The history of the fruit in our gardens, orchards, vineyards, and marketplaces is a colorfully complex story involving many different explorations, migrations, cultures, and cultivations throughout the world. From apples to plums, from blackberries to kiwis, and all the major sweet fruits in between, Fruit: An Illustrated History, by Peter Blackburne-Maze (Firefly Books, September 2003), captures this long and intriguing history with lively, concise text and 300 large, stunning masterpieces from the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library.
The author, a leading expert on the history and cultivation of fruit, has carefully distilled a wealth of information on the botanical history and culture of fruit. He describes the ways different fruits came into existence, where they came from, how they have been propagated and spread across the world over centuries. Examples of the origins of many fruits:
Pear -- Cultivation of pears (and plums) originated in southern Russia, from where varieties spread into the Fertile Crescent and then to Greece, Italy, and Western Europe.
Cherry -- The oldest accounts of orchard cherry growing come from Mesopotamia in the eighth century BC.
Blueberry -- This fruit is most strongly associated with the USA. During the Civil War, soldiers drank invigorating beverages containing blueberries to restore strength. Native Americans used this fruit as an ingredient in the preparation of dried, lean meat.
Kiwi -- Its native country is China; it was introduced to New Zealand in 1906 where it eventually became known as kiwi fruit. By the late 1980s, 99 per cent of the world's production was coming from this country. Fruit is divided into the 4 major fruit groups:
Pome -- apple, pear, quince, medlar
Stone -- plum, cherry, peach, nectarine, apricot, mulberry
Berry -- currant, gooseberry, blueberry, bilberry, blackberry, dewberry, strawberry, raspberry, myrtle berry, elderberry, cranberry
Exotic -- fig, citrus, melon, pineapple, grape, banana, mango, feijoa, breadfruit, durian, custard apple, starfruit, tamarind, kiwano, pitaya, persimmon, papaya, sapodilla, guava, passionfruit, pomegranate, mangosteen, langstat, loquat, lychee, Chinese lantern, date, avocado, cape gooseberry, olive, avocado coconut, pistachio, cashew, walnut, almond
The book is packed with fascinating facts and references to fruit in myth and literature. Examples:
Apple growers -- China is the world's leading apple producer yielding more than 3 times the USA's second place production.
Grape harvest -- 80 per cent of grapes, the most widely grown fruit in the world, are fermented and then bottled as wine, brandy, cognac, and other drinks.
Pomegranate -- The skin and flesh exude a juice stain virtually impossible to remove. Hence, this juice is used in the dyes of Persian rugs.
Mutiny -- breadfruit was one of the causes of the "Mutiny on the Bounty" as Captain Bligh was nurturing breadfruit plants with the crew's diminishing supply of drinking water.
Fig -- actually not a fruit, but an inside-out flower.
Greek myth -- raspberries were originally white until the nymph Ida pricked her finger while picking berries for the infant Jupiter, turning the berries red with her blood.
The superbly reproduced illustrations in Fruit: An Illustrated History are both truly exquisite works of art produced by many great artists of the genre including William Hooker and Pierre-Antoine Poiteau and notable for their historic value in charting the development of fruit. The book thus has the beautiful, incredible look and feel of history coming alive and tempered by current botanical knowledge. Gardeners and art lovers may fondly remember the critically acclaimed companion volume, Flora: An Illustrated History of the Garden Flower.
Author Peter Blackburne-Maze began his career in commercial fruit growing. For the past twenty-five years, he has been a horticultural adviser and garden writer. He has written many books and regularly contributes to Garden News, The Kitchen Garden, and the Royal Horticultural Society's journal, The Garden. He lives and works in North Yorkshire, England