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For readers of H is for Hawk and The Frozen Thames, The Ghost Orchard is award-winning author Helen Humphreys’ fascinating journey into the secret history of an iconic food. Delving deep into the storied past of the apple in North America, Humphreys explores the intricate link between agriculture, settlement, and human relationships. With her signature insight and exquisit For readers of H is for Hawk and The Frozen Thames, The Ghost Orchard is award-winning author Helen Humphreys’ fascinating journey into the secret history of an iconic food. Delving deep into the storied past of the apple in North America, Humphreys explores the intricate link between agriculture, settlement, and human relationships. With her signature insight and exquisite prose, she brings light to such varied topics as how the apple first came across the Atlantic Ocean with a relatively unknown Quaker woman long before the more famed “Johnny Appleseed”; how bountiful Indigenous orchards were targeted to be taken over or eradicated by white settlers and their armies; how the once-17,000 varietals of apple cultivated were catalogued by watercolour artists from the United States’ Department of Pomology;  how apples wove into the life and poetry of Robert Frost; and how Humphreys’ own curiosity was piqued by the Winter Pear Pearmain, believed to be the world’s best tasting apple, which she found growing beside an abandoned cottage not far from her home. In telling this hidden history, Humphreys writes movingly about the experience of her research, something she undertook as one of her closest friends was dying. The result is a book that is both personal and universal, combining engaging storytelling, historical detail, and deep emotional insight.  


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For readers of H is for Hawk and The Frozen Thames, The Ghost Orchard is award-winning author Helen Humphreys’ fascinating journey into the secret history of an iconic food. Delving deep into the storied past of the apple in North America, Humphreys explores the intricate link between agriculture, settlement, and human relationships. With her signature insight and exquisit For readers of H is for Hawk and The Frozen Thames, The Ghost Orchard is award-winning author Helen Humphreys’ fascinating journey into the secret history of an iconic food. Delving deep into the storied past of the apple in North America, Humphreys explores the intricate link between agriculture, settlement, and human relationships. With her signature insight and exquisite prose, she brings light to such varied topics as how the apple first came across the Atlantic Ocean with a relatively unknown Quaker woman long before the more famed “Johnny Appleseed”; how bountiful Indigenous orchards were targeted to be taken over or eradicated by white settlers and their armies; how the once-17,000 varietals of apple cultivated were catalogued by watercolour artists from the United States’ Department of Pomology;  how apples wove into the life and poetry of Robert Frost; and how Humphreys’ own curiosity was piqued by the Winter Pear Pearmain, believed to be the world’s best tasting apple, which she found growing beside an abandoned cottage not far from her home. In telling this hidden history, Humphreys writes movingly about the experience of her research, something she undertook as one of her closest friends was dying. The result is a book that is both personal and universal, combining engaging storytelling, historical detail, and deep emotional insight.  

