Apples

Overview

Frank Browning's lifelong fascination with apples began on his parents' orchard in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. In Apples he charmingly demonstrates why this mysterious fruit continues to tempt and delight us. Browning leads us on a beguiling tour through the primal myths of the world's most popular fruit and then explains that the first apples appeared in Kazakhstan on the slopes of the Heavenly Mountains. He visits the apple germ-plasm repository in Geneva, New York, and describes the powerful effects of ...
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Overview

Frank Browning's lifelong fascination with apples began on his parents' orchard in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky. In Apples he charmingly demonstrates why this mysterious fruit continues to tempt and delight us. Browning leads us on a beguiling tour through the primal myths of the world's most popular fruit and then explains that the first apples appeared in Kazakhstan on the slopes of the Heavenly Mountains. He visits the apple germ-plasm repository in Geneva, New York, and describes the powerful effects of genetic engineering on the apples of the future. In Wenatchee, Washington, world capital of apple growing, he meets Mr. Granny Smith and learns about the apple's niche in the global marketplace, before setting off to sample Calvados from the pot stills of Normandy and cider from Somerset. For the more practically inclined, Browning includes a selective listing of apple varieties, basic instructions for planting a back-yard orchard, and a selection of beloved apple recipes from around the world.
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Editorial Reviews

Robert Sietsema

There's been an avalanche of cookbooks published over the last decade on increasingly obscure and constricted topics -- I recently received one devoted entirely to chocolate cookies. Riding the coattails of this trend has been a handful of non-cookbooks devoted to individual foods, often with a few recipes thrown in to enhance their appeal among cookbook consumers. Two prototypes were Sweetness and Power, an exhaustive neo-Marxist study of the history and economics of sugar by Sidney Mintz, and Corn, Betty Fussel's lengthy and abundantly illustrated exploration of the romance of maize. These treatments remained at least partly academic, but subsequent contributions have been more slender and written in a more popular vein -- you can read them lying down while a dog licks your feet without loss of comprehension. Wall Street Journal reporter Amal Naj's Peppers, one of the best books ever written about food, proved that the Portuguese were responsible for nearly every modern food trend; and lately we've feasted on Mark Kurlansky's Cod, a brief historical and environmental epic by a one-time cod fisherman. Now along comes Frank Browning's Apples. Like Kurlansky, he's practiced what he preaches, coming from a long line of Kentucky orchardists. In the opening pages he presents himself as something of a backwoods hillbilly, until you learn that his father liked to spout Latin and that he himself has written several books and served as a National Public Radio commentator and has lived in New York, San Francisco and Paris. How he did this while keeping the family farm from sinking is never fully explained.

Browning has produced an interesting and readable book on apples, which he rhapsodically calls "the hardiest, most resilient and most diverse fruit on the earth." Like all of the single-topic food books, Apples works best when there's a mystery to be solved, in this case the origin of the first apple, the search for which takes the author to the Central Asian republic of Kazhakstan. There he meets Aimak Djangaliev, an octogenarian pomologist who, almost predictably, spent the first part of his career hiding from Stalin's secret police. It turns out that the ancient apple forests of the Tian Shan mountains possess genetic traits that have much to offer the modern apple breeder, even though the gnarled and uncultivated trees often produce apples Browning calls "spitters" -- one bite and you have to spit them out.

Djangaliev is only one in a cast of fascinating characters who bring the book to life. There's also Tom Burford, the specialist charged with repopulating Monticello's apple orchards, who searches for the tantalizing Taliaferro, a long-lost cider apple said to be Jefferson's favorite, and Akio Tanii, a Japanese agricultural researcher who was hectored into committing suicide after inadvertently revealing to Western scientists the presence of fire blight in Japanese fruit. Browning handles scientific topics like fire blight with ease, drawing parallels with human diseases. Indeed, the sections of the book that deal with apple genetics are miraculous in their clarity and readability. Less interesting is the apple mythology, wherein the author retells familiar stories from Greek, Roman and Scandinavian sources as if running a foot race while the publisher shoots at him from behind.

