This Welsh proverb, first found in print in 1866, is similar to another one from Devon, England: “Ait a happle avore gwain to bed,/An’ you’ll make the doctor beg his bread.”
These days, we hear this same proverb as, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”
The modern version is truly modern. Most sources date it to 1972, but it was known earlier — since about 1900.
Some, insisting the saying is an American proverb, claim “an apple a day” to be the brainchild of the American Apple Growers Association which devised it as a slogan to boost sales in the 19th century.
Evidently, extreme religious beliefs had caused apple sales to plummet. These believers blamed the apple for the loss of Paradise.
It’s said Eve tempted Adam with an apple in the Garden of Eden. In fact, the Adam’s apple (larynx) is called that because a piece of the “forbidden fruit” supposedly lodged itself in Adam’s throat.
But the Forbidden Fruit couldn’t have been an apple since they were unknown in the Middle East in biblical times. The Bible never mentions apples in Eden. Rather, it calls the tree where Eve picked the fruit, “The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” (Genesis 2:17). This Tree produced not apples but “fruits” which Adam and Eve ate.
Whatever the fruit actually was, the apple remains associated with the Fall of Mankind. In fact, some Russian Orthodox adherents claim apples to be anti-Christian because they’re seen as symbols of Original Sin.
Apples do get mentioned in Holy Scripture. For example, “He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10). Again: “Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me under the shadow of thy wings” (Psalms 7:8).
The “apple” of someone’s eye is the “dearest one.” This saying originally referred to the eye’s pupil which was considered a vital spot in humans. If you were blinded, or lost this “apple,” you lost something incredibly valuable, something irreplaceable. As recently as the Anglo-Saxon times of Alfred the Great (849-899 AD), aeppel meant both “eye” and “apple.”
Until the 17th century, “apple” referred to any tree-fruit that happened to be round — other than berries.
Apples are not indigenous to North America or to Europe. They originated in Central Asia. Alexander the Great (BC 356-323) is credited with introducing them to Europe. The Pilgrims brought them to North America.
So do apples really keep us healthy?
Well, they certainly don’t hurt us. Fruit flies fed on apples live longer than those offered normal diets, and apples do provide significant amounts of fibre and vitamin C. They also reduce tooth decay. Each apple contains only about 80 calories.
Let’s end our discussion with an old joke.
Smith: “I’m worried about my daughter. She’s running around with that new doctor in town.”
Jones: “Feed her an apple a day.”