What does Rambo have to do with fruit?
Long before Rambo was a muscular pop culture hero, Rambo was an apple – but not just any apple. Big, juicy with a blush of red when ripe, the Rambo apple was said to be the favorite of Johnny Appleseed, a man who certainly knew his apples. Originating in Sweden, the Rambo apple came to North America with colonist Peter Gunnarson. Gunnarson arrived as a laborer for the New Sweden Colony on the Delaware River in 1640. Among the things he brought with him was a cask of his favorite Swedish apple seeds.
Along with a new home, Peter Gunnarson soon took a new name: Peter Rambo, named for a mountain near his hometown in Sweden. Obviously, he had no idea how big his name would later become.
The apple thrived in North America. Apples are particularly skilled at making themselves at home anywhere. So much so that we often think of apples as native American fruits. But they aren’t from here at all. Apples originated in the mountains of Kazakhstan and traveled the world in the bags and stomachs of humans and animals. They are a canny and prodigious fruit.
The Rambo apple entered American folklore through Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman. Chapman is rumored to have called the Rambo his favorite apple. He planted them (and thousands of other apple seeds) throughout the mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley, including the Rambo tree that still grows in Ashland County, Ohio, planted by Chapman around 1830. The Rambo was beloved in the 19th century and thousands of these juicy apples were planted around the country.
But while the Rambo apple flourished in its new home, back in Sweden, the Rambo apple had gone extinct. The harsh winter of 1709 led to the death of the Rambo apple and several other old Swedish apple varieties.
It wasn’t until 2008 that the Rambo apple returned to Sweden as a living memorial to the millions of Swedish Americans who crossed the Atlantic for a new life in North America. Some of those Swedish immigrants came to Wisconsin where Rambo apples have also been planted at Old World Wisconsin.
The Rambo apple became part of popular culture in the 1970s when writer David Morrell named his action hero for the apple. His wife had brought home a bag of them from the store. Seeking a “strong sounding name” for his hero, Morrell pounced on the name Rambo after taking a bite of these delicious apples.
The poor apple’s name was never the same again.