The relationship between humans and apples has a long and complex past.
Countless myths and stories include the seductive apple, and it has remained a popular food across different regions of the world.
An apple launched a thousand ships and started the Trojan War.
The mighty Odysseus, struggling to get home from the Trojan War, yearns for the garden he had as a child, populated by apple trees.
The Norse gods owed their immortality and perpetual youth to apples.
The Arabian Nights features a magic apple from Samarkand capable of curing all human diseases—predating the belief that an apple a day will keep the doctor away, a proverb that first appeared in print in 1866. Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, and Dylan Thomas all wrote poems about apples and everyone from Caravaggio to Magritte painted them.
How has this fruit – arguably the most popular fruit in existence – had such an enormous cultural and economic impact since its discovery?,
Apples come from the tree Malus domestica, which has north of 7,000 known cultivars. Apple fruits come in different sizes and display vibrant red, delicate pink, green, or yellow hues.Some researchers suggest that the apple got a bad rap from an unfortunate pun: the Latin malus means both “apple” and “evil,” which may have given early Christians ideas.
Thanks to the apple’s wide variety in taste and texture, you’ll likely find a variety that perfectly suits your taste (and matches the dish you’re trying to make). For instance, to name just three: the Red Delicious is very crisp, Fujis tend to be large and sweet, and Granny Smiths are tart and crunchy.
Apples are a victim of their own genetic creativity, a characteristic known to botanists as extreme heterozygosity. This ensures that an apple grown from seed won’t be anything like its parents. This is great for evolution, producing thousands of diverse apple varieties, adapted to every environment from North Dakota to New Zealand. For apple growers, though, intent on preserving selected favorites, the apple’s slippery genome is frustrating. In apples, the only guarantee of reproducibility is grafting, which is how our modern eating apples are propagated.
Related Plants in the Wild
Crab apples – Malus sylvestris – are a wild variety of apples, sporting a much smaller fruit than their domesticated counterparts. Most crab apples have a sour, tart taste but are pretty edible. People generally use them to make jams and jellies instead of eating them raw. As a kid, we had a crab apple tree in our backyard.
Further afield from the family, the apple’s closest relatives are well-known fruit bearers such as pears, peaches, plums, and cherries. All of these plants belong in the Rosaceae (rose) family, along with 2500 other species.
This fall, we finally made the trip to Ellijay, Georgia to pick some apples with the kids. Ellijay is known as the Apple Capital of Georgia and it did not disappoint!
For most of my life (well, up until yesterday actually), I hated apples. Every time I bit into one, my throat and gums would burn, my teeth would hurt and my tongue would become irritated. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience. Over the years, I tried apples from the grocery store, local farmers markers, and several organic grocers. Each time the result was the same for me – pain and discomfort. Since I was still able to enjoy apple pie, apple fritters, and other cooked apple products, I accepted that fact I would never be able to enjoy the thrill of biting into a juicy apple.
With my own apple eating experiences in the back of my mind, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to drive all the way up to Ellijay to pick apples, especially since the kids were perfectly happy with the ones from Kroger and Harry’s. I was hoping to find something closer to me in Cobb County (in town would have been even better) and wasted at least 30 minutes searching “Cobb County Apple Farms”, “Apple Picking in Georgia” and “ Pick Apples in Marietta” with no success. Since we didn’t have anything else planned for the weekend, we jumped in my truck and headed north.
When we got on the highway, I told my wife that I was going to stop at the first farm that had apples in North Georgia area, buy a few, and drive back home and didn’t realize that my wife had done extensive research and had a specific apple farm in mind. She gave me the address for BJ Reece Orchards and off we went. The ride in North Georgia is beautiful, so the beautiful vistas and rolling hills is worth the drive alone. Better yet, the kids took a long nap during the ride that would ensure that they would be well rested when we made it to our destination. As we pulled up, I was impressed by the size of the farm and knew immediately that we’d be in for a real treat. This was much more than a roadside apple stand.
