Where do apples come from?

Pardon the pun, but at its core, cider is made from apples, but where do apples come from, and is there such thing as a bad 'cider' apple? Today we're going to explore the origin of apples...

The ancestry of apples has been genetically traced back thousands of years to the apple forests (pictured above) of the Tien Shan mountains in Kazakstan. With vast mountains, some over 7000 meters high it's awe-inspiring to think how the humble apple has spread from here around the world. The apple's ability to spread and adapt to different conditions around the world is in large thanks to the way apples reproduce. Cut open any apple and you'll see 5 seeds, that have genetic properties different from their parents. Just like humans, apples aren't the clones of their parents, they are always different, a unique mix of two long genetic ancestries with individual characteristics that at the species level give it the best chances of survival. 

So, just for a minute, close your eyes and imagine the experience of biting into an apple. What is that experience like? Crunchy. Crisp. Sweet and Apple Sharp? What most of us imagine to be the archetypal apple taste is defined by just the handful of apple varieties sold in supermarkets. Glossy on the outside. Refreshing on the inside. These apples have been cultivated especially for these properties. Yet, the spectrum of how apples can look & taste goes much further than many of us know. If you tried all of the estimated 2,500 varieties of apple growing in the UK, and more than 20,000 worldwide, you'd be surprised how different the experience of eating an apple can be. So the seeds of each and every apple contain the possibilities of a whole variety of apple, with unique tastes, experiences and possibilities that have never been enjoyed before.

So here's a conundrum: If you come across an apple tree, with apples that make a particularly nice cider, apple pie or apple crumble - how do you cultivate more of those apples, if the seeds of those apples will give birth to entirely new varieties different from its parents? Well, there are a number of ways humans have discovered over the course of civilization. Indeed, it seems by the time of the ancient Greeks & Romans the techniques to replicate specific varieties of the apple tree, using various methods like 'grafting', were well known. In essence, grafting is a form of cloning; you take some of the new growth from an apple tree you want to clone, and you attach it (by careful insertion) to the ends of a 'host' tree until eventually, the two trees fuse together. Depending on the age of the 'host' tree and where the attachment is made, all or some of the branches of the host tree will bear the fruit of the original one you wanted to clone! Amazing right?! Using this technique, a horticulturist in Chichester managed to graft 250 different fruit trees to the same host, meaning one tree produces 250 different varieties of fruit.

So whilst we tend to think of apples growing in neatly arranged gardens and orchards, these tend to contain only the small number of varieties that humans have decided to cultivate over the years. The vast majority of apple varieties in the world are wild, unknown and yet to be tasted by anyone. Who knows, the apples that could create the best cider you've ever tasted in your life could just be growing on a tree, in an area you least expect.

Now you know where apples come from, let's look into whether there is such thing as a bad 'cider' apple...

First things first, are you of legal drinking age?

No, but I'm working on it