Top 'o the morn

"The best of Top o’ the MornDorothy Neil is recuperating from a hip injury. During her recovery, Top o’ the Morn will feature the pick of her past columns. ----------- Autumn is the time for apple cider making on Whidbey Island, among the old timers at least. A sack of apples pressed through an old-fashioned wooden cider mill will make four to five gallons of sparkling apple cider.Carrying on the ages-old ritual of cider-making are small orchardists up and down Whidbey Island. A small orchard furnishes apples for the bounty which makes its way to friends (and who wouldn’t be a friend for a gallon of the sweet brew?)Many of the apple trees planted by Whidbey Island settlers many years ago still produce apples and it is not unusual to see a tree in a roadside ditch hung with golden or ruby apples. The apples usually go to waste, but remember, they do make good cider.Today 35 states, led by Washington, New York and Michigan, produce nearly 200,000 million bushels of apples a year. Of these, about half are consumed as whole, fresh fruit — 51 apples a year for each of us. The rest are used for pies, cider, wine, applesauce, apple butter, vinegar, dumplings, fritters, jellies, pancakes, puddings and even ice cream.The apple originated south of the Caucasus Mountains, and it is a distant relative of the rose. It eventually spread over Europe and archeologists have discovered evidence that apples were preserved by drying as far back as the Stone Age.From Creation, when tradition holds that Adam was tempted to eat a forbidden apple offered by Eve, the ancient Celts believed in a Kingdom of the Sun, the Isle of Apples where there was no old age, sickness, or sorrow. Heaven itself.In America, the only apples were wild crabapples. However, early pioneers brought apple seed with them, some brought cuttings, so as the country was settled, seeds were carried West.The apple is the only fruit with its own folk hero. John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, traveled the wild Ohio Valley for nearly 50 years planting apple seeds taken from Pennsylvania cider presses.In colonial times the apple was known mainly for its juice. It was the pioneers’ Coke and Pepsi. Apple juice was the base for hard cider, wine and brandy or applejack, and vinegar too. And for two centuries nearly every village in the U.S. had a cider mill where “happy juice” was barreled.Apples do not reproduce true from seeds. Each apple has about 10 seeds and each seed will grow a different plant. Apples planted by American settlers have grown more than 3,000 varieties.The Golden Delicious was discovered on a farm in Clay County, W.Va., in the early 1900s. The McIntosh was found in 1796 on the farm of John McIntosh near Ottawa, Canada. Granny Smith was discovered in 1868 in Australia.Today there is an apple for every taste, but 15 varieties account for 90 percent of sales with the Red Delicious cornering 39 percent of the market. Long ago in Devonshire, England, there was a saying, “Ate an apfel avore gwain to bed. Makes the doctor beg his bread.” Which today is “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” An average apple has about 85 calories and is ideal for weight watchers.But for settlers of the growing United States, the person the apple kept away was neither the doctor nor dentist but the tax collector. During the reign of King George III of American Revolution fame, Benjamin Franklin touted the Newton Pippin around England. Many years later, influenced by Franklin’s eloquence, Andrew Stevenson, minister to the court of St. James, presented some Newton Pippins to Queen Victoria. She was so impressed that she exempted them from taxes.It could be said that Franklin was the most accomplished apple polisher of his time.--------Dorothy Neil has gathered and recorded Whidbey Island history for more than 50 years. She is the author of 10 books, including “By Canoe and Sailing Ship They Came,” which chronicle Whidbey life and times. "

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