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Who was Granny Smith?

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Anyone who’s savored a slice of apple pie can appreciate the tart sweetness of a Granny Smith apple. And in between bites one might even wonder, where did that homely name come from, anyway?

It turns out there really was a Granny Smith. But she didn’t live in New York or Washington or any other American apple-growing state. Far from it. She and the light green varietal she created by accident hail from a small farm outside Sydney, Australia.

Born in 1799 in Sussex, England, Maria Ann Sherwood married Thomas Smith when she was 19, and together they raised five children on a farm in the village of Beckley. In 1838, the Smiths, along with several other area families, decamped for Australia, where the government was offering £25 a year to anyone willing to work the newly settled land. These were the early colonial days Down Under, when much of the country was still unexplored by Europeans. The couple put down roots in Kissing Point, known today as Ryde, and in the mid-1850s, they bought 24 acres of their own land.

The area around Kissing Point was perfect for fruit cultivation, and the Smiths, like other local families at the time, were orchardists who grew apricots, pears, apples and other tree fruits. Maria helped her husband around the farm, and also baked pies for sale at the Sydney market, where she would often pick out different varieties to incorporate into her recipes. By all accounts, her pies were top-notch. After cutting up the apples at home, she’d throw the leftover scraps into a compost heap down by a creek that cut through their property.

According to a report by local historian Hubert Rumsey in a 1924 issue of Farmer and Settler, in 1868 Maria asked a neighbor and his 12-year-old son to come over and look at some new seedlings that had sprouted down by the creek. Smith told the neighbor and his son, who would become the source for Rumsey’s article more than 50 years later, that she believed the sweet green apples derived from French crabapples grown in Tasmania (researchers have since classified them as a cross between a hybrid wild European apple and a domestic apple).

Smith cultivated the seedlings, but died two years later at the age of 70. Thankfully, local growers had also planted her seedlings on their property. One of them, Edward Gallard, grew a large crop every year until his death in 1914. In 1891, the growers exhibited “Smith’s seedling,” as they called it, at the Castle Hill Agricultural and Horticultural Show, where it won first prize in the cooking apple category. For years after that, growers exhibited the apples under the name “Granny Smith’s.”

By 1895, the Australian government was growing Granny Smith apples in bulk, and that same year listed them for sale on the export market. With its long shelf life and tart flavor, the Granny Smith apple took off after World War I, and by 1935 had reached markets in England. It took a few decades longer to reach America, in 1972, by way of the Auvil Fruit Company.

Today, Granny Smiths are among the most popular apple varieties in the U.S., available everywhere from farmers markets to big-box stores. And even though Maria Ann Smith wasn’t directly responsible for her apple’s worldwide expansion, her original tree still plays a crucial role in the cultivation process. Indeed, because the mutation that took place down by Smith’s creek was unique, cuttings derived from the original tree are required to grow every Granny Smith apple.

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A Rare Apple Lisa 1 Computer Is Up for Auction on eBay
Dave Jones, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Dave Jones, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

For superfans of vintage Apple products, a working Apple Lisa 1 is the holy grail of collector's items. First released in 1983, the pioneering computer (the first to feature a graphic interface and a mouse) was a commercial failure and only sold 100,000 units, very few of which survived to the present day. But an eBay seller is offering up the super-rare opportunity to own one, as DesignTAXI reports.

The computer in question, selling for more than $55,000 as of January 8, is in mint condition. According to the listing, it has only been turned on a few times.

A Lisa 1 computer
professorinschubert, eBay

As you can see in the video below, everything seems to be in working order.

The seller estimates that there are only 20 to 100 Lisa 1s left in the world. And even for a Lisa 1, this one is a rare machine. Lisa computers, reportedly named after Steve Jobs’s daughter (though there have been some other theories about the name), were the only machines Apple released with its doomed Twiggy disk drives—a faulty format that turned out to be incredibly unreliable, leading to the product’s downfall. Apple then released the Lisa 2 with standard 3.5-inch floppy disk drives, offering customers free upgrades for their Lisa 1 Twiggy drives.

Since most customers jumped at the chance to make their $10,000 computer ($24,700 in today's dollars) run properly, Lisas that still have their original Twiggy drives are incredibly hard to find. The Lisa 1 on sale still has its twin Twiggy drives though, and they work, at least as well as the drives ever worked.

Whether the seller will actually get his $55,000 is questionable. In 2010, a similar Lisa 1 sold for just $15,000. But the model seems to have gained a lot of value since then, since one sold for $50,000 in November 2017.

[h/t DesignTAXI]

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Big Questions
Why Do Honeycrisp Apples Cost So Much?
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Apples to apples is no longer a valid comparison. As gastronomic writer Sarah Jampel at Food52 has observed, shoppers who prefer a premium fruit experience by opting for Honeycrisp apples can pay up to four times as much as they would for other varieties. When did Granny Smiths become the RC Cola to Honeycrisp’s Coke?

According to Jampel, the answer invokes the old law of supply and demand. There’s plenty of demand for the apple, but prices get engorged when there isn't enough to go around.

The scarcity is a result of the Honeycrisp’s eccentric nature. Introduced commercially in 1991 after being invented by University of Minnesota scientist David Bedford, who cross-pollinated seeds to create a more durable and winter-resistant apple, the Honeycrisp tree demands very specific soil and maintenance requirements. The fruit can ripen at various times, necessitating more frequent harvests; the skin is thin and delicate, so they must be trimmed off by hand. Many of the trees are so delicate they require a trellis [PDF] to support their branches.

All the extra labor means more time and money—the latter of which is passed along to the consumer.

Growers who didn’t anticipate the surging popularity of Honeycrisps were also caught off-guard. As trees can take up to six years to bear enough fruit for commercial purposes, the number of trees currently producing isn’t really proportionate to the level of demand.

That will change as more are planted, although it might be a little while before the Honeycrisp proves to be on the same economic footing as its Red Delicious counterpart. Before you celebrate a cheaper version, remember that growers looking to feed the market might opt to grow the apple in less-than-perfect conditions that could affect its famously crunchy taste. Enjoy it while you can.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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