Thursday, 28 December 2017

The Ghost Orchard

Finished December 15
The Ghost Orchard: The Hidden History of the Apple in North America by Helen Humphreys

This book begins with the author discovering a single apple tree near an abandoned cabin. The apple she eats is delicious and she manages to identify it as a White Winter Pearmain. This leads her to research the history of apple orchards on our continent. The book has five chapters. The first is titled the Indian Orchard, and Humphreys shows how native settlements often had orchards as an integral part of their settled communities. She finds traces of these through place names, histories, and folklore. The second chapter titled Ann Jessop looks at an historical figure in the United States and her work to bring apple varieties from Europe to North America. Humphreys traces the apples she grew, and the places they were grown.
The third chapter looks at the enormous project of the USDA Watercolour Artists as they were hired to record, through detailed painting the apples found across the continent. The book also contains colour plates of these paintings. Humphreys looks at several of the artists who did this work, and gives a picture of the breadth of the project and the type of people working on it.
The fourth chapter looks at Robert Frost and his ties throughout his life to apples and the orchards they grow in. From owning several orchards, both commercial and personal, to friendships formed around these landscapes, and the poems that he wrote that referenced them, Humphreys shows how the apple orchard was a key element of Frost's life.
The last chapter is The Ghost Orchard, where Humphreys looks for traces of historical orchards that no longer exist, detailing her search for several of them.
The book also includes a fictional, imagined discovery of the apple that started this book, and a glossary of all the apples that once existed in North America, but are no lost to us.
A fascinating read.

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