30 review for The Ghost Orchard

  1. 5 out of 5

    Will Byrnes

    The presence of death brings life into sharper focus, makes some things more important and others less so. I couldn’t stop my friend’s death, or fight against it. I stood out by the log cabin and the dead tree that night and thought that what I could do was make a journey alongside Joanne—a journey that was about something life-affirming something as basic and fundamental as an apple. Our primitive senses can open pathways long sealed, if not necessarily guarded. I do not think I have ever ha The presence of death brings life into sharper focus, makes some things more important and others less so. I couldn’t stop my friend’s death, or fight against it. I stood out by the log cabin and the dead tree that night and thought that what I could do was make a journey alongside Joanne—a journey that was about something life-affirming something as basic and fundamental as an apple. Our primitive senses can open pathways long sealed, if not necessarily guarded. I do not think I have ever had a Proustian moment in which the taste of something, madeleine or otherwise, has summoned a rich palate of memory, let alone several autobiographical volumes. My remnant memory cells seem more receptive to tactile and olfactory sensations. A cool breeze on my cheek summons images from decades long past. The scent of mold emanating from a building, for example, reminds me of a house where old Mrs Kelly lived when I was a kid. I worked for her for a brief span, running errands. She had a dog named Johan, which was a name I had never heard before, and another pooch whose name has slipped away, if in fact it had ever settled in. She was not there long, at least I was not long aware of her presence in our neighborhood. But I remember well sneaking into her abandoned house with other youthful criminals, feeling the old floorboards sag, fretting about the possibility of falling through, and twitching my nose at the pervasive aroma of mold. Helen Humphreys is more in the flavor camp. It is the taste of an apple that connects her to other things, although not necessarily memories. Helen Humphreys - image from Chatelaine.com It is an intimate act, tasting an apple—having the flesh of the fruit in our mouths, the juice on our tongues. Ann Jessop bites into an apple in an English orchard in the hot summer of 1790 in the middle of her life, and I bite into the same kind of apple in 2016, in the middle of my life, and taste what she did. For the time it takes to eat the apple, I am where she was, and I know what she knows, and there is no separation between us. Malus Domestica: Acker – 1901 - by Bertha Heiges – from the USDA Pomologic Watercolor Collection The MacGuffin here was the passing of a dear friend, Joanne Page, and the madeleine the associated sensation of tasting, fresh from a tree near an abandoned cabin near her home, specimens of what is reputed to be the best tasting apple in the world, the White Winter Pearmain. I was never entirely clear on how looking into the history of this amazing fruit connected much to her friend. I found the connection between friend and apple mushy, except in a very broad sense, but one can certainly still enjoy her beautifully written recollections of their friendship for their own sake. The book focuses on apples. How had an apple I had never heard of ended up in my particular pocket of southern Ontario? It seemed an impossible task to determine the apple’s thirteenth century beginnings in Norfolk, but surely, if the fruit had made its journey to America, I could find out who had brought it over from Europe. Malus Domestica: Admiral Schley – 1904 - by Bertha Heiges – from the USDA Pomologic Watercolor Collection You will learn a fair bit about this most common of fruits (not the Pearmain, the apple, generically), where it is thought to have originated, how it was brought to North America, and spread once here. (There was a second seeder). How apples were cultivated, how their placement impacted where people lived, and vice versa, their usefulness, their diversity, the difference between wild and cultivated sorts. I have come to think of apple trees as akin to human beings, not just in the fact of their individuality, and their diversity, but also in the brief tenure of their lives. A hundred years is very old for an apple tree, as it is for a person. An apple tree exists for the same length of time that we do, and this gives our relationship to the trees a certain poignancy. To stand under an apple tree in May is to feel its life in the branches vibrate with the industry of bees visiting blossoms. The noise of the bees, and the rich, sweet scent of the blossoms is an intoxicating