Cheers to John Chapman!

Among the things I loved most about teaching 1st grade were the seasonal units. In September, we’d learn about the fruit students love to give their teachers, the one that originated in Kazakhstan and what East traders carried along the Silk Road. 7,500 varieties of these crispy juicy gems are grown throughout the world, and 2,500 kinds are produced right here in the good old United States of America. Red and Golden Delicious are among the sweetest, Braeburn and Granny Smith being the tartest. Surprising to me was the fact that the only type native to North America is – the crab apple!  How do you like them apples? Me, not so much.

September 04, 2001 Newbury Park, California

“Just put up my Apple bulletin board, got my L.A. books and have all materials ready… fun!”

My 1st Grade Apple Bulletin Board

Each year for the entire first month of school, my students and I would savor lessons that incorporated these plump polished pomes. In Math, we counted their seeds and measured their circumferences. We also located the hidden “shape” within them – the star – called the calyx.  Science experiments centered around the hands-on discoveries such as: Do apples float? Yes, they do! Why? Because they are 86% water. How much does an apple commonly weigh? About 6 ounces. And, on average how many seeds does an apple have? Five, in case you’re wondering.  For one art project we dipped a half of an apple into red paint, then stamped the calyx image onto paper. In another we collaged the main stages of an apple’s life. From seed, to sprout, to sapling, to blossom, to tree, then…to pie! Yum!

In Language Arts we wrote acrostic poems like: Apple Pie Please, Let’s Eat! and recorded facts about their color, bite texture, and flavor on a chart while sampling their tangy goodness. A favorite activity for all!  We read about them, too.  “How Do Apples Grow?” by Betsy Maestro and “Apples” by Gail Gibbons were in my classroom library as well as the ever popular “Johnny Appleseed” by Steven Kellogg.

Up until that time, my recollection of Johnny Appleseed was a carefree young guy traipsing barefoot around the countryside, wearing a funny looking hat, scattering apple seeds along any path he walked, and those seeds blossoming into trees and yielding bushels and bushels of bright shiny apples!  Since then, I’ve learned a little more about this true-life American folk hero born John Chapman in 1774, on this very day, September 26th.

As it happens, Chapman grew up about 120 miles east of my hometown in Leominister, Massachusetts. A fellow New Englander, he was a humanitarian, as well. As the story goes, his goal in life was to plant enough trees and grow as much fruit possible so that no person would ever go hungry. How very thoughtful and lofty!  At 18 years old, he set out on his journey traveling by foot, horseback, and boat throughout the Ohio Valley. Sowing the apple seeds he got from cider mills, he carefully chose soil where trees would most likely flourish. He even went as far as fencing in these patches with logs and vines to protect their growth, and he returned regularly to tend to these nurseries.  Needless to say, these deeds earned him the nickname Johnny Appleseed.

Like the seeds he spread, he shared Biblical teachings with all he met wherever he roamed. As a member of the Swedenborgian Church, he spoke of being kind to one another and about caring for all animals. He may even have been one of the first known vegetarians. A definite pioneer!

Digging a little deeper, I read that some of what is believed to be true about Johnny Appleseed may be more myth than fact. One article pointed out that most of the apples grown then, in the areas he traversed, were inedible. It’s thought that they ended up in cider barrels instead. And there may be some truth to that. Because his religion forbade the grafting of trees, he would have had only seeds to plant, which most likely would’ve resulted in hard, bitterly tart fruit. Not so good for eating, but great for making cider and brandy. Another piece painted him as a savvy businessman, which is not a bad thing, but it debunks his sole reason for being a cultivator. It was said that he would plant orchards on unclaimed land, then go back years later when the region was settled and sell the trees at a hefty profit.

Regardless of what is fact or what is fiction, Johnny Appleseed did help bring this versatile and healthy fruit into our grocery stores, homes, and diets. He also encouraged people to respect all living creatures and to live in harmony with nature. An admirable legacy, for sure. So, here’s to you, John Chapman…Thank you and Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Johnny Appleseed!

2 thoughts on “Cheers to John Chapman!

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