ranger or as something being played by a Looney Tunes orchestra, but the real story behind those galloping violins is one that tells of a skilled archer earning his freedom from a cruel tyrant by successfully shooting an apple in two off of the head of his own son.
Sir Isaac Newton
If ever there’s a moment in science where the apple is found to be the marker between innocence and guile, it’s this one: Maybe it never actually fell on his head, but there is evidence to suggest that at least the witnessing of an apple falling from a tree by Sir Isaac Newton caused him to theorize about, and eventually develop a law for, universal gravitation. Now, the official scientific measurement for weight, which is that of force, is the Newton. So if you’ve ever felt guile from your bathroom scale about its reported number, you can blame an apple for giving Newton the idea that it all could be measured in the first place. The end of innocence indeed.
If we have Adam and Eve to thank for the impulse to harvest tree fruits for pleasure, we have Johnny Appleseed (born John Chapman) for the abundance of orchards in the U.S. from which to harvest. The wandering botanist is not merely a character from folksong, but a genuine American eccentric and local hero who is responsible for introducing apples to Pennsylvania and its surrounding states in the late 1700s and early 1800s. He was more than simply a quirky scatterer of seeds, but a cultivator of nurseries. 200 years later, amidst a frenzy for apple picking and a multitude of recipes with which to celebrate the harvest, he is definitely still worth singing about.
An Apple for the Teacher
apple is often synonymous with knowledge, this would be a tidy assumption to draw in terms of where the practice of gifting one’s educator with one comes from. But alas, the practice has a decidedly un-tidy origin story. There’s an element of public relations, whereby the poor apple needed a reputation upgrade to not be thought of as just a vehicle for hard cider. There’s a measure of education reform, referencing a moment in American history when children first began being required to obtain at least an elementary education. And there’s a matter of finance and timing—teachers were often paid in sustenance by their pupils, and since the school year began after the majority of harvest was complete, right at the moment that apple harvest comes into play, the practice was born that U.S. school teachers were definitely going to get more than their share of one a day.Since an
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
In this 19th Century German fairy tale, Snow White succumbs to a near-eternal slumber care of a poisoned apple given by her disguised stepmother. A gentle reminder that not all seemingly innocent gifts are actually innocent, and a mirroring of the original biblical function of the fruit. Teachers, beware.
Steve Jobs and brethren founded Apple, Inc. in 1976, a fitting trademark for a technological company whose function was machines that could increase the speed and capacity of human knowledge. Once consumed, those Apples would never allow us to go back to what we were before, as anyone with the fever for the latest I-product can attest. Cupertino, Cali. is basically the Garden of Eden all over again.
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A different sort of apple-based coffee table book.
“Good Will Hunting”
In 1997 all previous expressions and metaphors involving apples were officially usurped when a rowdy and victorious Matt Damon held up the digits-inscribed napkin to the diner window to needle the preppy intellectual:
“Hey! Do you like apples?”
You know the rest. And more to the point, we do like them. We really like them.
Header image courtesy of Natalia Ganelin/Getty Images.