As is the habit with this sort of book, the back matter contains recipes, here presented in a narrative form that may frustrate less-accomplished cooks. Much better is the appendix that devotes a paragraph apiece to the 20 apples most prized by the author. I'm taking this with me on my next visit to the farmer's market. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In what he describes as "a quirky piece of personal and agricultural storytelling," Browning (A Queer Geography) contemplates aspects of the "forbidden fruit," from its probable origins in the mountains of Kazakhstan to its modern transformation into a high-tech product of commercial orchards. In his quest for knowledge about the apple, he talks to collectors of old varieties, commercial monoculturists, genetic engineers and master cider-makers. He travels to Kazakhstan to meet a scientist who devotes his life to the preservation of the world's original apple forests; to Geneva, N.Y., to visit Cornell University's apple-breeding program; and to France, England and the western hills of Virginia to taste traditional ciders. Although he is unenthusiastic about the perfectly shaped but bland Golden Delicious, Jonathans, Red Delicious, Granny Smiths and Fujis found in supermarkets today, he realizes that the tastier heirloom varieties such as Westfield Seek-No-Further, Newton Pippin, Winter Pearmain and Roxbury Russet are not commercially viable. Accepting the apple as a "full partner in the age of science and modernism," he's optimistic that breeders, perhaps by crossing apples from the primeval forests of Kazakhstan with other varieties, will create new apples that are flavorful as well as long-keeping, hardy and disease-resistant. A chapter on the apple in mythology and religion is a bit superficial, but for the most part, Browning, who owns an apple orchard in Kentucky, is informative and entertaining, though his story lacks the overarching historical context or the narrative drive of a book like Mark Kurlansky's Cod. Appendices include descriptions of 20 "prize" apples, new and old; a brief discussion of rootstocks and tree sizes, for backyard orchardists; and a sampling of apple and cider recipes from around the world. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Apple grower and journalist Browning explores all aspects of the popular fruit. First he travels to the apple forests of Kazakhstan, where apples probably originated, to visit a scientist who studies and preserves these ancient forests; then he relates world myths, legends, and the apple's significance in religion. Browning next details the high-tech world of apple genetics at the USDA's apple germ-plasm repository and apple-breeding techniques at Cornell's breeding facility in Geneva, NY. Finally, he writes about the businesses of apple growing and cider making. Woven throughout are accounts of Browning's experiences growing up on an apple orchard and his life as an orchardist. Appendixes include the best cooking and eating apples, brief backyard orchard information, and a few apple recipes. While Browning presents more details about apples than the average reader may care to know, his book would be a nice resource for students doing a report on apples or who need a collection of interesting apple facts. Recommended for public libraries and academic agricultural collections.--Sue O'Brien, Downers Grove P.L., IL
Karen Angel
[Browning] applies too much detail in some areas. . .and not enough in others. . . .These are the worms in the otherwise engaging Apples. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kate Zeman

The Once and Future Apple

Apples are so common in this country that's it's difficult to regard them as exotic or mysterious, but Frank Browning's enjoyable new book, Apples, goes a long way toward changing that. Browning grew up on an apple orchard in Kentucky -- which he sti ll owns, though he works as an NPR reporter and journalist and has lived in New York City and Paris -- and apples have always been dear to his heart. In Apples, he delves into the fruit's history -- the apple most likely originated in Kazakhstan, whe re Browning visits ancient orchards and talks to the scientist trying to preserve them for posterity -- as well as its mythology, its production and harvesting, and its likely future. He samples Calvados in Normandy and cider in Britain, talks to gro wers in the Pacific Northwest and Appalachia, and meets with genetic engineers at the apple germ-plasm repository in Geneva, New York. Browning also relates favorite recipes and gives specific advice on favorite varieties and their best uses. Through out, he waxes lyrical on the qualities of this ever-appealing fruit in its many varieties and guises. It's a readable and informative meditation on an easily overlooked staple that anyone interested in food and how it comes to be will enjoy.-- Kate Murphy Zeman, barnesandnoble.com

Kirkus Reviews
The author tackles the apple in all its guises, mythopoetic, biological, historical, commercial, and comes away with a winner. Browning (The Culture of Desire, 1993, etc.) may be a Kentucky apple farmer, but he is foremost an apple fancier. Here he treats readers to an exploration of the apple through time and space and culture, from the names as lovely as any butterfly's, White Winter Pearmain, Black Twigs, Chisel Jersey, to the maladies of the red-banded leaf roller, red mites, and fungi. Restless and curious, Browning flies to Kazakhstan to investigate what is perhaps the world's original apple forest and conjures the very appleness of the place. He delves deeply into the ancient symbolism of the apple: its proximity to peril and immortality; the perfect pentagram formed by its five pips, which was sacred not only to Christianity but to sorcery as well; the wassail rituals; the divine associations and the ebb and flow between early Nordic and Greco-Roman tree spirits. He makes lightly spun, intelligible forays into genetic fingerprinting of pomological pedigrees, and he delivers a quick history of Washington State apple growing and the sad circumstances that resulted in its planting mostly the Red Delicious, inoffensive but bland. And since he is a cider man himself, he tells the story of cider's rise and fall and modest rise again, as experienced by contemporary artisan producers in Normandy, France, and Somerset Levels, England. His quest for the perfect apple to make his cider, the real stuff, with its dark, rich, moody smell of autumn, takes him on one more of his strange journeys, to an old hill farm in Kentucky, where he tracks down a relict Taliaferro apple tree andsamples a homespun cider that sends him swooning. An exceptional popular studyĆ¾right up there with John McPhee's Oranges, that is often as exquisite as its subject.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865475373
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 8/1/1998
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.39 (h) x 0.93 (d)

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