APPLES by Frank Browning


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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 and samples a homespun cider that sends him swooning. An exceptional popular study—right up there with John McPhee’s Oranges—that is often as exquisite as its subject.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-86547-537-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1998


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