Meals with Mayhew

Gala Apples
January 7, 2010, 7:42 pm
Filed under: Ingredient of the Week

Sweet and crisp, gala apples are popular with professional and amateur cooks alike. Galas come in over 30 varieties but are typified by their deep pink skin with some yellow and vertical stripes. They are also not as vulnerable to bruising and should have smooth skin free of blemishes.

Galas were developed in New Zealand in the 1920s by J.H. Kidd, a notable orchardist. They are a cross between Golden Delicious apples and Kidd’s Orange Red. Galas were not introduced in the United States until the 1970’s and are now a major staple of Washington apple crops. Grown in UK, Australia, New Zealand, China, France, Chile, Argentina, and the United States, galas are available year round.

Apples have good nutritional quality as well. A cholesterol free food, they also contain antioxidants and a dietary fiber, pectin which can help lower cholesterol level and promote coronary health. In addition to being heart friendly, apples contain potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Peeling apples supply more plentiful nutrients and promote dental health. Eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily lowers the risk of cancer and hypertension.

Apples have long been prized by the world for both their nutrition and the symbolism. Apple consumption can be traced back to the Stone Age in the Hinterland in central Europe. Many of civilizations oldest myths involve apples. Paradise in nearly all of the cultural hearts involves the celebration of fruit and apples.

The Greeks made the apple infamous with its mythology. Mother Earth gave Zeus and Hera a golden apple tree for their wedding gift. This established the tradition of marriage proposal in Greece symbolized by tossing an apple to the girl. Again, the myth of Helen of Troy involves these golden apples and the jealousy of the goddesses. Paris is awarded a golden apple and must pick the most beautiful of the goddesses. He selects Athena who awards him with the most beautiful woman on earth, Helen of Troy. From Greek mythology, apples have come to represent love, wisdom, sensuality, and temptation. Greeks also thought them to be a natural aphrodisiac and established them as a dessert.

Apples have been scattered across history; indeed it would be easy to tell the history of the civilization with apples. When hunter-gatherers began to settle the Fertile Crescent in modern day Iraq, apples quickly became a dietary staple. Mesopotamians traded these apples throughout the Middle East. Apple remains were even found at the ruins of Jericho in modern day Jordan.

Around 5000 BC, the celebrated Chinese diplomat, Feng Li, retired to become an orchardist and fruit merchant specializing in pears and apples. Recently archaeologists found dried apple slices inside the tomb of Queen Pu-Abi in Southern Iran. In nearby Mesopotamia, a tablet was found outlining the sale of an apple orchard.

The Greek and Romans carried on the celebrated tradition of the apple. The Odyssey refers to apples several times. Move by the beauty of the Persian hanging gardens, Xenophon, a Greek historian, established a similar garden at his home and coined the word for paradise. Nearly a hundred years later, Theophrastos writes about varieties of apples and how orchards should be tended.

The Romans take the Greek knowledge of orchards and apples and carry it forth on their journeys. As the Romans conquered Europe, they spread the apple tree and introduced the British Isles to the fruit where it remains a staple crop. Apples played a major role in Roman diets and worship. A goddess was created for fruit trees named Pomona. Cicero urged Romans to save the apple seeds from their dessert to create more trees. Roman physicians encouraged the consumption of apples to improve digestion and constipation. In 79 AD, Pliny the Elder penned Natural History and noted twenty types of apples.

The medicinal use of apples continued over the last two millennia. The Renaissance saw the use of apples in biblical art in many major works of the period. Painter Hugo Van Der Goes depicted an apple tree as the Tree of Knowledge in his work The Fall of Man. Many artists followed suit despite the symbolism’s Greco-Roman origins.

During the Scientific Revolution, Sir Issac Newton sat in an orchard watching apples fall from the tree and pondered its fall. His conclusion resulted in the laws of gravity. In 1904, JT Stinson coined the phrase, ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ at the St. Louis Exposition. Forty years later, Purdue establishes the first major apple breeding program to create an apple that naturally resists major diseases. Although successful, the program’s results took nearly fifty years to be implemented.

Today there are over 700 varieties of eatable apples produced worldwide. While each has its own properties and flavors, the Gala apple is currently one of the most popular varieties for baking and cooking and is widely available throughout the year.