The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada by Daniel J. Bussey

The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada by Daniel J. Bussey
How’d you like them apples?

As with Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini a few weeks ago, this is another book we haven’t read. No, we’re not getting lazy. It’s just this mammoth tome about apples piqued our interest this week.

It recently launched in North America and it’s $320. However, it’s on sale at $220 right now if you want to swoop on in there and bag this crunchy, tasty delight.

To be fair, it looks totally worth it. The result of a 30-year long trek across North America to ensure every apple product is well and truly covered – even the first generation of iPhone 2Gs!

The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada

After seven years of editing, plus resourcing and filing over a thousand rather exquisite illustrations, here’s your official guide to that sweet and edible fruit of the apple tree (Malus domestica).

Bussey is 64 and lives in Wisconsin – yes, he began his journey back in 1989. He enjoyed a career as a cider brewer, but was rather fascinated with horticulture. In particular – and you guessed it – apples.

After all that effort scouring across America and Canada, to ensure the volume became available (given how difficult getting published is) extra special steps were taken.

As explained in the press release supporting the book:

"In 2015 Kent Whealy formed his own publishing company (JAK KAW Press, LLC) to ensure that Dan Bussey’s extensive research on apples and the appropriate pomological watercolors are recorded for posterity. This new publishing venture is dedicated to creating books that celebrate the diversity of our food crops. The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada is designed to comprehensively record and illustrate our food crop heritage in rich detail, thus helping to rescue and popularize the historic varieties that still exist."

And the work features the following:

  • 16,350 varietal listings that include descriptions, origins, and individual history.
  • 9,700 different names the apples all went by in various locations.
  • 1,650 references – that’s two centuries worth of pomological (that’s botany that studies cultivating fruit) literature on apples.
  • 1,400 life-size watercolours.

To be clear, the images weren’t created for The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada. They were painted a century ago for posterity.

So the book is an investigative journalism piece as much as a work of art… and a historical record. Bussey scoured endless libraries and archives to dig up any information about apples he could.

And the result is a record of over 16,000 different types of the things.

Apple art

Most of the images are from the 19th century. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), between 1886 and 1942, created over 7,000 paintings – most of them watercolours. The idea was to create a national register of fruit.

So as you can imagine, if you’re big on art and apples (plus have a spare $300) then this would be an incredible addition to your library.

For the rest of us not in North America, you can find plenty of pretty pictures online. And you can read excerpts from the work. But, alas, it’s one that’ll have to escape you.

At least you can follow the below Twitter account for regular images from the USDA archive.

Anyway, as a compendium of apples in North America this looks pretty much like the real deal, doesn’t it? About as definitive as it gets. To the extent the work evoked the lovely quote from the gentleman below.

“The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada will be the most important book on apples ever published in English. There has never been anything like it.” John Bunker - Maine apple historian

So, how’d you like them apples?

8 comments

  1. Astonishing book! I think it needs a sequel, though. Pears. You can’t have apples without pears. Here in NZ there was actually an official government entity with that name – the ‘Apple and Pear Marketing Board’, formed in 1948, and eventually with their own multi-story headquarters building in Wellington despite the fact that what appeared to be 98 percent of the national apple-and-pear crop was grown within a 15 km radius of Hastings, Hawke’s Bay. It felt like 98 percent when I had a job picking them, anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do love it when someone goes for a massive undertaking like this. 30 years is one mighty slog – Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote project took that long. Finally available to watch now.

      I highly recommend you go that that. The world needs to know more about pears. Or you could do a book on cockney rhyming slang, “Apples and pears: A history of stairways in NZ”.

      For some reason I think of fruit picking labour jobs as mildly relaxing – free from the stresses of whip cracking bosses. Probably an incorrect assessment, I’m sure.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, the labour needed over 30 years to achieve such a series of volumes is astonishing, the dedication and love that went into them truly admirable. I take my hat off to anybody who can do this.

        I hadn’t realised Gilliam’s Quixote project was finished – must check it out!

        I actually worked as a fruit-picker a couple of times after leaving school and when I was at university, only for a few weeks at a stretch – the work’s always seasonal. I wouldn’t say it was the worst work I’ve done. But as my grandfather (who genuinely was a Cockney, as in born within the sound of Bow Bells) might say, I was always glad when the day ended and I headed off down the Frog and Toad.

        Hmmn… there definitely does seem to be a book in that.

        Liked by 1 person

        • The worst job I had was for the Royal Mail. If you’ve read Bukowski’s Post Office, then it’s kind of that bad. At least fruit picking gets you out in the fields (in theory).

          I’ve not seen Gilliam’s latest yet, but apparently it’s pretty decent. And Johnathan Pryce is in it, of Brazil fame.

          Like

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