Adapted from Literature Frameworks — A Is for Apples (Part 1)
by Sharron L. McElmeel (Linworth, 2002). Reprinted with permission.

A Is for Apples

  • Food unit (fruits)
  • Plants and planting
  • Pioneers (the role of apples in their lives)
  • Botany (developing varieties)
  • Folklore
  • Johnny Appleseed
  • Apples in literature
  • Celebration of special days
  • Mathematical probability

Apples (and Johnny Appleseed)

As early 400 B.C. it is believed that the Greeks were growing several varieties of apples and the ancient Romans were as well. Massachusetts Bay Company records indicate that apples were being grown in the New England area as early as 1630. One of the best known varieties of apple, the McIntosh apple, was a variety discovered, it is generally agreed, in 1796 by John McIntosh when he discovered the first of the variety growing on his family farm in Dundas County, Ontario. In educational materials developed by the Education Committee of the Botanical Society of America and shared on their site Growth and Development, John McIntosh's parents emigrated from Scotland to the British colonies (Mohawk Valley, New York) in the early 1700s. When the American Revolution began, McIntosh was among the United Empire Loyalists that stayed loyal to Britain. So in the 1770s he fled to Canada. He stayed in the frontier, but by 1790 he had settled in Dundas County, Ontario, Canada. The town was originally called McIntosh's Corners. The town is now called Dundela. It was there, in 1796, that McIntosh was clearing his land and discovered 20 apple trees. He transplanted the trees closer to his home but by 1830 only one tree was still alive. During those early years the tree had produced a full crop of fruit and soon McIntosh's son Allan had begun to graft the tree and share the plants with other farmers. According to Shane Peacock who wrote "Mr. McIntosh's Wonderful Apple," a 1997 article reprinted with permission, Allan established a nursery and propagated the fruit for many years. The variety was called the "McIntosh Red" and is still a very popular variety of apple in the United States, Canada, and throughout the world. The McIntosh was even named the "official apple of the New York City Marathon."

A slightly different account of John McIntosh's initial identification of the McIntosh apple is told on the Michigan Apple Committee's site, Michigan Apple. According to this group, John McIntosh loved a young women whose father disapproved of their relationship. McIntosh was to follow her to Canada but she died there before he arrived. He became reclusive for five years or so before settling on a homestead where he transplanted some saplings. Regardless of McIntosh's reason for arriving in Canada or why he eventually ended up in Dundas County, there seems to be no dispute about his discovery or propagation of the McIntosh Red variety of apple.

The McIntosh is Canada's most popular apple. Along with the Red Delicious and the Spartan, the three varieties make up over two-thirds of the apple production in Canada. Other very popular varieties are the Cortland, Empire, and Idared. In the United States the favorites are Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and the Granny Smith. Those three account for two-thirds of the production in the United States.

In recent years, the Gala Apple and the Fuji have begun to become very popular in the United States. The Fuji is a variety developed in Japan and is one of Japan's most popular apples. It was developed by breeding the American Delicious with the Ralls Janet of Virginia. Many think that the Fuji will soon become more popular than the Granny Smith.

Apples are associated with one legendary hero and many stories. In the early 1800s apples were almost as precious as salt. Raw or cooked in dozens of different dishes, apples were considered a tasty and nutritious food. They were dried and stored for use during the winter months. Those apples not suitable for eating were squeezed, and the juice was fermented into apple cider. Some of the apple juice was allowed to sour and become vinegar, which was used for pickling some foods. Other less-than-perfect apples were boiled and cooked into apple butter, a sweet preserve for spreading on crackers or bread. Some varieties of the apple were considered better for eating while others were used only as cooking apples.

John Chapman was born in Massachusetts in 1774. As an adult he became a legendary figure known as Johnny Appleseed. He ventured from his home into the wilderness, carrying bags of apple seeds that had been collected from the pulp of a cider press. His wanderings were most notable in the "old Northwest Territory," which consisted of western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. He began his life's work in this area around 1800. Chapman planted fruit trees and spread a message of peace. Some land companies in Ohio stipulated that settlers must have 50 apple trees on their claim. John Chapman walked seasons ahead of the settlers, and when they arrived they found him waiting with seedlings. He sometimes sold or traded his seedlings, but he gave them away just as often. His love of animals was legendary, and he often helped settlers clear their land or harvest a crop. Chapman was a vegetarian and respected all living things. He dressed in a tin-pan hat and flour sack and gained the affections of most of the people he encountered. To this day, Johnny Appleseed is one of the best known historical figures from the frontier territory. He died near Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1845; he is buried in the Archer family plot, within the Johnny Appleseed Memorial Park at the edge of Fort Wayne.

Weaving Connections into the Framework:

Johnny Appleseed (Johnny Chapman) was a peacemaker between Native Americans and white settlers. Few children's books mention that he was a missionary for the Church of the New Jerusalem, founded by Emanuel Swedenborg. (Ophia D. Smith, "The Story of Johnny Appleseed," in Johnny Appleseed: A Voice in the Wilderness: The Story of the Pioneer John Chapman: Centennial Tribute, Leslie Marshall, ed., Paterson, New Jersey: The Swedenborg Press, 1945, pp. 47-48; and Robert Price, "Johnny Appleseed in American Folklore and Literature," p. 13). Johnny Appleseed would ask permission of settlers or Native Americans to use a small patch of ground to plant apple seeds. Later he would return, leave some of the trees for the land owner and then give the rest to newly arriving settlers. He planted apple seeds throughout the Allegheny Valley in the period from 1797 to 1804 and possibly later. Diaries and letters from Appleseed's friends and acquaintances give some idea of his appearance. He is thought to have been small and wiry, very quick conversationally, and always on the move. His cheeks were described as hollow and his body appeared very frail as he walked so much and ate very little. His skin was bronzed and he is said to have had piercing, brilliant, dark eyes.

The apple is viewed as a means to immortality in some stories and as a magical object in others. In Greek mythology a suitor distracted Atalanta with three golden apples, won the race, and in so doing, won her hand in marriage. Perhaps the most prominent role an apple played is that of an enchanting object in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

Apples might become the focus in September (September 26 is the date traditionally celebrated as Johnny Appleseed's birthday), October (National Apple Month), or March (the 11th has been designated Johnny Appleseed Day).

Key Expectations: The class/group will focus on the role of apples and related topics. The goals are:

  • to identify the apple as a fruit and to enumerate various uses of apples as food;
  • to develop an awareness of the role apples played in the lives of pioneers;
  • to learn about some of the people associated with the development of the apple as a versatile food;
  • to read works of literature that incorporate apples;
  • to acquire general information about propagating seeds and growing seedlings.