Book Review

An Apple Harvest: Recipes and Orchard Lore

by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva

Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA. 1999.
$17.95 cloth, 163 pages, ISBN 1-58008-104-5
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Reviewed by Bob Allen (1/2000)

An Apple Harvest by Frank Browning and Sharon Silva celebrates the preeminent fruit of temptation with splendid recipes and spirited musings on pie making (to peel or not to peel?), cooking with hard cider, and living on an apple farm. Browning, a National Public Radio reporter on issues of science and society--when he is not preoccupied at his family apple orchard--and Silva, a San Francisco-based writer and editor specializing in books on food, hold strong opinions, not always shared, on the culinary uses of apples.

Both Browning and Silva grew up in apple country, he in eastern Kentucky and she in Sonoma County, California. Browning's family roots are firmly in the Appalachian Mountains, and Silva's family emigrated from the Azores to California in the 1880s. There is something magical in their collaboration, fully confirming their success in producing a Baedaker to apple cuisine--the book's scope being truly worldwide.

Each recipe gives suggestions of specific apple cultivars to use. Many qualify as rare or antique; some are so new that even the most dedicated connoisseurs may have difficulty tracking them down. A chapter entitled "A Culinary Pomarium," presents an annotated list of twenty-five of the choicest varieties, complete with color photographs. The more unusual ones include Gold Rush (a Midwestern apple similar to Golden Delicious), Honeycrisp, and Suncrisp (a new and very promising cross of Cox's Orange Pippin and Golden Delicious).

Quoting antique apple specialist Tom Burford of Virginia on the dreadful qualities of many falsely revered older varieties--the "quick spitters," as he would say--the authors contend, "Most antique varieties have disappeared for good reason: they were difficult to grow, they were susceptible to disease...they bore poorly, or they didn't taste good.... New varieties winning favor are Fuji, Braeburn, Suncrisp, Pink Lady, Pacific Rose, and Cameo--any one of which will match or exceed the charms of the last century's revered antiques available from specialty nurseries."

As an aside, I might add here that I have just received the latest catalog from CRFG member Sonoma Antique Apple Nursery. While not all the varieties mentioned by Browning and Silva are listed in Sonoma Antique's catalog, their collection has steadily improved over the years with a currently outstanding selection of the old and the new, including cider apples. They are located at 4395 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA 95448. Phone (707) 433-6420; fax (707) 433-6479; e-mail <>; and web site <>. During shipping season, the Harrisons intend to provide weekly updates on stock availability on their web site.

Among the recipes that especially excited my fancy, I would recommend:

Winter Salad with Apples and White Cheddar
Sea Scallops in Cider Sauce
Monk Liver in Gingered Cider
Duck Legs and Pink Ladies
Atlantic Salmon Fillets in Cider-Mustard Sauce
Pascal's Rabbit
Roman Pork and Apple Stew
Pork and Apple Pie with Horseradish Sauce
Fujis and Flowering Kale
Lynn Meyer's Haroseth

If you think there is a story with each one of these dishes, you are absolutely right. Before your imagination gets the better of you, the monk liver is really monkfish liver. As you read through this book--and it is entertaining in itself--you will be transported from Kentucky and Northern California to Morocco, Denmark, Argentina, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Iran, Russia, and Australia. Within the United States, you will go to Virginia, Vermont, Indiana, Washington, DC; and New York. You will meet the likes of Silva's Aunt Mae; Elisabeth Dyssegaard and her Danish great aunt; Cecilia Brunazzi; New York restaurateur Daniel Orr, French Chef Pascal Giraudeau, Judy Stone, Lynn Meyer, Judith Dunham, Mary Hester, Palma Csicsery, Maggie Gin, Tuny Walker, Marc Sharifi, and Frank Viviano--a real cast of characters whose stories enliven the narrative.

The authors dig back as far as the time of Caesar Augustus to a Roman work entitled "Ars magirica" by Marcus Gavius Apicius as the starting point for their updated version of Roman Pork and Apple Stew. They consult other obscure volumes like Directions for Cookery (1828) by Eliza Leslie and The Good Huswifes Handmaid for Cookerie (1588), an old Welsh cookbook.

You'll laugh, you'll smile, you'll have fun. This book will give you a fuller appreciation of the many culinary uses of apples. Enjoy!

© Copyright 1999, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.