Cover image for Fruit : an illustrated history
Fruit : an illustrated history
Blackburne-Maze, Peter.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Toronto : Firefly Books, 2003.

Physical Description:
335 pages : illustrations (chiefly color) ; 32 cm
General Note:
Three hundred illustrations from the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Includes index.

First published by Scriptum Editions, London in association with the Royal Horticultural Society.
Added Corporate Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
SB354.5 .B53 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

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A visual feast of stunning illustrations and authoritative text.

Fruit appears in art, mythology, and nearly every religious belief. The uses of fruit are varied: for food, drink, paint pigment, decoration, and medicine. The cultivation of fruit encouraged the development of plant propagation methods, grafting, hybridization, and selective breeding to produce ever improved varieties.

In this book Blackburne-Maze challenges myths such as the story of Johnny Appleseed whose real name was John Chapman. The fable that he indiscriminately scattered seeds is admittedly the worst way to propagate fruit trees. In truth he established a chain of successful apple nurseries that stretched from Pennsylvania to Indiana.

Fruit is illustrated with 300 large, striking and superbly reproduced color illustrations from the Lindley Library of the Royal Horticultural Society. Created by the finest botanical artists, these graceful illustrations are notable for their historical value in chronicling the evolution of fruit and as masterpieces in their own right. Included are varieties of fruit now extinct or no longer in widespread cultivation.

The book is organized into the 4 major fruit groups and covers 61 varieties:

Pome (apples, pears, etc.) Stone (plum, cherry, peach, etc.) Berry (currant, blueberry, etc.) Exotic (fig, citrus, olive, almond, etc.)

A companion volume to the critically acclaimed and extremely popular, Flora , this book will appeal to gardeners, art lovers, and food connoisseurs.

Author Notes

Peter Blackburne-Maze is a leading expert in the history and cultivation of fruit. He is the author of many books and regularly contributes to Garden News , The Kitchen Garden , and The Garden (the Royal Horticultural Society's journal).

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

On its own, this mouth-watering tribute to a delicious topic appeals on many levels. As another in Firefly's Royal Horticultural Society's series, it's a knockout. Like its companions, Flora and Roses, it showcases carefully selected, magnificently presented illustrations from the RHS's Lindley Library. The accompanying text and captions have much to offer readers of many stripes. Gardeners will learn about growing and propagating fruits, and selecting varieties that best suit their needs. The historically inclined will relish tales of fruits from myth, legend and fact ("Johnny Appleseed" was no seed-spreader, but a commercial orchardist-entrepreneur). Food lovers will discover the origins of their preferred produce and how it may have been selected for its essential qualities. Apples, for example, are allocated for cider, cooking or eating according to their acidity, sweetness and aroma. Similarly, grapes are appropriate for eating out of hand or for winemaking, but not always both. Its informative and fascinating text notwithstanding, this is ultimately an art book. The 300 plates are showcased in a large-format, expansive layout that preserves or improves the quality of the originals. Brief biographies of the notable artists further illuminate their work, all of which is carefully credited in a comprehensive index. As with the other volumes in this series, the bold design gives the timeless images a contemporary graphic edge. Here, given the subject, it is also sweetly-almost seductively-sensuous. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

This is a beautifully illustrated book about temperature and tropical fruits. The illustrations, all from the Royal Horticulture Society collections, are well reproduced in a large, weighty folio. The organization is according to fruit type for the temperate species, with tropical/exotics being grouped together without reference to type of fruit. Blackburne-Maze (a horticultural advisor and garden writer) introduces each topic with a general chapter giving some background and history but lacking references. The author mentions the geographical origins of plants and often profiles the people involved in the taming of wild progenitors. Detailed figure captions supplement these introductions. Illustrations sometimes mesh with the general text and sometimes do not; for example, there is an account of the history of the kiwi but no illustration of the fruit. Thus the illustrations, beautiful as they are, in some ways limit the scope of the book. Some of the illustrations may find their way to parlor walls; they are the focus of this book, but they do not do justice to the topic in a modern context. Within the text, some inconsistencies in statements, the lack of documentation, and the largely European focus are disappointing. ^BSumming Up: Optional. General readers. D. H. Pfister Harvard University

