Apples and Crabapples
(Malus species)

Adam and Eve

From Stalking the Wild Dandelion

A Guide to Wild Edible Plants
for Parents and Teachers
to Use With Children

A new, as yet unpublished, work-in-progress.

Apple Blossoms
Apple Blossoms

Watercolor pencil illustration by "Wildman"

Apple Tree"An evil soul, producing holy witness,
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart."

Shakespeare—The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene 3

Description

Medium-sized trees with coarse, oval leaves and familiar fruit; flowers pink to white, 5-petaled, radially-symmetrical, 3/4 inches across, fragrant, in early spring; fruit familiar apple or smaller crabapple; familiar brown apple seeds in sets of 5 around core’s circumference; leaves oval, pointed, slightly toothed,fuzzy underneath, 2 to 3-1/2 inches long; bark gray, scaly, cracked.

Apple Tree
Cultivated Apple Tree

Everyone recognizes apples, but how many can spot the tree without the fruit, or identify a crabapple with certainty? An apple tree is a medium-sized tree that looks bushy, with a scaly, gray bark. It has pointed, oval finely-toothed leaves about as long as a chap-stick. They’re alternate—emerging from the twigs separately, not in twos or threes. The tree bears medium-sized, sweet-smelling, 5-petaled blossoms in the early, which soon fall to the ground.

Of all the months that fill the year
Give April’s month to me,
For earth and sky are then so filled
With sweet variety!
The apple-blossoms’ shower of pearl,
Though blent with rosier hue—
As beautiful as woman’s blush,
As evanescent too.
On every bough there is a bud,
In every bud a flower;
But scarcely bud or flower will last
Beyond the present hour.

—L.E.L., Apple Blossoms

Apple Blossom
Apple Blossom
Apples ripen in late summer or fall. Some trees bear familiar large fruit, often bumpier and less perfect-looking than commercial apples. Because they’re not sprayed, an insect may bite into the skin, and the skin heals, leaving a bump.
Apple
Wild Apple

This discolored, bumpy apple was uneffected inside — crisp, sweet and delicious.

Wormy AppleSome apples contain larvae, wrongly called "worms"—really immature insects. These maggots leave brown, rotten trails inside the apple.Eating a "wormy" apple won’t poison you, but it’s bitter-tasting and disgusting. I always bite open an apple and look inside before I chew or swallow any. Keep the good ones, and recycle the bad ones.

Unfortunately, commercial apples get sprayed with dangerous insecticides. It may take years of eating sprayed food to get you sick, but many scientists blame much illness on the many man-made chemicals in our food, water, and air. What is really more dangerous, the insects you can see, or invisible chemicals? I’d rather bite into a wild apple any day.

The smallest apples are called crabapples.

Crabapples
Crabapples

Watercolor pencil illustration by "Wildman"

To make sure it’s an apple and not a different fruit, imagine that it’s the Earth, and slice it in half along the equator. The seeds and the holes that hold them will make a 5-parted circle. Other similar-looking fruits don’t have seeds in five’s.
Apple Cut Open
Apple Split Along "Equator"

Notice the star-like 5 sections for the seeds, unique to apples and crabapples.

Many crabapple varieties aren’t good to eat until they start to get soft and reddish brown, in late fall.
Small Ripe Crabapple
Ripe Crabapple

This tiny, soft, red-brown crabapple packs the punch of a large lemon.

Before they ripen, they’re hard and bitter.
Unripe Crabapples
Unripe Crabapples

This fruit is very sour, like a lemon. If you like sour flavors, you’ll love eating them. You also may remove the seeds by pressing the fruit through a sieve or food mill, and use it like apple butter.

Crab-apples, Crab-apples, out in the wood,
Little and bitter, yet little and good!
The apples in orchards, so rosy and fine,
Are children of wild little apples like mine.
The branches are laden, and droop to the
ground;
The fairy-fruit falls in a circle around;
Now all you good children, come gather them up;
They’ll make you sweet jelly to spread when
you sup.
One little apple I’ll catch for myself;
I’ll stew it, and strain it, to store on a shelf
In four or five acorn-cups, locked with a key
In a cupboard of mine at the root of the tree.

