Ah, the apples! One of the surest—and tastiest—signs that fall has really come is the new crop of apples in the markets and fruit stands. They are dressed up for the cool weather in red or green, and are just the right size to fit into your hand or toss into a lunch bag or briefcase. One bite is a reminder of all those sunny summer days that have been distilled into the crisp and sweet fruit.

Since the days when Lord Baltimore himself instructed the first settlers to Maryland to bring “kernalls of pears and apples, especially of Pippins, Permains and Deesons,” thousands of varieties of apples have been developed and enjoyed here in the United States. It’s practically our national fruit.

The distinctive biology of apples makes the seed of each tree genetically different from all other trees. Since the early farmers were planting seeds, not trees, the variety of apples being grown was as diverse as each field in which they were developed. And when a particularly good apple emerged—whether it was good for cooking or eating out of hand or making cider—twigs from the producing tree could be taken and grafted onto other apple trees.

Soon, truly new American varieties began to emerge. As many as 10,000 varieties of apples were once cultivated in these United States; today about a dozen varieties make up the vast majority of the apples available in grocery stores. But it’s that developmental diversity and variety that makes our apples such a great American story.

Like the apples we eat, we all came from somewhere else, but we grew together into one society. We are the seed of many places, cultivated in American soil, perfectly suited for this place and this time. The astonishing diversity of our apple history is reflected in the diversity of the communities we have built together—communities that now nurture every aspect of our lives. In autumn the apples remind us of how rich and sweet all that can be.