Booklist Review

From apples and stone fruits to exotic longans and cape gooseberries, Blackburne-Maze's opus concisely traces the cultivation and cultural aspects of sweet-flavored fruits. Viewed in light of a resurgence of interest in heritage fruits, much of the material contained here should prove timely to gardeners and others concerned with plant life biodiversity. As he writes about where fruits originated, how they developed, varied uses, and ancient legends, Blackburne-Maze complements his narrative with illustrations depicting the alluring spectrum of forms and colors of scores of fruits. Artists' biographies round out an effective, visually gratifying contribution to gardening literature. --Alice Joyce Copyright 2003 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Blackburne-Maze grew fruit commercially before working as a horticultural adviser and garden writer. His lavishly illustrated coffee-table book gives an overview of the history of fruit from apples and peaches to more exotic fruits like breadfruit and loquats. Following a short introduction, relatively brief text in each of the book's four main sections ("Pome," "Stone," "Berry," and "Exotic") describes the origins and expanding ranges of the fruit and their history, cultivation, mythology, uses, and varieties.The heart of the book, however, is the beautiful, full-color, botanically accurate paintings of luscious-looking whole fruits, cut fruits, and their flowers. Obtained from the archives of the Royal Horticultural Society's Lindley Library, London, each plate is captioned with information specific to the variety, including variety name, scientific name, and facts about taste, uses, and history. This stunning book is interesting and very browsable, but the subject matter and cost make this oversize volume better suited to horticultural/botanical libraries and academic libraries than to public libraries.-Sue O'Brien, Downers Grove P.L., IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Introduction We can all list a range of different fruit -- apples, pears, plums, bananas and oranges immediately spring to mind, for example. From a botanical point of view, however, a fruit is defined as a 'more or less fleshy pod, capsule or some other body produced by a plant in which it forms and carries its seeds'. The flesh makes the fruit look attractive to eat, and this helps seed distribution. Indeed, many a good seedling fruit tree started its life as a core or stone thrown from a car window and onto a fertile road verge. The feature of sweetness isn't crucial to the definition of a fruit (tomatoes, cucumbers and marrows are all perfectly good fruit), but in the popular sense of the word a 'fruit' has to be sweet, and this is the definition we will use in this book. HOW IT ALL BEGAN All the fruits in cultivation today are selections, mutations, hybrids or descendants of genera and species that originally grew in the wild. Prehistoric fruity remains have been found all round the world, including seeds of wild strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, sloe, bird cherry and crab apple. The spread of wild fruits in the world's temperate regions was dependent on the movement of the ice caps: as the earth's temperature rose, growing conditions improved. And, in the warmer regions, natural seed dissemination and other methods of propagation further promoted the spread of wild fruits across the globe. The presence or absence of naturally growing food has largely dictated the advance of human beings into previously unpopulated areas. It is only comparatively recently that settlers have brought their own food plants with them. This phenomenon has taken place throughout the ages, and nowadays there are very few people in the world reliant on naturally occurring foodstuffs. More than five thousand years ago (perhaps even earlier), the climate was favourable for agriculture, so huge areas were cultivated. Most temperate fruits originated from Central Asia and what was then Asia Minor -- the Caucasus, Turkestan and the Black Sea region -- where vast areas of woodland with wild pears, crab apples and cherry plums still exist (indeed, some of the wild grapes in Central Asia are identical to today's cultivated varieties). Further afield, there are quinces in Azerbaijan, apricots in Armenia and Syria, along with cherry plums, bird cherries and medlars. This abundance of natural food in what became known as the Fertile Crescent (reaching from Iran to south of the Caspian Sea, to Turkey, through Palestine and into Egypt) encouraged nomadic tribes to settle in the area. This often brought new blood into an already flourishing civilization, therefore improving it further. During this period, the peach ( Prunus persica ) came from China (not Persia), where it has now been cultivated for more than 4000 years. The first fruit to be stored for any length of time was probably the plum. These would have been sun-dried and then packed away for future use. Apples, too, were stored. They could have been dried as well, but were also laid on straw and placed in dry and cool surroundings. Certainly as far back as 500 BC, Ancient Greek and Roman writers were writing about fruit and wine. Already both cultures were raising fruit, as well as growing vines from cuttings, and even then it was known that this kind of