—Cicely Mary Barker, THE CRAB-APPLE FAIRY

If you don’t like crabapples, you can use the tree for firewood. It makes better fires than any other kind of wood. (Follow safety precautions so you don’t burn down your home or a forest.) Look for apple and crabapple trees in cultivated areas, thickets, and fields across the U.S.

Crabapple Blossoms
Crabapple Blossoms

William Blackstone, an Episcopalian minister, first brought apples to the U.S. in 1623. When his wimpy congregation, afraid of Indians and our cold winters, sailed back to England, Blackstone made friends with the Indians and stayed on. But his apple trees hardly produced any fruit. The Puritans solved this problem in 1630 by bringing European honeybees to pollinate the blossoms. Today, in the mid-1990’s we’ve come full circle: Honeybees are dying of parasitic diseases. Beekeepers are being forced out of business and wild honeybees are declining, so wild apple crops may decline again.

Once upon a time, a handsome young man named Vertumnis fell in love with a beautiful wood nymph named Pomona. Pomona is also sometimes considered the goddess of all fruit trees.
Pomona
Unlike other wood nymphs, Pomona didn’t live in the forest. She dwelt in a magnificent apple orchard surrounded by a high wall.
Orchard
Armed guards protected the gate. Caring for her apple trees was the most important thing in her life.

Vertumnis tried his best to get near Pomona.

Guard
First, he attempted to sneak into the garden disguised as reaper, with a band of hay around his head and a basket of grain under his arm. Then he disguised himself as a cattle herder. He even arrived with a ladder and pruning hook, as an apple harvester. But each time, the guards turned him away.
Herder
Pomona had forbidden all men from entering her orchard. She didn’t want her many suitors fighting over her and harming her beloved trees.
Battle
Finally, by disguised himself as an old woman with gray hair, leaning on a crooked staff, Vertumnis got past the guards and approached Pomona. He told Pomona emphatically that Vertumnis was the best man for her:
Old Woman

"He loves gardening as do you, and would care lovingly for your apples. And don’t forget that Venus, the goddess of love, hates cold hearts. She even turned a woman to stone for ridiculing a young man who had declared his love for her."

Suddenly Vertumnis kissed her passionately and dropped the disguise.

Apple-Heart
Thus, he won her heart, and the two lovers watched over the apples together. Their cheeks became so rosy with love, that the apples came to have rosy cheeks as well.
Wild Apples
Wild Apples with Foliage

Scientists call all fleshy fruits with thin skin and many seeds in a core pomes, after Pomona.

In ancient Rome, people dunked for apples to honor Pomona, a Halloween tradition to this day. In Scotland, a maiden would partially peel the apple she bobbed, pass it counterclockwise around her head three times, and toss it over her shoulder. When it landed, the skin was supposed to form the first letter of her true love’s name.

Apples inspired many other myths and superstitions: if you plant apple twigs upside-down, they’ll bear apples without cores. The apple blossom is the symbol of preference, but if a blossom blooms while the apples are ripe, it’s an omen that someone will die.

Crabapple Blossom
Crabapple Blossom

In Apples are also the symbol of temptation because of the bible story of Eve tempting Adam with the forbidden apple. In Newfoundland, if you put an apple pricked with pinholes under the left arm, and give it to the person you love, that person will love you. In the early days of ancient Greece, apples were so rare that it was a great privilege for a bride and groom to share one apple on their wedding day.

IDUNA AND THE MAGIC APPLES—A Scandinavian Myth

Ever since the gods ruled the earth, Iduna, daughter-in-law of the chief god, Odin, tended the Tree of Immortality, and guarded a box of its magic apples. The gods ate these apples to stay eternally young until Loki, the god of mischief, kidnapped Iduna and stole her apples. The gods began to age and lose their ability to govern the world. Fortunately, the gods were able to catch Loki and threaten him with punishment, forcing him to set things right by restoring Iduna and her apples.

