Almaty means “father of apples,” and the town touts its heritage proudly. A fountain in the center of town is apple-shaped, and vendors come out each week to sell their many varieties of domesticated apples at market. Apples weren’t always a precious fruit in Almaty though. They used to be commonplace, and during Soviet development many of the trees were cut down for their wood. Up to 80 percent of the wild apple forests were destroyed.
Today, reserves throughout the Tian Shan mountain range keep the last wild apple forests growing safely—except from foraging bears, who don’t care at all about botanical history.
We tend to think of the apple as a fruit that grows everywhere, but all domestic apples can be traced back to Almaty, Kazakhstan. That ancestor still grows wild there in the Tian Shan mountains. But how did the apple become popular in cuisines around the world?