(Photo credit: Ralph Rayner, aka rmrayner, from Yahoo Homes' Flickr group. You can buy prints of his photographs …
[Update by Jennifer Karmon, about a half-hour after publication: I couldn't resist poking around more after publishing this post (don't tell my boss), because I've been looking for the perfect apple tree for my own Southern California yard. I highly recommend two websites for apple information: Orange Pippin has a wonderful guide to apple tree varieties, along with a tool to compare them in a chart, and the Apple Works has tons of info about the flavor and uses of apple varieties.]
Twenty-three years ago, a group called Common Ground set out to create an autumn custom in England celebrating -- and, one hoped, thereby protecting -- the richness and variety of the natural world, symbolized by the apple. An astonishing 7,500 varieties of apple exist worldwide, but Britain has lost about two-thirds of its orchards since 1960.
Here in the United States, about 2,500 varieties exist -- yet a paltry 100 or so are available in stores. A University of Minnesota scientist by the name of David Bedford has been working to change that, though. He tastes about 500 varieties a day just to find market-worthy apples. (He's the man behind the Honeycrisp, which helped awaken Americans to the tastes they were missing by settling for the ubiquitous and lovely but now virtually tasteless Red Delicious.) The New Yorker magazine ran a fantastic article about him a couple of years ago -- it's behind a pay wall, but the teaser for nonsubscribers contains some mouthwatering excerpts: "Like Honeycrisp, SweeTango has much larger cells than other apples, and when you bite into it the cells shatter. The bursting of the cells fills your mouth with juice."
Want to get in on the Apple Day action? There's an apple tree for virtually every climate -- as far north as northern Minnesota and as far south as Southern California and the Southern states -- so growing your own backyard fruit (or container fruit, if you don't have land for a tree) is almost certainly within reach.
On This Day, previously:
• Oct. 18: Crazy toasters you can buy (one cooks eggs and costs $40)
• Oct. 11: How to pour ketchup, what the 57 stands for, and more on Heinz's birthday
• Oct. 1: Revisiting Walt Disney's futuristic suburban dream for EPCOT