An apple a day keeps the doctor away, an onion a day keeps everybody away.
Following the wiser advice, Richard Corlin always eats an apple a day.
In his case, however, it doesn't keep the doctor away. How could it? He already is a doctor. What it allows him to do is keep his peelers working.
Corlin, former president of the Los Angeles County Medical Assn., is a nationally recognized gastroenterologist. He also has a most unlikely hobby.
Within the confines of his Santa Monica home--cherished like rare jewels--are a couple of dozen elderly devices of a sturdy domestic type that many hardware stores don't carry anymore.
Quoth the 1908 edition of the Sears, Roebuck catalogue:
"Pares, cores and slices the fruit and pushes off apple and core separately, or can be used to pare without coring and slicing if desired. Simple and easy to operate. Cannot get out of order."
Corlin collects such contraptions--antique apple peelers. (Physician, peel thyself.)
The item mentioned above sold in the catalogue for 43 cents. Five years ago the good doctor bought it for $8. No telling what it is worth.
That acquisition, along with his others, has paid for itself many times over--not only as a collectible, but for its practical value.
"Most of them are in working order," he said. "In five seconds you have an apple that is not only cored and peeled, but the peel is much thinner than you could ever accomplish with a knife."
And having such an accumulation has a fringe benefit: "I generally keep the peelers clamped along the window sill of my family room. If anybody ever tried to break in, he would wind up in slices."
As they did more than a century ago, most of the devices work with exquisite simplicity. An apple is spiked onto tines. As a handle is cranked, the fruit is rotated, and a blade swings around the outside, removing the peel.
"Some have variations," the 44-year-old Corlin explained. "Some core the apple, some push it off when finished. One of mine has a cone-shaped knife edge, which produces a narrow peel and can do irregularly shaped apples."
One type quoted in the 1908 catalogue--an example of which is in the doctor's collection--had been patented in 1863. "How many things sold today are absolutely identical to their appearance 45 years ago?" he wondered.
Apples themselves go back a bit in history. Adam possibly was familiar with one. Archeologists say charcoal remains of apples have been found in ruins of Stone Age villages.
U.S. Top Producer
Apple growers throughout the world currently produce about 2 billion bushels annually. The United States leads the free world, followed by France.
As for the peelers, their origin apparently is lost in history. Numerous versions came and went in the 1800s.
"In the early 1820s the Shakers were using apple peelers in New England," Betty Morris, executive vice president of Shakertown Inc., said by phone from that restored village in Harrodsburg, Ky.
Indeed, New England would appear to be a midwife at the birth of the parer. And although a popular manufacturer from Civil War days--Goodell Co. of Antrim, N.H.--has ceased production, its marvelous machine lives on through the courtesy of a company in a neighboring state.
"We make a cast-iron version based on the original Goodell patent," said Barbara Finigan, sales manager of White Mountain Freezer Co. in Winchendon, Mass.
Only Sold Five
The classy Williams-Sonoma store in Beverly Hills carries them. "But during the eight years I have been here, I have probably sold only five of them," said employee Robin Marks.
Although there apparently are those who feel it is an invention that ranks right up there with the electric fork, our forebears were savvy enough to realize a good thing, especially since the stores were usually low on ready-packaged apple slices, juices and jellies.
It was while vacationing five years ago at a New Hampshire inn that Corlin found himself discussing apple parers with the proprietor, Fred Stafford, formerly of San Diego.
"I was fascinated with the ones he had displayed on a table in the sitting area," the doctor recalled. "At my request, he had a friend come over who had some for sale."
The Santa Monican paid $100 for one rusty version, $8 for another. He was hooked. Or, more accurately, peeled.
"I'll never forget a resident in Maine I was referred to," he said. "There in his barn was the most unbelievable quantity of old kitchen tools you could imagine."
Corlin purchased eight more apple peelers. And so it went.
"On the way home I stopped in New Jersey to see my 87-year-old grandmother. When she saw my collection, her reaction was: 'If I had known that the stuff I was throwing out would be worth something, I'd be a millionaire.' "
The physician plans a future vacation in France, assuming--based on Sutton's Law--that since the nation has grown so many apples, it must also be a repository of antique apple peelers. (The law derives from the reply of former bank robber Willie Sutton who, when asked why he robbed banks, replied: "Because that is where the money is.")
While it wasn't the purpose of them, mechanical peelers have wound up providing an indirect service to canny shoppers for other antiques. "One way to detect whether an American kitchen table is a real antique is to check under the edge," Corlin advised. "Often it will have an indentation where these things were clamped on."
One can, of course, always resort to skinning with a hand utensil or a knife. This not only is inefficient, it is tiresome. Take it from someone who for five years was enshrined in the Guinness Book of World Records--Frank Freer of Wolcott, N.Y., east of Rochester.
"We competed in the high school cafeteria in 1971," Freer recalled. "It looked bad for me because no sooner had I completed 144 inches then the peel broke, and I had to start over.
"We had to scribe the complete apple with a knife. After six hours, I had a peel 130 feet and 8 inches long. And I was worn out."
In the old days, such a contest would have been improbable. There was, after all, a better way. (If apples could talk, you could take this from an informed sauce.)