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Was Johnny Appleseed a real person? Absolutely, and his contribution to the apple crop is what legends are made of. His life’s work is such an important part of history that every year communities around the country hold festivals to celebrate the September holiday created in his honor. Learn about the famous nurseryman—and find some tasty apple recipes to make at home!
When Is Johnny Appleseed Day?
Johnny Appleseed Day is celebrated annually on September 26, the Massachusetts nurseryman’s birthday anniversary. In 2023, September 26 is a Tuesday. Some observe the day on March 11, which coincides with the spring planting season.
Johnny Appleseed Day
Tuesday, September 26
Thursday, September 26
Friday, September 26
Saturday, September 26
What Is Johnny Appleseed Day?
Johnny Appleseed Day honors the legacy and life’s work of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. It is not a public holiday, but rather an opportunity to celebrate all things apple, the crop that Appleseed spent years planting throughout the western frontier.
Born John Chapman on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts, Appleseed is best known as an American folk hero and pioneer who planted apple trees as he traveled by foot into the Midwest (at the time mainly consisting of wilderness) and prairie lands that foreshadowed the western expansion of the country.
His efforts to populate the country with apple orchards created a larger-than-life story that has led many to question if the traveling nurseryman was merely a legend. But Appleseed was a real person, who used his knowledge of apples and horticultural practices to lay a foundation for future settlers of the uninhabited land.
Some details are scarce about the early portion of Appleseed’s life. Still, his travels as a young man across the likes of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana are where Appleseed’s story created a legacy.
Appleseed lived a nomadic lifestyle, traveling from place to place on foot, often sleeping outdoors in the wild. His clothing consisted of a sack with holes cut out for his arms and head, very worn-out shoes or none at all, and, of course, a bag full of apple seeds, which he would collect from cider mills. He would venture into uninhabited areas to plant trees along specific routes in the anticipation that settlers would soon follow. He would sell or trade seeds and saplings, but was also known to give them away to those who could not afford to pay. It is said that Appleseed planted his first apple nursery in northwestern Pennsylvania.
At that time, apples were an essential for those pushing the boundaries of the frontier, but the fruit was not the same as you would find at the grocery store or hanging in an orchard in the fall. Rather, the apples were used to make hard cider and not for eating. As a result, it is thought that many of the orchards planted by Appleseed or with his seedlings, were destroyed during Prohibition. But not all of the apples were tethered to alcoholic beverages, as Appleseed is thought to have laid the groundwork for varieties like the delicious, golden delicious, and others.
Apples were also used for bartering, and it is said that in some areas, the existence of an orchard was a prerequisite for land ownership. Some stories depict Appleseed as an entrepreneur, acquiring acres of land to plant apple trees and then selling the seedlings or land for a profit.
But there was more to Johnny Appleseed than just apples. He was a missionary and very religious, spreading the word of the Church of New Jerusalem on his travels. He was known to have a deep affection for all living things.
Appleseed died on March 18, 1845, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Many monuments have been created in his honor in Ohio and Indiana, as well as the Johnny Appleseed Memorial Bridge over the St. Joseph River and the Johnny Appleseed Memorial Park, both located in Fort Wayne, and Johnny Appleseed Park in Springfield, Massachusetts.
How is Johnny Appleseed Day Celebrated?
The Johnny Appleseed Festival in Fort Wayne, Indiana, began in 1974, 200 years after his birth. Now, a 2-day event, the festival is held annually on a Saturday and Sunday in September.
Vendors dress in 1800s attire, cook over an open fire, and serve food that could have been available during Appleseed’s lifetime. There are demonstrations, games, and entertainment.
Appleseed’s birthplace, Leominster, Massachusetts, hosts its own Johnny Appleseed Festival each fall. Paradise, California, is home to Johnny Appleseed Days, which began in 1888, and other locations around the country, like Lisbon, Ohio, and Sheffield, Pennsylvania, also bring people together every fall to share in their love of apples and honor John Chapman.
There are many ways that the great nurseryman can be celebrated on Johnny Appleseed Day. You can plant an apple tree in your yard or get permission to do so on a piece of public property. You can volunteer at a local apple orchard or merely visit a farm and support the apple farmers of today. There’s also this fun apple craft project with the kids.
Visiting one of the memorials dedicated to Appleseed is also a great way to show your appreciation for his lifelong work.
Recipes to Enjoy on Johnny Appleseed Day!
Apples are such a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. You can use them in baked goods and savory dishes. They can be the star of a meal or an accent that adds just the right flavor.
Check out the recipes below for ideas about what to make this Johnny Appleseed Day!
Tim Goodwin, the associate editor for The Old Farmer's Almanac, has been reading North America's oldest continuously published periodical since he was a young child, growing up just a short drive from the OFA office. Read More from Tim Goodwin