combination, and I feel, pausing at the base of the tree and looking up into the branches, that I am in the presence of the divine. Malus Domestica: Alabama Beauty – 1903 - by Bertha Heiges – from the USDA Pomologic Watercolor Collection Humphreys’ historical digging turns up some very interesting information on relations between European invaders and Native Americans around apples. She looks at the importance of apples to the Native, settler and early American economies. It was a great benefit, for example, for different kinds of apples to ripen at different times of year, to ensure a food supply as long as possible. With the central interest being tracing the history of this most delicious apple, Humphreys grafts onto that a bit of art history. The United States Department of Agriculture, in order to be able to answer thousands of queries from apple-growers across the nation, decided to create a national catalogue of the various breeds of apples (among other produce) extant in the USA. A team of artists was employed in this task for decades, producing thousands of watercolor illustrations. Not only does Humphreys tell us a bit about how this came to be, but offers seventeen of these beautiful paintings in the book, lovingly presented on high-quality glossy paper. In writing of this project Humphreys tells of the artists’ lives, a bit, anyway, and relates their experience to visual artists she has known, and also to the art of writing. After years of being an artist, or a writer, it is hard to separate who you are from what you do. I don’t remember a day—a moment, even—when my grandfather wasn’t painting or drawing or talking about art…He believed, and made me believe, that the role of the artist was the most important in the world, and the hand of the artist was everywhere and in everything. “Someone had to think of that,” he would often say, about anything—a book cover, the design on a packet of tea. Malus Domestica: Alstott – 1897 - by Bertha Heiges – from the USDA Pomologic Watercolor Collection This leads to a look at one of the best known (tastiest?) practitioners of that art form and his relationship to apples, Robert Frost. He planted several orchards on sundry properties in New England after gaining an appreciation during a spell in England. She transcends Frost to include some reporting on Thoreau’s affection for apples as well. HDT insisted that they taste better when eaten outdoors. Each of the sundry elements of this book is interesting on its own. I would have preferred a bit, (a lot, actually) more about the science of apples. How did they come to be in the first place? I wanted more of a blow-by-blow of how they ripen, their parts, the diversity in skin types, thicknesses, color, the importance of cider, alcoholic and not, to early growers, more deep core stuff. The strength of the book is Humphreys’ inquisitive mind, and beautiful, lyrical writing, her contemplations of life, death, history, remembering, preserving, rediscovering, friendship, art and plenty more. There should be a word for how the dead continue, for how the fact of them gives over to the thought of them.’ Even love. Even rain. The fox crossing the leafy avenue. Darkness lifting from the field. The wet ring on the table under the beer glass. The scent of lilacs on the hill. Even laughter. Even breath won’t remember you. Nevertheless, you are still there. In the line of morning song outside the window. The dark plum of dusk. The dream. In the scatter of words on a page. The rise of green before the wild orchard. In the taste of this apple. Malus Domestica: Alton – 1903 - by Bertha Heiges – from the USDA Pomologic Watercolor Collection You will learn some pretty fascinating information about the pedestrian apple. (no, that is not a breed), not least of which is the impressive number of breeds that once grew in North America. You will learn the size of the largest recorded apple, and some surprising similarities between you and the apple tree. And that she managed to do this with no mention of Eden or of Adam’s laryngeal prominence is impressive. There is knowledge and joy to be had here, and taking a bite out of this scrumptious remembrance and appreciation of people and things past will not cause you to be cast out of anywhere but the shade of pomological ignorance. PS – The watercolor images here are all taken from the same source Humphreys uses, the US Department of Agriculture, but none of the images used in this review are in the book. Review Posted – September 1, 2017 Publication – September 5, 2017 =============================EXTRA STUFF The author’s personal site The USDA National Agricultural Library Digital Collection - The Pomology Collection - mouth-watering