vegetative propagation was necessary amongst fruit plants in order to produce progeny identical to that of the parent. About two thousand years ago, fruit had become a highly important crop throughout the Mediterranean area. Excavations have shown pottery, glass, even the walls of houses, decorated with fruits. Evidence of orchards, nurseries and fruit markets were plentiful around Pompeii and Herculaneum, for example. Before the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, the slopes of the volcano were home to thriving horticultural and viticultural industries. It was also around this time that varietal names started to appear. Many European fruit-growing practices started during the times of Roman occupation -- the English, for example, had little knowledge of horticulture or agriculture until the Romans occupied the country. After the Romans left (in AD 410), English growers returned almost to the wild for seven hundred years, but then the Normans invaded and got the fruit trade on its feet again, a situation that was partly aided by the self-sufficient monasteries. The big explosion, however, came with the spread of fruit cultivation from Europe to the rest of the world (and the United States in particular). Once North America, Australia and Australasia were discovered and colonized, things simply snowballed on a global scale. This fact is prominent in most of the early books on fruit growing -- the further back you go, the more familiar the fruit varieties and methods of cultivation seem to become. North America and Australasia once (literally) put on the map, soon became the founts of knowledge on the subject. The original settlers carried with them a sort of skeleton agriculture (including horticulture), which would see them through the first all-important years of colonization. Once the trauma of setting up a community in a new and totally isolated land (often complete with unfriendly local inhabitants) had been overcome, more time could then be spent on 'research and development'. This involved searching for local species of familiar plants and either taming them with cultivation or using them to breed locally desirable characteristics into existing varieties. Here, one often comes across occasions where the pupil overtakes the tutor, and the modern North American apple industry is a prime example. Of all the varieties bred in the USA during the last hundred years or so, most are eaten all over the world and many are also grown there -- for example, 'Golden Delicious', 'McIntosh, 'Jonathan', 'Jonagold, 'Red Delicious' and many more. METHODS OF PROPAGATION Seeds are the most common and cheapest way to grow a large number of plants quickly. However, seed is only useful when it gives rise to plants that are virtually identical to the parent. Although this is quite easily achieved with flowers and vegetables, it simply isn't possible with tree and bush fruits, whose progeny, when grown from seeds, seldom bears any resemblance to the parent. Any of the ancestors of an individual modern hybrid variety are likely to appear in the seedlings and normally it is the oldest genes that are the most dominant. With vegetative propagation, part of the plant you wish to propagate is detached and is encouraged to form roots and develop into another plant. Most bush fruits, for example, are propagated from stem cuttings, but unfortunately cuttings from tree fruits do not root readily. It was the Romans who found the answer. Tree fruits, then and now, are propagated most easily and successfully by budding or grafting. A rootstock (a ready-made root system) and a 'scion' (a piece of the tree you are propagating) are joined and bound together. In a short time they fuse, and buds on the scion start to grow, eventually forming the new tree. And, because this is formed from part of the original tree, it is absolutely identical to it. Later on, this gave rise to a peculiar belief that an individual variety of fruit had a predetermined life expectancy. According to this theory, when a seed germinated and grew into a new variety, an imaginary internal clock started ticking and continued to do so in all the progeny raised from it. This ticking would continue through the generations --until, say, a hundred years had passed after the 'birth' of the variety, when all its living descendants dropped dead and the variety was extinct. Such a theory is completely false, although not quite as stupid as it might sound, because something similar does actually occur with the bamboo, which has such an 'alarm clock' that goes off when it flowers. All the offspring of any particular bamboo plant will flower at more or less the same time, then it will die, no matter how young or old the offspring are. BREEDING NEW VARIETIES Once vegetative propagation had become established, it meant that new varieties could be multiplied reliably. This was a gigantic leap forward, because at last the door was open to growing and propagating varieties of fruit which were better (in quality, size, appearance, health and performance) than existing ones -- the main aim of modern plant breeding. Not too long ago, how a fruit tasted came pretty low down on the list of priorities; what mattered to the consumer was its appearance and size. But, if people choose larger (and less tasty) apples over smaller (and possibly