Book Review

Old Southern Apples

by Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr.

McDonald & Woodward Publishing Co., Blacksburg, Va. 1995.
Order from Lee Calhoun, 295 Blacktwig Rd., Pittsboro, NC 27312; ((919) 542-4480. Soft cover $40; hard cover $50; plus $3 S&H.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by Gene Wild (5/1996)

A book like no other has been published. It should be the delight of apple fanciers, variety collectors and those interested in pomological history. It should be of special interest to those in the South.

Lee Calhoun and I were introduced through the pages of Pomona (the NAFEX quarterly) several years ago; we share a common interest in old southern apples. Lee's efforts were toward their history and re-discovery. My interest was in how well they would grow in Indiana and in their resulting quality. The remarkable results of his efforts reside in this fine 326-page book.

The book begins with 40 large (8-1/2 x 11 in.) pages of fascinating history concerning cultivation practices and uses of apples in the Old South--yes, the anecdotes and folklore woven into the text do indeed make fascinating reading.

Before now no author has ever written a comprehensive book covering Southern apples. Why? Possibly partly because the South was in a depressed state for so many years after the Civil War--the time during which so much northern pomological literature was authored. This seems quite unfortunate when you finally realize that 1,300 unique apple varieties were developed in the South. Even more surprising is the fact that a credible, comprehensive book on the old southern apples can be written now. Thankfully, there are more than 3,000 paintings of apples in the pomological watercolor collection in the National Agricultural Library at Beltsville, Md. (reproductions of 48 of these fine paintings appear in the book). The library also has a comprehensive collection of old fruit catalogs, old books and magazines, agricultural bulletins, newspapers, state horticulture society minutes and letters as resources for the book. Weave in what elderly southerners still remember and you have a book that is not only full of good information but is fun to read.

Even the variety descriptions are good reading as well as definitive. For example (p 63): "Cullasaga (Winter Horse, Cullasaga, Callasaga): Nancy Bryson grew Cullasaga from a seed of the Horse apple about 1830 at her parents' home near Salem Methodist Church in Macon County, North Carolina. It was introduced by the great North Carolina pomologist Silas McDowell who named it for the nearby Cullasaja River and Gorge. In 1894 the original tree was still standing with a trunk almost ten feet in circumference.

"Old postal guides...show that this word has been spelled...Cullasaga, Cullasagee or Cullasaja...

"Cullasaga...was considered extinct by 1989. In March of that year, I received a letter from Bob Padgett who lives...in Macon County: 'My neighbors have a Cullasaga apple tree. It is a very tall tree and beginning to fall apart, but it still bears apples. It is reported to be over a hundred years old...'"

Another example (p 188): "Cranberry: The Cranberry is a Georgia apple described by Elliott (1855). The Cranberry Pippin is a different apple, from New York. The Scarlet Cranberry is a Virginia apple. The description below is for Cranberry..."

The variety descriptions are in two sections. The first section covers the more than 300 varieties known to be still grown. The second section includes the large number presumed to be extinct. The latter list is already out of date for several of its varieties have been found to still exist. Of course, that is the author's hope. Regretfully, one of the very great southern apples, Hall, so far has not been found.


© Copyright 1996, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
Questions or comments? Contact us.