How I hate to see an apple peeled! One morning in the early spring, I was out for my usual weekend bike ride (and yes, I mean bicycle – how “bike” becomes or became motorcycle is another topic). After zigzagging through the side streets of the suburbs for some time, I came to the trails of the Cook County Forest Preserve. As I was winding through the trails – zigzagging not done there – I rode past an apple sitting in the grass. Red, it sat quite comfortably in the tallish bluegrass, its stem upward, pointing to the sky. I didn’t stop to pick up the apple but continued to reflect on it as I snaked through the forest. “Apple,” I said to myself. I wonder if a child dropped it while running around in the trails…why should it be a child? Is an apple a childish food? Someone must have dropped it. There aren’t any apple trees in these woods and even if there was, it wasn’t the season for a ripe, fully-grown apple to fall from a tree….
I racked my brains for a moment trying earnestly to recall the Arabic word for “apple.” It came to me with a satisfying swiftness: tefaaHah. A great word for the apple; saying it almost matches the sound of taking a bite out of a mcintosh or a braeburn: tefaaHah, tefaaHah, “te,” the sound of the teeth piercing the crisp skin, “faa,” the sound of the teeth running deeper into the flesh, “Ha,” the sound of a chunk being ripped off and taken into the mouth. I had a much more difficult time – to my surprise and disappointment – recalling the French word for “apple.” Pomme eventually came to mind and with it the memory of a video I had watched on the internet. It was a performance of Molière’s L’École des femmes. It began with Arnolphe sitting center stage and peeling an apple with a knife during the opening dialogue between him and Chrysalde. I don’t know why he was doing this; my copy of the play gives no such instruction. It was perhaps some sort of symbolism, the meaning of which I never divined. The actor did a perfect job of peeling it, leaving the skin in one long ribbon. He began to then cut the skinless apple into slices and take bites of them.
How different an apple is in this state! Fully transformed. I thought that then when watching the play but as I rode through the wood that spring day, I decided to examine why I feel so differently about a peeled apple….
When peeled, the apple immediately seems to be very soft. Somehow, it seems even sweeter and more like a delicacy. It ceases to feel like something that can be gripped tightly and thrown, if desired. Peeled, an apple feels like some sort of dessert. One that mustn’t be dropped to the ground as dirt will stick to it. This would be undesirable for a child to have since he may drop it and ruin it. With an unpeeled apple he could simply dust it off and bite into it. I’ve never enjoyed a sliced apple or a peeled apple in any form. Some may delight in seeing an apple peeled, imagining their teeth pushing through its whitish flesh relatively unobstructed, or perhaps imagining the pie into which they will eventually baked. I’ve never enjoyed these ideas as much as others have. I prefer an apple whole.
A good, solid apple is to be held firmly in the hand. One ought to examine if briefly to find the most suitable bite-entry. This is usually best done toward the top where one can bite downward away from the stem and pull the apple away with the hand while the teeth pull out a nice chunk of flesh. If bitten right in the middle of the body, the lips will be pushed up uncomfortably into the face as the teeth go in. This is avoided by entering from the top. During this process, not only does one enjoy the sudden sweetness and lightly flowing juices, but one hears the sound of tearing apple-flesh and the crushing of the skin, the distinctly poppy, wet crunch. Then while this is chewed in the mouth, teeth pulverizing the meat of the apple, juices abounding, the eater can survey the crater he has made in the apple to see where to bite off next. I prefer to proceed down the apple until one whole side has been removed. This allows one to simply circle around the core ripping away the skin and flesh of the apple.
None of this experience is obtained from eating the apple in any other way. Removing the skin removes the satisfaction of piercing it, slicing it removes the satisfaction of strategically picking locations of entry and of ripping away the meat piece by piece. There is something animalistic, bestial, even sexual in this process. Indeed, it is a very personal experience. You get to know each apple as you ingest it. With each bite, it is touched by your lips, teeth, and tongue as well as keenly surveyed by your eyes. One could easily replace the apple with their lover. It is because of this that people express how much they love other foods by proclaiming that they could eat it “like an apple.” I have a friend who loves tomatoes who says he can simply pick one up and eat it “like an apple.” I myself like to express my love of red onions to people by saying I could eat one “like an apple.” To this day, one of my most satisfying food experiences is from when I worked at a restaurant. There was a wedding party being held and filet mignon was on the menu. I was friends with the kitchen staff and my friend Victor allowed me to grab a filet. I ate the roundish hunk of meat out of my hand “like an apple,” tearing past its lightly charred outside and ripping into the light pink flesh, juices running over my fingers.
There is another camp of apple-eaters that I imagine gain even more satisfaction that I do. I am thinkin of those who eat the core. Of them, I am terribly envious. While I – not being entirely sure why – never eat the whole apple, core and all, this is surely the truest way. Imagine eating down to only the stem and then flicking it away. What could be more satisfying? These are a different breed of eater. One is likely to find among them those who bite into ice cream with their teeth and chew it – a startling scene to witness.
I haven’t eaten an apple peeled or sliced since I was very young. Occasionally I will find before me a dish with apples cooked in cinnamon and sugar. I will eat usually one slice and remember why I eschew them. Pie I haven’t had in ages either, and rarely find myself wanting of it. If I do, the craving is sure to pass with haste, leaving me with only the craving for an apple. An apple to be held in my hand, strategically bitten into and savored whole, as it is meant to be. Any other way is an insult to the fleshly apple.