A Pink Pearl apple cut open, revealing its pink-and-white marbled interior

Erika grew up in Washington state, Apple Capital of the U.S. — but it wasn’t until years later that she learned to love them.

Music for this episode is by the galaxy’s own Breakmaster Cylinder. Illustration by Jessie Lamworth.


ERIKA JANIK: My name is Erika Janik. I am a radio producer at New Hampshire Public Radio. I’m also a historian and the author of Apples: A Global History.

I grew up in Washington state, a state that is basically symbolized by an apple, and that apple is the Red Delicious. You see it everywhere, it’s the symbol of the Washington state apple industry. We always had Red Delicious, you know, around in my school lunches. But the problem with this whole thing is that, uh, red delicious are not that… delicious.

And so I grew up not actually really liking apples all that much because I thought that they were kind of mealy and not super flavorful. It actually took me moving to Madison, Wisconsin, and I was at their farmer’s market and I stopped at a booth and there was some people selling apples, and I tried a pink Pearl Apple, and it was so good that I literally started crying at the market. It was beautiful. It was like pink and yellow, marbled inside. I had no idea that an apple could taste so delicious.

I eat an apple pretty much every day. My favorite way of eating an apple is the most straightforward way of all. I love the crunch. I love biting into it. But it’s interesting because, you know, that’s not the way that a lot of people traditionally consumed apples. Cause in the past there was a lot of actually fear about eating apples. And so people in like colonial America more often drank their apples as a hard cider because of this whole story about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. And that, you know, this Apple is identified as the cause of Eve’s downfall. And so, you know, they’re thought to have some kind of mystical properties.

So there’s a lot of medicinal uses of apples. 17th Century English doctors often prescribed cider to give to people with depression. Though, I mean, if you think about it… it might be the alcohol that’s actually helping a little bit with the depression rather than the apples themselves.

So I just started, looking into the history of apples and trying to figure out like, how is it that there can be all of these varieties and yet the only ones I’d been exposed to until I really started seeking them out were five to ten varieties that you could basically find anywhere in the world?

They actually come originally from our mountain range between Kazakhstan and China, and that area is supposed to be just covered in Apple trees. There’s said that like Apple seedlings are like springing up between like the cracks in the sidewalk. That sounds amazing to me. A lot of fruit grows in that area. 90% of all domesticated, temperate fruits are either direct descendants or close cousins of fruits that come from that mountain range in Kazakhstan. Things like pears and plums and peaches and strawberries and raspberries. This sounds like the most fruit heavenly place on the planet and apples have been growing in that place for four and a half million years or more.

MARK BRAMHILL: Is that like high on your bucket list to visit there?

ERIKA JANIK: I actually proposed to my husband that we go to Kazakhstan for our honeymoon, and he, uh, thought that sounded a little bit crazy. Um, but yes, it is still definitely on my list of places that I would love to travel. I can’t imagine. How beautiful that area must be in the spring when everything is blossoming. Yeah, I would love to go there. So yes, it is on my list, but unfortunately I did get vetoed on the honeymoon trip to Kazakhstan.

It’s hard to pick what could be my favorite apple because I feel like I’m always discovering new varieties, particularly as I’ve become kind of an apple aficionado. I started just tasting a lot of apples and going to orchards where I could try more kinds of apples than I could find at my grocery store.

I just actually discovered a Hudson’s Golden Gem. It’s very large. It has a very russet potato kind of skin to it, and it almost looks more like an Asian Pear and it is so delicious, and I’d never had it prior to a week ago. Um, so I feel like I’m still discovering and adding more apples to my favorites. And I think that’s one of the most exciting things about it. I mean, there are tens of thousands of varieties of apples, and so I basically have a lifetime of work ahead of me to, to taste as many as I can and like, realize how big the apple world actually is. It’s, it’s not the like four or five varieties that you see at every grocery store. There is a very delicious world outside of those walls.

MARK BRAMHILL: Enthusiast! is produced by me, Mark Bramhill. Today’s music is by the galaxy’s own Breakmaster Cylinder. You can find out about all kinds of apples you’ve been missing out on at enthusiastpodcast.com. What’s something that makes you happy? Share it with me on Twitter or Instagram @EnthusiastFM. Thanks for listening.

ERIKA JANIK: Something else I just thought of that’s also crazy is that the character of Rambo is named after an Apple. His creator was searching for a name for his action hero, and his wife had a big bag of Rambo apples, which is this, uh, Swedish variety of Apple that was brought to the United States by name named Peter Rambo. It’s a heritage variety. It’s very hard to find, but he really liked the name. And so he gave his action hero the name Rambo after an apple.

MARK BRAMHILL: That’s really not where I would think you’d get a name for.

ERIKA JANIK: It’s a good name though, I mean.

MARK BRAMHILL: It is! Oh man.