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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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The iMac Was Almost Called the MacMan
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After breaking out with its Macintosh line of personal computers in the 1980s, Apple was in a slump. Sales had flagged as Microsoft's Windows operating system made waves. In 1998, the company was set to unveil a product that it hoped would reinvigorate its brand.

And they almost blew it.

According to Ken Segall, the advertising genius behind their "Think Different" campaign, Apple founder Steve Jobs was expecting the iMac to reverse the company's ailing fortunes. Where older Macs had been boxy, beige, and bland, the iMac came in an assortment of colors and had a transparent chassis that showed off its circuitry. The problem, as Segall writes in his new book, Insanely Simple, was that Jobs didn't want to call it the iMac. He wanted to call it the MacMan.

"While that frightening name is banging around in your head, I'd like you to think for a moment about the art of product naming," Segall writes. "Because of all the things in this world that cry out for simplicity, product naming probably contains the most glaring examples of right and wrong. From some companies, you see names like 'iPhone.' From others you see names like ‘Casio G'zOne Commando' or the ‘Sony DVP SR200P/B' DVD player."

According to Segall, Jobs liked the fact that MacMan was slightly reminiscent of Sony's Walkman branding concept for its line of cassette players. (Later, Sony had a Discman, Pressman, and Talkman.) But Segall, who named products for a living, feared the name would take away from Apple's identity as being original. It was also gender-biased, and alienating an entire demographic of consumers was never a good thing.

Instead, Segall suggested "iMac," with the "i" for internet, because the unit was designed to connect easily to the web. Jobs "hated" the idea, along with other suggestions, even though Segall felt the iMac could provide a foundation to name other devices, just as Sony's Walkman had. Segall kept suggesting it, and Jobs eventually had it printed on a prototype model to see how it would look. After encouragement from his staff, he dropped MacMan. With this key contribution, Segall made sure no one would be lining up to buy a PhoneMan 10 years later. 

[h/t FastCoDesign]

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Big Questions
What Are Those Tiny Spots on Apples?
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The little pinprick spots on apples, pears, and potatoes are called lenticels (LEN-tih-sells), and they’re very important.

Plants need a constant stream of fresh air, just like people, and that “fresh air” means carbon dioxide. Flowers, trees, and fruit all take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. But unlike people, plants don’t have nostrils.

That's where a plant's lenticels come in. Each little speck is an opening in the fruit or tuber’s skin or the tree’s bark. Carbon dioxide goes in, and oxygen comes out. Through these minuscule snorkels, a plant is able to “breathe.”

Like any opening, lenticels are vulnerable to infection and sickness. In an apple disease called lenticel breakdown, a nutrient deficiency causes the apples’ spots to darken and turn into brown pits. This doesn’t hurt the inside of the fruit, but it does make the apple look pretty unattractive. In the equally appealing “lenticel blotch pit,” the skin around the apple’s lenticels gets patchy and dark, like a weird rash. 

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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