National Johnny Appleseed Day

Despite what Disney would have you believe, Johnny Appleseed was not a fictious character. He was, in fact, a real person, and his foresight in planting apple trees throughout what at one time was the western portion of America was a forerunner of the conservation movement in this country. In his day, the western portion of America was Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and West Virginia. He even strayed into Ontario, Canada. Since March 11 is officially Johnny Appleseed Day, grab an apple while you read about the life and times of John Chapman. 

John Chapman

John Chapman was born in September 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts. His mother died when he was a young boy, shortly after giving birth to a second son, Nathaniel. When John turned eighteen, it’s reported by many he and young Nathaniel moved west to Ohio. They were later joined by their father, who began farming Ohio’s rich soil. John worked as an American pioneer nurseryman under the apprenticeship of a Mr. Crawford, where his knowledge of deciduous trees such as the apple tree blossomed into a mission. 

He began foraging for apple seeds in various cider mills along the east coast and reached agreements with various landowners in the western parts of the country to plant orchards and nurseries on their land, erecting fences around the precious seedlings and caring for the orchards. In exchange, Johnny would circle back on a routine basis to assist the farmers in the care of their apple trees. The trees were sold to shareholders and their bounty was evenly distributed among them. Many of his nurseries were placed in north-central Ohio, near the towns of Mansfield, Perrysville, Lisbon, Loudounville, and Lucas. The last remaining apple tree planted by Johnny Appleseed was planted over an aquafir, thereby giving it unusual, wonderful circumstances in which to grow. This magnificent tree lasted for over 150 years in Savannah, OH. Its branches needed to be propped up during the season, to help support the weight of so many apples. It finally blew over in a windstorm in 2018, and all that remains is a stump of the original tree. However, don’t despair. Two offshoots sprang up on either side of the original tree, bearing the same Rambo apples as the original tree, and are now over twenty feet tall. The family on whose land the tree sits have received a certificate of authenticity from the American Forests organization in Washington, DC. 

The last of Johnny’s original apple trees

John was a deeply religious man, influenced by the writings of Swedish-born scientist and theologian Emanuel Swedenberg. As John moved about the western portion of America on foot, he often would give sermons espousing his Swedenberg beliefs. He was always barefooted, wore a broad-brimmed hat when he was not wearing a kettle on his head and dressed in whatever was handy. He was always invited to the orchard-owner’s table for dinner, but he preferred to sleep in the open. He converted many Native Americans to his religious beliefs. He greatly admired the Native tribes for their way of life, and they, in return, left him alone, since their belief was he was someone who had been touched by the Great Spirit. One woman, who met Chapman late in his life remarked that “his was a strange eloquence at times, and he was undoubtedly a man of genius.” 

Photo Courtesy of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, 1871

John cared deeply for animals as well as apples, treating even insects with respect. After he cared for a wolf with an injured leg, the wolf began following him on his travels, becoming a beloved pet. In later years, he became a vegetarian. Mr. Chapman never married, believing he would find his soulmate in heaven if she did not appear to him on earth. He died in 1845 from the ‘winter plague.’

If you ever have a chance to travel in north-central Ohio, be sure to visit the Johnny Appleseed Museum and Educational Center at Urbana University. 

Fun Facts about Apples

The average life span of an apple tree is fifty years, with dwarf and semi-dwarf trees life only fifteen to twenty-five years. An average apple tree begins bearing apples at age four to five, with dwarf trees becoming fruit-bearing faster. 

Your local grocery store carries only the most popular types of apples, but there are over 7,500 species throughout the world, with 2,500 varieties cultivated in the United States. 

The most popular apple variety is the Red Delicious, a bright red, crunchy and mildly sweet apple. 

New varieties are being developed each year. Honeycrisp was developed in Minnesota and is known for being crisp and sweet, as the name implies.  Cripps Pink vc originated in Australia and is a tart variety. Ambrosiawas developed in British Columbia and is similar to a pear in sweetness. Smitten is a sweet product that was cultivated in New Zealand. The Cosmic Crisp is the latest addition to the apple world. The product of over twenty years of trial and error, it’s a hybrid of the Honeycrisp and Enterprise varieties. It’s crunchy, juicy and very sweet. 

Which apple to choose depends on what you are using it for. Golden Delicious and Granny Smith varieties can be used in a variety of ways, both cooked and fresh. If it’s a snack you’re craving, try a Gala, Pink Lady or Honeycrisp. 

*If your knowledge of apples is just pies and juice, you’re missing out. Apple butter, vinegar, cider, applesauce, apple cookies, chutney, dried toppings for oatmeal and cereal, poached apples, muffins, cake, coated in caramel, stuffing, doughnuts, and sangria are just some of the uses for apples.

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Resources:

https://selecthealth.org/blog/2020/02/how-many-types-of-apples-are-there-and-which-is-best

http://www.holidayinsights.com/moreholidays/March/appleseedday.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Appleseed

https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-johnny-appleseed-day-march-11/

https://www.cleveland.com/metro/2018/05/tiny_towns_ohio_last_living_jo.html

Becky Lower ate a lot of apples while growing up in Ohio, and admits her personal favorite is the Granny Smith. Visit her website at http://www.beckylowerauthor.com.

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