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bibliovoracious

    A sweet and thoughtful little eulogy for the thousands of apple varieties that used to exist in North America, spiced up with historical anecdotes and visions of the central importance that apples used to have to families. Kind of how everyone has a television now. At one time, everyone had an apple tree, or an orchard. The range of varieties has vanished with the change in culture and the shift to getting apples at the store instead of the backyard. I live with over 60 venerable apple trees, an A sweet and thoughtful little eulogy for the thousands of apple varieties that used to exist in North America, spiced up with historical anecdotes and visions of the central importance that apples used to have to families. Kind of how everyone has a television now. At one time, everyone had an apple tree, or an orchard. The range of varieties has vanished with the change in culture and the shift to getting apples at the store instead of the backyard. I live with over 60 venerable apple trees, an abandoned orchard of unnamed apple varieties that has carried on living without people, at times, for over a hundred years. I understand the appeal (totally couldn't resist).

  3. 5 out of 5

    J. Robinson

    Helen Humphreys has done it again—given her readers a beautiful book. In The Ghost Orchard: The Hidden History of the Apple in North America, Humphreys’ prose is as engaging, her descriptions as exquisite, as always; her love of her subject matter is comprehensive, thoughtful, and insightful, and can’t help but seduce the reader. Who would have though that at one time there were thousands upon thousands of different kinds of apples (now reduced to a relative handful)? That apples belong to the ro Helen Humphreys has done it again—given her readers a beautiful book. In The Ghost Orchard: The Hidden History of the Apple in North America, Humphreys’ prose is as engaging, her descriptions as exquisite, as always; her love of her subject matter is comprehensive, thoughtful, and insightful, and can’t help but seduce the reader. Who would have though that at one time there were thousands upon thousands of different kinds of apples (now reduced to a relative handful)? That apples belong to the rose family, that they originated in Kazakhstan 4.5 million years ago, that there were vast forests of apples tree up until the end of the 20th century, and that apples were brought to North America in the 17th century, and thrived. On her quest to know more about the history of apples and how they came to North America Humphreys takes readers along as she travels throughout the US and parts of Canada and England following maps, perusing old gardening catalogues, and exposing myths, legends, and unhappy truths associated with this popular fruit. For example, we learn how, through Indian tribes such as the Seneca, Chippewa, Sioux, Cree, Cherokee, and many, many others who embraced and excelled at the cultivation of apples, the fruit was cared for and the trees’ cuttings were dispersed far and wide across the continent. (Regarding the Indian orchards, however--they lasted only until the tribes were chased from their homes and orchards, which were subsequently either razed completely by soldiers or taken over by less-skilled white settlers who took the tribes’ land. Sometimes those settlers kept the names of the places for geographical reference (enabling Humphreys, thankfully, to find where some of them had been), but leaving nothing except those vague but enduring names. Readers can immerse themselves in sensuous descriptions of the looks and tastes and textures of the apples, augmented by colour plates of drawings done by early artists who were hired to record the varieties—for many kinds of apples, the pictures are all that’s left. The historical orchards she writes of have largely become ghost orchards, it’s true, but the astonishingly accurate and detailed picture plates of apples drawn assist us in picturing what we are missing. There’s a pervasive sadness in the book, related to loss—the loss of people, places, and things that we have loved, moving from the intensely personal loss of a close friend, to the loss of such a vast and varied collection of apples. But along with the loss is a cherishing of memory and its role in our individual lives, as well as of our history as a people, as a culture coming to North America and peopling it, often through displacing the aboriginal tribes who often had established the aforementioned best, most abundant orchards. The Ghost Orchard honours what has gone before, and was lost, or taken; nurtured, or destroyed. Humphreys also writes about some extremely interesting people, including Ann Jessop, aka Annie Appleseed, the Quaker minister and mother whose contribution to the distribution of apples far and wide predated that of her male counterpart, the mythical figure Johnny Appleseed, by at least fifty years. Humphreys uses her skills as a poet, fiction writer, and nonfiction writer in creating a truly delicious book that is much more than a homage to the apple. Pick up a copy and enjoy The Ghost Orchard as much as you have loved Humphreys’ other books. And if you are new to her writing, you’ll quickly find out what you’ve been missing.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brett Yanta

    "I'm sure I would be interested in 180 pages on the history of apples in North America," I thought. I was about 38% right. "I'm sure I would be interested in 180 pages on the history of apples in North America," I thought. I was about 38% right.

  5. 4 out of 5

    MissBecka Gee

    Going into this I expected this to be a factual account of how, when and where apples came to be in North America with focus on the development of orchards over the years. There were some interesting tidbits to be found within all the extra unnecessary stories.... like how apples were first grown in Kazakhstan before migrating to Europe and brought to North America with the first immigrants. She did stray waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more often than not to things that had no connection to apples or their his Going into this I expected this to be a factual account of how, when and where apples came to be in North America with focus on the development of orchards over the years. There were some interesting tidbits to be found within all the extra unnecessary stories.... like how apples were first grown in Kazakhstan before migrating to Europe and brought to North America with the first immigrants. She did stray waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more often than not to things that had no connection to apples or their history....like all the different ways here grandfather used his artistic skills to make money. *************SPOILER ALERT************* It was by painting pub signs, cutout model villages, beer coasters, cigarette cards and brochures. Had she stayed on topic this book probably would have only been about 60 pages (including the 35 page glossary of lost apple breeds).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sabrina

