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Almaty apples

Almaty has always been associated with the apple. The fruit is entwined with the name of the city: 'alma', in Kazakh, means'apple'. Former city's name of Alma-Ata was translated as 'Father of Apples'. The Tian Shan Mountains were one of the homes of the wild apple trees from which our cultivated apples are descended. But one variety of apple is particularly associated with Almaty: the aport, a huge, red-skinned apple which became a symbol of the city.

The aport was introduced into Almaty in 1865 by a migrant from Voronezh, one Igor Redko. In the soils of Voronezh, the variety had not particularly distinguished itself, but once planted around Almaty, at altitudes between around 900m and 1,200m, the apples burgeoned in size, weighing in at 0.5kg a time. Some scientists argue that this flourishing is an indication that the Almaty area was the original homeland of the aport; the apple tree was returning to its roots, as it were. The large red apples of Almaty became one of the prized food products of the Soviet Union, served at many a Kremlin dinner.

You will not however find the giant red aport of old in the markets of Almaty today. Poor horticultural practice, the collapse of the collective farms following the break-up of the USSR, and the construction of prestige suburban housing in the 900-1,200m belt formerly given over to the apple orchards have all contributed to its decline. The apples you will find in bazaars and on supermarket shelves are most likely to be imports from China, red and shiny but complete with a bewildering array of nasty chemical residues. Researchers are currently trying to restore the variety, and the horticultural practices needed to sustain it, so Almaty fruit bowls may once again groan beneath the huge red aport.

The largest and most cosmopolitan city in the country, its major financial centre and transport hub, yet not the capital city, Almaty has much in common with the other Big Apple. Unlike New York, however, it also has much to do with real big apples.