University of Illinois Extension
Social Studies and Literature - Apple Education - Apples and More - University of Illinois Extension

Apples: A Class Act

Social Studies and Literature

Background: Long before apples were cultivated, it is believed they grew wild in Central Asia and China, as well as in Southwest Asia, where biblical historians place the Garden of Eden. The Stone Age peoples of Europe cultivated apple trees. In 3000 B.C., the ancient Lake Dwellers of northern Italy and Switzerland also grew apples. The Greeks and Romans both cultivated apples. When the Romans conquered England (first century B.C.) they brought the art of apple cultivation with them. During the Age of Exploration, the apple was the most important cultivated fruit. The Spaniards brought apples to Mexico and South America. The Pilgrims of Massachusetts Bay Colony planted apple seeds *in 1629. Pioneers brought apple trees west. Indians planted trees from seeds they had received at white settlements. John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, started many small orchards throughout Ohio and Indiana in the early 1800s. Today, the annual apple crop grown in 35 U.S. states averages over 200 million bushels.

Mythology used apples as a symbol of love and beauty. In Greek mythology, Atlanta refused to marry unless a suitor could defeat her in a running race. One suitor, Milanion, accomplished this goal by dropping 3 golden apples (gifts of Venus, the Goddess of Love) during the race. Atlanta stopped to pick them up, lost the race, and became his wife.

In another Greek myth, Eris, the Goddess of Discord, was enraged because she had not been invited to the wedding of a fellow god and goddess. She tossed among the guests a golden apple with the inscription, "For the fairest." Three goddesses felt they were worthy. In order to put an end to the squabbling, Paris, a mortal, was called upon to judge the fairest. He chose Aphrodite. Hera and Athena, the rejected goddesses, were furious and caused great devastation to Paris and his family. According to this legend, the clamor eventually led to the Trojan War.

In Teutonic mythology, Bragi was distinguished for his nobility and wisdom. He married Idun, who was the goddess of eternal youth and the guardian of the "golden apples." Her magic prevented the gods from aging.

To the Iroquois Indians, the apple tree is the central tree of heaven.


1. Apple History Time Line - Present the information about the history of apples to students. Brainstorm with students about how to create a time line that shows the important information relevant to apples' history.

Make a time line on the chalkboard or with string and index cards. (Apples cut out from construction paper ahead of time could also be used for writing the descriptions of the dates.) Students may design their own time lines illustrating apple history using adding machine tape or long narrow strips of paper.

2. Researching Myths and Fairy Tales - Divide the class into research teams of four to five students. Direct students to find and read stories from mythology and fairy tales in which the apple plays a role in the plot. (Notify the librarian ahead of time so that he or she can show children how to conduct a search like this one.) Keep a class list of the titles of the myths and fairy tales. As a grand finale, each group can read or tell the class their favorite "apple tale." The groups can create murals depicting scenes from the tales. Some might enjoy doing a skit based on their "apple tale."

3. Creating an Original Apple Tale - Students write an original fairy tale or myth in which the apple plays an important role. (Or they might take a well-known fairy tale and change the action by adding the twist of a magic apple.)

4. Johnny Appleseed: Fact vs. Fiction - Have children bring in books about Johnny Appleseed. After reviewing the books, make a chart of facts about Johnny Appleseed, the legend. Have a research "team" investigate the life of John Chapman, the "real" man behind the legend. Compare the real life of John Chapman to the folk stories about Johnny Appleseed.

Independent Projects:

    • William Tell was a national hero of the Swiss in their struggle against the Duke of Austria. Find out what role he played in the struggle for Swiss independence and why he is associated with the apple.
    • Isaac Newton was supposedly sitting under an apple tree when he thought up the law of gravity. Find out about Newton's life and write a one page biography.
    • Research folklore about apples. Look for apple remedies and find out about apple paring bees. (In the early settlement days of America, apple paring bees were major social affairs.)
    • Find out if apples are grown commercially in your state. Identify which states are the major apple producers in our country.


Adapted from Apples: A Class Act published by the U.S. Apple Association. If you would like additional information, please contact: U.S. Apple Association, P.O. Box 1137, McLean, VA 22101-1137, (703) 442-8850