better-flavoured) ones, the lack of demand for the latter will lead to their eventual disappearance. It is completely wrong to blame the retailers, because they will only stock what they can sell. Mercifully, however, flavour is back in fashion. One of the main horticultural aims today is to breed new varieties with resistance to important pests and diseases. The growers want this because it would reduce production costs, and the consumers do because there is an increasing level of 'zero tolerance' towards pesticide residues. These new features have to be incorporated without losing any of the existing desirable characteristics, however. And this is where genetic modification (GM) would have an incalculable advantage over the traditional sexual way of producing new varieties. Using GM, a plant breeder could put the required features into a new variety in the virtual certainty that they will appear without altering other (wanted) characteristics. Other methods have been tried over the years, with varying degrees of success, but the disadvantages have nearly always outweighed the benefits. THE IMPORTANCE OF TASTE 'No fruit is more to our English taste than the apple. Let the Frenchman have his pear, the Italian his fig, the Jamaican may retain his farinaceous banana and the Malay his durian but for us, the apple.' This was said by Edward Bunyard a notable English fruit nurseryman and connoisseur, in his excellent Anatomy of Dessert (1929). Let's take this preference for the apple down to varietal level. An obvious example is the 'Golden Delicious' (which, interestingly, Bunyard himself introduced to England!). To some people, this dessert apple does not have enough flavour, but it is an American apple and most Americans prefer apples of this sort. The aromatic sweetness of the English Cox is not to their liking. Taste is very personal -- what one individual thinks is delicious, another can strongly dislike -- and it is impossible to describe the taste of a fruit without letting one's own feelings creep in. However, what we can do is make sure we eat a fruit when it is at its best. The delicious French soft cheeses, if eaten when still hard, can taste a little soapy. Similarly, most unripe fruits have a turnip-like flavour. The apples sold and eaten in Great Britain, especially in supermarkets, are often well short of their best. At the point when 'Golden Delicious' is put on sale, it tastes foul. And 'Mcintosh', 'Jonagold' and their derivatives are usually the same. It's a different story if they are allowed to ripen before being eaten, however. To remain in good condition throughout the period from picking to purchase, most fruits have to be picked well ahead of maturity. It is a real shame that shoppers aren't properly informed that the fruit they are buying is not yet ready to eat. Exactly the same goes for fruit grown at home: gardeners should find out what they are growing, and when it should be picked and eaten. Eating a pear too early is even more of a crime than biting into an unripe apple. The crunch as it is being bitten into is alarming to hear, for in this condition it is barely better than a pear-shaped potato. A ripe pear is ready to eat when it yields a little when you press into it, and you should test it every day in this way until it does 'give' when pressed. Then there will be so much juice that it will practically have to be eaten in a bath. Incidentally, a pear picked too early will never ripen -- it just goes rubbery. THE WORLD OF FRUIT We have looked at the way different fruits came into existence, where they came from, how they have been altered to be more attractive to us and how they have spread across the world over the centuries. Apart from looking at their future -- which is always a hazardous occupation -- all that really remains is to take a quick look at some of the more interesting statistics relating to their commercial production. China is the world's largest apple-producing country, yielding a massive 20 million metric tonnes -- and that is with only one main variety, 'Fuji'. (By comparison, the whole of Europe grows less than 16 million tonnes.) In second place is the USA, producing 6 million tonnes, a tenth of the world's apple production. France tops the European apple, nectarine, peach and apricot lists, and produces 7 million tonnes of grapes. Italy is the dark horse of Europe, the second largest apple producer in Europe, and yields even vaster quantities of grapes than France (nearly 10 million tonnes). Germany manages to thrive by growing a lot of fruit that are less common in other countries. She comes third in the world apple stakes, for instance, but tops it in cherries and currants, and also heads the European strawberry list. Bearing in mind the country's substantial wine and sherry production, it comes as no great surprise that Spain is third in the European grape-growing list (after Italy and France), and shares the European citrus production honours with Italy (both somewhat aided by their largely Mediterranean climate). Spain is also the only country in Europe that produces bananas on any significant scale -- half a million tonnes annually. Excerpted from Fruit: An Illustrated History by Peter Blackburne-Maze All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Myrtle Berry
Custard Apple
Chinese Lantern
Cape Gooseberry