Monday, September 22, 2014

Apples- Frank Browning

This is the time of year for apples. There's no disputing it. I went to the orchard the other day with my daughter and there were college kids, young mothers and tykes and the first foliage tourists all enjoying the views from the top of the hill at Alyson's Orchard. The farm stand was loaded up with the first 'early apples' - Macintosh and Golden Crisps, all sorts of squashes and gourds, the last plums, and of course, pumpkins. We were there for bags of apples,though. I had just finished Frank Browning's book on apples, timely to say the least.

Theories and mythology abound regarding the origins of the apple and Mr Browning has given us a rich exploration of the origins of apples from the mountain sides of Kazakhstan along the exploration routes between Asia and Europe. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are the pages that discuss theories about how apple seeds traveled thousands of miles with nomadic peoples and explorers and wild animals to drop and grow in isolation for hundreds of years, creating apple varieties that vary widely. His book tells of breeding programs across the ages that have created the most known varieties of apples, the use of apples within the cider industry, the politics of apple propagation, and the history and myth of the apple as a sacred image. The genetic aspects of the apple are explored also. Some of that knowledge went a bit over my head, but I got most of it if I read closely and really thought about everything Browning was putting forth. The book was really interesting and to boot, it ended with a chapter that included some great recipes. Of course, I have made a couple - a terrific pork shoulder braised in cider, apples, and mushrooms and an apple cake that is lovely to look at and even better to tuck into! Seasonal reading and seasonal eating - it doesn't get much better than that!

This is not a long book, but it is chock full of information. Browning is an NPR reporter and his writing style reflects a newsman's short, bulleted style of presenting information. He doesn't waste words, but is clear and direct in presenting the story of apples. His chapters are well organized and flow logically. He mixes the human interest aspects of apple propagation and botany really well with the technical information so that one is drawn on further into the book and not turned off by 'dry presentation of minutae'. He even includes a recipe for apple stack cake that comes from the area of Kentucky where he and his family have lived and tended an apple orchard for years. It's obvious he has great love for the orchard life, as he's given the world a great read that's all about the apple!

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