The other night, there was a knock on our front door, and our next-door neighbor brought us a bag of apples. They had ripened on her tree all summer long, and are filling our dining room with their fresh, crisp fragrance now. And they have caused an entire load of connotations with me.
Interestingly, the first one is Biblical. How very often do we find the fruit from the tree of knowledge depicted as apples in artwork?! Yet, the Bible never mentions what shape, size, or flavor the fruit had that caused Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. My wild guess is that the apple is simply a widely known fruit and sort of a common factor in the countries touched by Christian faith.
Apples are also the fate of Greek mythological huntress Atalanta. Legend has it that she was very fleet-footed and promised to marry who ever would outrun her but threatened to kill everybody who wouldn’t. Her suitor Hippomenes took her up on the “offer” and, during the race, tossed some golden apples into her path. Atalanta paused to pick them up, and Hippomenes won the race as well as the huntress’ hand.
Golden apples are also guarded by a dragon in Greek goddess Hera’s Garden of the Hesperides. And Paris, the one who will later abduct and marry Helen of Troy, has to decide who is the most beautiful goddess by handing an apple either to Greek goddess Hera, or Athena, or Aphrodite.
Apples feature all over European mythology and fairy tales. They are mentioned in the Christmas songs and children’s songs of my childhood. This song here compares an apple to a tiny house with five chambers in which the seeds are dreaming of hanging on a Christmas tree one day:
Apples were what my mother cut up for my brother’s and my school breaks. I would save mine for the breakfast break at 10:10 a.m. as a dessert after my sandwich. Later, in my job life, I carried a jar of chunky apple sauce to my office almost every day to enjoy during my lunch break.
And, finally, apples play a role in my husband’s and my life, again, as we are members of the Steilacoom Historical Museum association. And their logo is an apple tree. Because Nathaniel Orr, whose home and heritage the museum commemorates, was the one who created the first commercial orchards in Washington State. The apple orchard around his home is still bearing fruit every year. And the Apple Squeeze the museum association organizes annually draws people from all over the region.
We used to have apple trees in our garden in Steilacoom as well. That’s when I began experimenting with apples not just in baking, but also in cooking. Baked apples, apple sauce, sunk apple cake, dried apples, herring salad with apples and gherkins – these were already staples in my childhood. I had also created my own poultry dressing that foregoes bread entirely, but centers on apples, onions, and chestnuts along with some other fun ingredients. Only last night, we had a casserole of ground beef, apples, potatoes and onions – delicious! Of course, I gave my neighbor a sample – I used her apples after all. And I’m willing to try a recipe of tenderloin with raised apples in a Calvados sauce that I found the other day.
In the end, maybe their versatility makes apples the star of Biblical and mythological artwork. It takes some knowledge and some curiosity to figure them out, after all. And a first bite usually ends you up going all the way.