People used to believe the heavenly bodies were magical, as were the day the sun rises highest in the sky (the first day of summer), and the day the sun rises the least (the first day of winter). At the start of winter, the England would wassail their apple trees. (Wes hál, means "be in good health" in Old English.)

On dusk of New Year’s Eve, they brought guns, kettles, pans, and cider to the apple orchard. They drank to one tree, poured cider over its roots, and fastened cider-soaked toast to a branch. Then they’d shoot guns through the branches and make noise to chase away demons and to rouse sleeping spirits. This guaranteed more fruit the following year. And they’d toast their best tree with cider:

Here’s to thee, old apple tree!
Whence thou may’st bud and whence thou may’st blow {bloom},
And whence thou may’st have apples enow
Hats full, caps full!
Bushel-sacks-full!
And my pockets full too! Hurrah!

Or:

Stand fast root, bear well top,
Pray that God send us a good howling crop.
Every twig, Apples big.
Every bough, Apples enow.
Hats full, caps full,
Full quarters, sacks full.

Here’s a Christmas carol-wassail the England would sing after knocking on the door of a farmhouse:

"Wisselton, wasselton, who lives here?
We’ve come to taste yer Christmas beer.
Up thu kitchen, and down thu hall,
A peck of opples ull serve us all.
Holly and ivy and mistletoe;
Give us some opples, and let us goo;
If yer ant got any opples money ull do.
My carol’s done, and I must be gone,
No longer can I stay here.
God bless yer all, both great and small,
And send yer a happy new year."

Wild Apple Tree
Wild Apple Tree

People believed apple seeds, also called pips or pippins, could reveal who loved you. Have a friend name the seeds. Put them in a hot pan. The seed that pops first has the name of the one who loves you best. A noisy burst means a faithful lover. Recite:

If you love me, bounce and fly.
If you hate me, lie and die.

Girls also stuck apple seeds onto their cheeks, naming each after a possible mate. The last seed to fall off would be her husband. If you squeeze a pippin between the thumb and forefinger until it pops away, it will fly toward your true love’s house. Just repeat:

Pippin, pippin, paradise,
Tell me where my true love lies;
East west, north, or south,
Pilling brig or cocker mouth.

Maidens also tied strings to apples and whirled them over the fire. She who’s string burned first would marry first. She who’s string burned last would be an old maid, never to marry.

APPLE DOLLS AND ACTION FIGURES

This craft comes from the American pioneers and country folk, long before stores sold dolls and action figures.

Peel and core an apple. Carve it into a face, with eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth, and chin. Prevent oxygen from browning it by rubbing it with vinegar diluted half-and-half with water, or lemon juice. Speed dry by rubbing salt over the surface and core. Run picture wire (available in hardware stores) or floral wire (available in flower shops) through the core.

Hang the apple head to dry and shrink for a few weeks. Glue beads into the eye sockets and wool or cotton on the head. You may paint the face and make the body’s skeleton with wire and pipe cleaners. Use paper maché, cloth, or aluminum foil, which you can paint, for the body and clothes.

APPLE SEED MICE

Making mice with apple seeds is easy: The seed is the head and body. Glue a thread to the narrow end for the tail. Cut out paper ears and stick them in place.

POMANDERS

A pomander is a fragrant, preserved apple you can hang in a closet to keep your clothes smelling sweet, and to repel moths: punch holes in a peeled apple with a nut pick or awl, and stick a clove in each hole until the entire apple is completely covered. Mix together any powdered spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, coriander, or anise with orris root (powdered iris root —a fixative). Roll the apple in the spices to cover completely. Allow it to dry, shrink, and harden at room temperature for a few weeks, then tie it in a ribbon and hang in your closet. It will last for years. You can also use a lemon or orange instead of an apple

Apple/Crabapple T-Shirt Design
Apple and Crabapple T-shirt
Paintings, photos, and design by "Wildman"