“I don’t know whether you’ve ever had a woman eat an apple while you were doing it. Well, you can imagine how that affects you.” – Henry Miller
One theory is that the English word “apple” comes from the name of the Roman town of Abella (now Avella) in Campania, Italy, which was famous for its apples. The town is described in Virgil’s Aeneid as malifera (“apple-bearing”) Abella. However, there is a Proto-Indo-European root word apl, which is much older and feeds into the Germanic words appel (Dutch) eple (Old Norse) and Apfel (German).
The ancient Romans considered apples a luxury fruit. The Latin for “apple” is malum, which comes from the Greek word melon. Both words were applied to any roundish fruit that grows on a tree: apples, pomegranates, quinces, peaches and lemons.
This sense of an “apple” as a general term for fruit led to its adoption as the fruit of the tree of knowledge, which Adam and Eve consume in the Garden of Eden. Scholarly cases have been made for the Hebrew word tappuach as denoting quince, wheat or banana, rather than apple, as all three were cultivated before the apple came along.
The medieval English term for banana was appel of paradis, dates were fingeræppla (finger-apples) and cucumbers (not the then unknown potato) were eoræppla, or earth-apples.
The Turks consume twice as many apples per head as Germany, their nearest rival – something like half their body weight each year. The British, despite contributing some of the more memorable breeds, consume fewer per head than any other country in Europe.
The Mandarin word for “apple” is ping. Apples are popular gifts because ping also means “peace”. However, the Chinese never give apples to invalids because ping sounds a bit like bing, which means “illness”.
Apples are now the most popular fruit in the world, grown or traded on every continent. There are about 8,000 named varieties, more than any other fruit. This is because apples are odd. Each apple seed produces offspring that are distinct individuals, quite unlike their parents. Without grafting – invented by the ever resourceful Chinese 3,000 years ago – your sweet and juicy Worcester pearmain would have disappeared centuries ago.
The first apples originated in Kazakhstan (the capital Almaty derives from alma-ata, “apple father”). Travellers on the silk routes developed a taste and spat their pips out wherever they rested. Now ecologists are attempting to create a gene bank from the unprecedented collection of wild apples they have found growing there, including Malus seiversii, the ancestor of most Western apples.
Some are as large as small pumpkins; others are the size of peas, with colours from yellow to lime green, chocolate brown and burgundy.
Modern apples have been genetically weakened by selective breeding, and are subject to many diseases and pests. The wild Kazakh varieties contain up to 85 per cent more genetic material and are virtually disease free.
The computer was named after the McIntosh apple (the “national apple” of Canada), the favourite apple of Jef Raskin, head of the team that created the Apple Macintosh.