Book Review

Pomona's Harvest

by H. Frederic Janson

Timber Press, Inc., 133 S.W. Second Avenue, Suite 450, Portland, OR 97204-3527. 1996. 436 pages. Hardcover. $59.95 plus $8.00 S&H.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by C.A. Schroeder (11/1996)

H. Frederic Janson, a retired Canadian food scientist and co-founder of the North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) has explored the European literature of horticulture from early historical times to the middle of the 19th century. In this book, which is subtitled "An Illustrated Chronicle of Antiquarian Fruit Literature," he has brought to light in one publication many secrets, historical facts and ideas to provide a nicely written account of the history and practices of horticulture throughout the ages. The extensive, annotated list of authors and books -- in English, French, German, Italian, and other less popular languages -- provides an alluring invitation to consult the original documents. Translations of essential passages from the foreign languages are provided by the polyglot author.

Among the many joys and benefits of growing common or exotic fruits are the factual knowledge and lore associated with their discovery, improvement and uses. Horticultural notions, concepts and practices -- good, bad and indifferent -- are told in direct quotations or careful translations. The literature cited, from the Roman poet Ovid through authors of the past several centuries, describe a "holistic" pomology involving sight, smell, touch, taste and "crunch." Some basic religious concepts related to fruits of the Bible, such as the citron, or the oath of Allah "by the fig and olive," and the question posed by Albert Marquer (1240) "does the fruit have a soul" still exist. Philosophical quotations regarding plants as well as strange and often bizarre interpretations of their function in respect to man can be traced in this literature. Many of the early published treatises on pomology consisted primarily of lists and often detailed descriptions of apple cultivars -- the most widely grown and utilized fruit in Europe from early historical times up to the middle of the 19th century. Pruning, too, was of major interest. The benefits of grafting and budding were described by Pliny in A.D. 79 and by many other authors since that time. Root pruning was mentioned in 1608. Extensive descriptions are provided of the practices of espalier training, pinching, pruning, tying with leather (girdling) in the time of Louis XIV.

Among many items of interest to the armchair horticulturist are the early cookbook by Sir Hugh Platt (1602), "Delights for Ladies," and the opera "Pomona" which was commissioned by Louis XIV in 1671 to depict the romance between Pomona and Vertumnus, god of the harvest. The Royal' apricot was named in 1815, the Gravenstein' apple was described in Denmark in 1790, and the terms "pollen" and "pericarp" were originated in 1561. Knowledge of dwarfing rootstocks (quince under pear) was noted in 1869. Root pruning to hasten fruiting of young trees and the value of oxygen to control ripening of fruit was recorded in 1627. Of interest to the strictly history-oriented buff is the German Garden Book of 1825 which consists of 22 illustrated volumes each with 400 pages. Many of the plates were painted by Christiane Vulpius during the 10 years she lived with the poet Wolfgang von Goethe before she married him. A milestone horticultural document was "A Treatise on the Culture and Management of Fruit Trees" by William Forsyth (London, 1802), the most popular and enduring fruit book ever published in the English language. An American edition was issued by William Cobbett (1802). While the early horticultural literature was concerned primarily with temperate-climate fruits such as apples, pears, peaches and plums, the subtropical fruits, especially citrus, are mentioned in the Bible (the citron or haddar) and are recounted in greater detail by later authors such as Gallesio (1811) and Risso (1820). The English translation of Gallesio's treatise, published in Florida in 1876, provided the basis for the early industry in that state. The earliest significant American fruit compendium was Bernald M. Mahan's "The American Gardener's Calendar" (1806), which was issued in 11 editions over a period of 50 years. President Jefferson consulted it.

A detailed bibliography of more than 600 books, treatises and publications gives comments on the major contribution of each. This list provides a brief but significant introduction to the more important horticultural literature of history which can guide the researcher or armchair reader into worlds of useful or even curious information about specific fruits and their plants.

The text is augmented by 139 black and white prints of frontispieces, line drawings of specific fruits from the books discussed, and an 8-page color spread. This extensive treatment, compendium and abstract of horticultural literature should be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of all plant lovers and students of history.

© Copyright 1996, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
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