The apple tree (Malus domestica) is a medium height (between 10 and 40 feet tall) deciduous tree that bears a pomaceous fruit. The apple is a member of the rose family, and probably originated in Turkey or other parts of Western Asia. The apple is an ancient fruit, appearing in the Bible, Greek, Roman and Norse mythology.
There are 7,500 different cultivars of apple, with most of them divided into eating apples, cooking apples or cider apples. Heirloom varieties can show russeting, which is a greenish brown, slightly rough appearance of the skin, giving the apple a mottled look. Most heriloom varieties are disease prone and do not ship well, but are making a resurgence as consumers look for apples with interesting flavors. Mature apple trees can bear hundreds of pounds of fruit in good years, but nothing in poor ones.
China produces most of the world's apples, with 27 million tons accounting for around 35% of production. The United States grows around 4 million tons a year.
Apples are typically sweet and juicy, with a satisfying crunch when eaten raw. They vary in acid levels (which is primarily malic), with some being tart, others sweet-tart, or low acid sweet varieties. Apples are also baked with butter and brown sugar, or sauteed as a dessert, and typically paired with other sweet fruits such as raisins.
Apples can also be pressed raw for sweet cider or apple juice. There is very little difference between apple juice and apple cider, though cider is typically seasonal, only lightly filtered, and sometimes unpasteurized - it has a richer, more complex flavor. Apple juice is typically fine filtered and pasteurized, and is available all year.
Apple juice can be fermented to make hard cider, which then can be distilled to make apple brandy, the best known of which is from Calvados from Normandy, France. Calvados is always a blend of sweet, tart, and bitter apples that is aged in oak barrels, sometimes for dozens of years.