The whole keffiyeh kerfuffle over Rachael Ray’s Dunkin Donuts ad set off a dKos thread (very humorous) that included someone writing about wanting their apple pastries.
Of course we all know that apples aren’t native to the western hemisphere–if they were, Johnny Appleseed would have had to find another line of work. But where are they from?
Biblical references are often ascribed to pomegranates rather than true apples. But that might be wrong. Wikipedia points out that one problem with assuming the ancients meant the apple as we know it today is:
Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit. One of the problems identifying apples in religion, mythology and folktales is that the word “apple” was used as a generic term for all (foreign) fruit, other than berries but including nuts, as late as the 17th C. CE.; For instance, in Greek mythology, the Greek hero Heracles, as a part of his Twelve Labours, was required to travel to the Garden of the Hesperides and pick the golden apples off the Tree of Life growing at its center.
Here’s what I found:
They originated in Asia Minor:
8,000 B.C.-Nomadic hunter/gatherer societies invent agriculture and begin to “settle” in places throughout the “fertile crescent” from the Nile through the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus, and Yellow River Valleys. As both trade and military expeditions begin among these earliest civilizations, dessert apples quickly spread from the forests of their origin in the Tien Shan mountains of eastern Kazakstan throughout the “civilized” world.
and quickly spread throughout the Middle East–the “civilized” world of the time. (nota bene: apples spread east, into China, as well as west–but that’s an essay for another day.)
6,500 B.C.-Remains of apples are found among excavations at Jericho in the Jordan Valley and dated to this time period.
One site, at least, believes that the Torah (the beginning of the Old Testament) is at least 3,313 years old:
and if they are correct, that would mean apples are firmly established in the “Holy Land” by the time Anonymous was writing Genesis and ascribed humanity’s expulsion from Eden to an apple as we know it (or close enough to the modern apple, anyway).
By 2500 B.C. dried apple slices appear in a tomb in Ur (what is now southern Iran).
The New York Apple Council agrees:
Evidence found in 1989-1996 by USDA and Cornell researchers shows apples originated in the Tien Shan mountains of central Asia and the apple was carried by humans to the Middle East, Europe and eventually the North America.
As for “pie,” well, the Brits made it too; but:
Pie–the filling and baking of sweet (fruits, nuts, cheese) or savory (meat, fish, eggs, cheese) ingredients and spices in casings composed of flour, fat, and water is an ancient practice. The basic concept of pies and tarts has changed little throughout the ages.
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of the word “pie” as it relates to food to 1303, noting the word was well-known and popular by 1362.
“Pie…a word whose meaning has evolved in the course of many centuries and which varies to some extent according to the country or even to region….The derivation of the word may be from magpie, shortened to pie. The explanation offered in favour or this is that the magpie collects a variety of things, and that it was an essential feature of early pies that they contained a variety of ingredients….Early pies were large; but one can now apply the name to something small, as the small pork pies or mutton pies…Early pies had pastry tops, but modern pies may have a topping of something else…or even be topless. If the basic concept of a pie is taken to mean a mixture of ingredients encased and cooked in pastry, then proto-pies were made in the classical world and pies certainly figured in early Arab cookery.”
—The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] (p. 602-3)
So: apples were in Iran for thousands of years before they were “American” and the concept of “pie” is probably just as ancient; given that “pie” in English is basically a generic term for a filled crust/pastry/bread of some sort (“pizza pie” as well as calzone, as the Food Timeline points out).
Y’all are smarter than I am: you see where I’m going. There is nothing American about apple pie.