The Orchard at a Glance
B.J. Reece Orchards is a family-owned and operated peach, nectarine and Asian pear orchard, as well as a U-Pick apple orchard during September and October. They offer hayrides/farm tours, petting farms, pony rides, cow milking, apple cannons (yes cannons!), corn maze, U-pick pumpkins and viewing of exotic animals. Their country store is HUGE and well stocked. It is full of delicious, made from scratch bakery items like their famous fried apple pies, apple cider doughnuts and cider slushes! If you don’t have them time to pick your own apples(you should make time), they have pre picked ones bagged up and ready to take home. The store also has an impressive collection of books, maps, local honey, jellies, and jams for sale that would please even the most discerning palate.
Apple Picking at B.J. Reece Orchards
Parking is plentiful and each part of the farm is clearly marked. We selected a smaller bag that would fit 6-7lbs of apples and off we went in to the huge orchard.
Since both of the girls grew up gardening, I knew they would enjoy picking and eating apples right off the tree. What surprised me was how much they gravitated to the various trees and seemed to access the energy of each tree. My daughters took time to touch each tree while closely examining the beautiful root structures of each one, while seemingly appreciating the unique leaf patterns of each apple variety.
We let the kids set the pace and allowed them to wander and sample the nearly 20 varieties of apples that are available at the orchard. They love the outdoors and seeing that natural wonder in their eyes simply fills my heart with joy. Changing jobs and making some changes in my life over the last year has afforded me the ability to have moments like this with my children on a daily basis. I am nearly moved to tears every day.
While they were wandering, I decided to grab an apple off a tree and decided to take a bite. Everyone talked about the juicy and delicious apples that come from North Georgia and even if the bite resulted in some mouth pain for me, I’d figure it was worth it. I took a bite and as a good friend of mine says, “It was like kissing an angel.” My wife caught that moment with her camera and when I didn’t feel the burn that I felt every other time, I ate the apple in a few bites while mumbling to my wife “mhmm…this apple is soo…..( eyes get really big…more chewing and more mumbling)… goooooood!” She thought it was hilarious and I was in another world. I ate about 10 apples and left with a stomach ache.
Please note, these are not the same apples you get from the grocery store. Did you know that some grocery stores can keep apples (coated in “food grade” wax) in cold storage for up to a year before making it available for sale? If you get a chance, please make the trip to North Georgia for some great apples.
Even though we had a great experience at BJ Reece Orchards (www.reeceorchards.com ), there are plenty of orchards in North Georgia to choose from. Below are a few more places that you can also visit during your next trip to North Georgia. Since these are working farms and are open or closed based on a myriad of variables, always call to confirm they are open on the day you plan to come. If you have some suggestions that should be added to this list, please let me know.
Pick Your Own Apples in North Georgia Listings:
Red Apple Barn Ellijay, Georgia
Pick apples, pumpkins, flowers, play games or have a picnic In their farm store, you cantry our apple pies, fritters, bread, caramel and candied apples, jams and jellies, honey and apple cider. The farm has been in the family since 1927 and also has facilities for weddings and other events. www.redapplebarn.com
Hillcrest Orchards Ellijay, Georgia
Visit one of the most popular apple orchards and farm markets in the North Georgia Mountains. Hillcrest is family owned and operated and offers loads of fun for kids, adults and seniors. Pick your fun at the annual “Apple Pickin’ Jubilee” where you can pick your own apples, milk a cow, watch live pig races, visit the petting farm, take a wagon ride through the orchard, visit the Moonshine Museum and watch live bands and cloggers on the Hillcrest Stage. Visit their playground and ride our giant slide down the mountain. www.hillcrestorchards.com
Mercier Orchards Ellijay, Georgia
Mercier Orchards is a family owned and operated apple orchard now in it’s 4th generation. Started back in 1943 by Bill & Adele Mercier, Mercier Orchards is now celebrating 70 years of fruitful harvest! The combination of our U-PICK events, Bakery & Deli, Market Store, and now our Farm Winery makes us a great choice for a day trip by yourself or with the family! Spend the day experiencing what makes us unique! We’re constantly improving our products and our store to give you the best experience that we can possibly offer. www.mercier-orchards.com