Nfld. & Labrador

How about them apples? Why your favourite fruit is like Kim Kardashian

Not to cast aspersions on American apples, but honestly, by the time they get here they’ve had more work done than a celebrity.
Wanita Bates says she's no pomologist — that's a person who studies the science of fruit — but she does eat an apple every day. (Wanita Bates)

Did you hear the one about the crying apple?

Its peelings were hurt.

I know something about apples that might hurt your peelings — it's a story about food security and the unpleasant side of the food industry — but first, let's look at what the humble apple means to us.

Poets like Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost and Dylan Thomas have written poems about apples. Artists from Cezanne to Michelangelo to Picasso have painted them.

I'll admit, I'm no pomologist — that's a person who studies the science of fruit — but I do eat my apple every day.

Historically speaking you can't think apples without thinking about Adam and Eve. In the Old Testament's Book of Genesis, guess what? The word apple never appears.

The word fruit hangs from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Hebrew, the word fruit can mean anything from an apple to a grapefruit, or an apricot to a pomegranate.

An Adam's apple is that bump that sticks out on men's throats and the story goes that the apple that Adam shouldn't have taken a bite of — but did — got stuck in his throat.

It could easily have been Adam's pomegranate. 

Bates says that apple in your grocery store, the one with the shiny gorgeous peel, could easily be a year old. (Wanita Bates)

An ancient fruit

Apples are in the rosaceae family. This rose family includes pears, plums, cherries, strawberries and almonds. DNA has determined that apples originated in Central Asia. To be exact, it's where Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China meet in the Tian Shan Mountains. Dried apples were found in a tomb dating back to 2500 BC.

This fall, as I visited our family cemetery in the Laurentian Mountains, I met a man who told me he was feeding bears. He reached into the pocket of his plaid jacket and took out a dusty, deep red apple and passed it to me from dirty black hands. 

I'll admit, I'm no pomologist — that's a person who studies the science of fruit — but I do eat my apple every day.- Wanita Bates

"Is this a Macintosh?" I asked. He shrugged and said it came from a tree in his yard. With 7,500 different varieties of apples in the world, I wasn't about to start guessing.

I looked towards the forest and suddenly felt like I was in a Far Side cartoon. I imagined hungry bears gawking out at the short, round woman holding one of their apples saying, "I think I'll eat the apple for dessert."

Speaking of eating apples, according to Statistics Canada in 2017, we ate 10.4 kilograms of apples each. That's just under 23 pounds per person.

It's been worked out that it equals 86 apples per person. 

According to Statistics Canada, we each ate 10.4 kilograms of apples in 2017.

I love my apples, I mean they're fat-, sodium- and cholesterol-free. Why, I'd go out on a limb and say they're also gluten-free.

Don't peel them — eat that peel, that's where the fibre and antioxidants are.

About 60 per cent of our apples are eaten out-of-hand. The remainder are processed into products like pie filling, cider and apple butter. 

'The American apples are coming'

Right now at stores it's Canadian apple time. Great news, but Kristie Jameson, executive director of Food First NL reminds me that,"90 per cent of our fresh fruit and vegetables are imported" into Newfoundland and Labrador.

Ninety per cent! 

I ask my produce people what this means and they say, "The American apples are coming, the American apples are coming," meaning November and December.

"I think there is always opportunity for us to challenge ourselves to eat as seasonally as we can," said Jameson. "Then to also take on different home-based activities to help us preserve food for longer into the season whether that be a root cellar or bottling products."

Hello apple jelly.

Here is late breaking news from the apple orchard: for the first time in 50 years, Gala has overtaken Red Delicious as the leading variety by production for the 2018 harvest season.

The apple of my eye, by the way, is Honeycrisp or Sweet Tango!!

Freshly picked? Don't make me laugh (or cry) 

Wanita Bates says if you turn your nose up at six- to 12-month-old apples, you'll have to pick them off the tree yourself. (Wanita Bates)

Apples are ancient, but the technology applied to them today is space age. Not to cast aspersions on U.S.-grown apples, but honestly, by the time they get here they've had more work done on them than Kim Kardashian.

Mother Nature, this may hurt your peelings, but that apple in the grocery store, the one with the shiny gorgeous peel, could easily be one year old.

Here's the tumultuous trek that an apple will make before it hits the produce aisle.

Apples are mainly hand-picked to prevent bruising. As soon as that happens, the rush is on to get them into cold storage as quickly as possible.

They are washed in a soap and chlorine solution where the apple's natural waxy coating is chemically removed.

The apple is then recoated in an edible wax that helps preserve them and make them shiny. We consumers like our shiny apples!   

The apples are put on a conveyor belt where they are photographed and analyzed by computer to check shape, consistency and colour.

Imperfect fruit doesn't get shipped

Consumers don't want to eat ugly, different-shaped fruit so those apples are discarded. They taste the same, but consumers aren't buying it.

The apples are sorted into Class 1 apples, which will be sold loosely, and Class 2 apples, which are bagged. Class 2 apples are considered lower quality but you pay more for them because they've been prepackaged.

All the apples are loaded onto palettes and shipped off to a cold storage facility where they could be stored for the next six to 12 months in an airtight room at 0 C.

The oxygen levels in the room also artificially lowered from 21 per cent to 1.2 per cent to further slow down the aging process.

Essentially, this stops the apples from breathing and puts them to sleep.

A company in the U.S. has invented a synthetic gas that that is used worldwide to keep fruits fresh. It's been used for years now in the United States, the European Union and China, the largest producer of apples in the world. This gas inhibits the production of ethylene which is the natural ripening agent that eventually causes apples to rot.

If you turn your nose up at six- to 12-month-old apples, you'll have to pick them off the tree yourself.

Think about that the next time you pick up an apple for a snack. 

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 


Wanita Bates


Wanita Bates is a freelance writer, photographer and broadcaster in St. John's. She has won national and international awards for her work.