    This was meditative, sad and beautiful. I've been waiting for it to come out since I read an essay Humphreys wrote about apples months ago. I only wish there had been a little more about North American apple history, because what was there was fascinating. Overall though, I'm glad it was more of a book of personal reflections inspired by apples than a historical account of the fruit. This was meditative, sad and beautiful. I've been waiting for it to come out since I read an essay Humphreys wrote about apples months ago. I only wish there had been a little more about North American apple history, because what was there was fascinating. Overall though, I'm glad it was more of a book of personal reflections inspired by apples than a historical account of the fruit.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    Non-fiction: the history of the apple in North America as well as an ode to the fruit. Contained much interesting information: the White Winter Pearmain has been called the best-tasting apple in the world (I must find where it can be purchased)); in the 19th century, there were over 17,000 varieties of apples in North America and now there are fewer than a hundred grown commercially, and fewer than a dozen in the grocery stores (I can vouch for that. I used to adore Winesap apples when I was a k Non-fiction: the history of the apple in North America as well as an ode to the fruit. Contained much interesting information: the White Winter Pearmain has been called the best-tasting apple in the world (I must find where it can be purchased)); in the 19th century, there were over 17,000 varieties of apples in North America and now there are fewer than a hundred grown commercially, and fewer than a dozen in the grocery stores (I can vouch for that. I used to adore Winesap apples when I was a kid and they are nowhere to be found now); apples propagated from seed won’t resemble the tree from which the seed was taken because each blossom likely had a different pollinator, so the seeds of each apple on any given tree will be 50 percent from the tree of origin and 50 percent from another apple tree, even on the same tree; at the beginning of the 1800s, America enacted a law saying that homesteaders had to plant an orchard of at least fifty apple trees during their first year of settlement; the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, a division of Cornell University has a heritage orchard of approximately seven thousand trees—the largest collection of individual apple trees in the world; the Cullawhee variety was once the largest apple ever grown. A single apple measured twenty-one inches in circumference; there were a few varieties that originated in my home state of Indiana (the Early Breakfast; the Jessup; the Nutmeg, and the Tippecanoe.) The very list of names of some of the old varieties can be entertaining, like the Anti-Know-Nothing, that was listed in the horticulture catalogue as being “Of Political Significance.” The author did waste space giving background information on some of the artists who painted pictures of apples for the USDA. I really didn’t need to know whether they were married, how many kids they had, their hobbies, and how old they were when they died. She provided irrelevant information about her late best friend and her late grandfather’s art career (I think some of this was catharsis). There was an entire wasted chapter where she imagined a fictional story set in medieval times about the discovery of the White Winter Pearmain. Totally unrelated to the actual history of the apple, but must have amused her.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I have never read any books by this book's author, Helen Humphries, so I'm not familiar with her style of writing nor do I know if this book is typical of her subject matter. It is a small book with gorgeous illustrations of varieties of apples we don't grow any more in North America. Each of the chapters is wildly different from the one before although they all reflect her scholarly research overlaid with reflections on a special friendship. I never knew that the U.S. Department of Agriculture I have never read any books by this book's author, Helen Humphries, so I'm not familiar with her style of writing nor do I know if this book is typical of her subject matter. It is a small book with gorgeous illustrations of varieties of apples we don't grow any more in North America. Each of the chapters is wildly different from the one before although they all reflect her scholarly research overlaid with reflections on a special friendship. I never knew that the U.S. Department of Agriculture employed watercolor artists and a Division of Pomology in the 19th century to disseminate information about apples. I learned that and a lot more. I enjoyed the chapter on Robert Frost and her icy walk in Canada from Kingston to Gananoque. Here's a sample of her observations: "I have come to think of apple trees as akin to human beings, not just in the fact of their individuality, and their diversity, but also in the brief tenure of their lives. 100 years old is very old for an apple tree, as it is for person. An apple tree exists for the same length of time as we do, and this gives our relationship with the trees a certain poignancy."

  9. 4 out of 5

    Charland Garvin

    I have read many of Humphreys' books and always enjoyed them. Though this was a little different from previous books, I found it very interesting as it gives a North American history of apples. Her research was thorough . She took the time to not only read about apples but also visited areas where older varieties had flourished. I found it very interesting there had been over 17,000 varieties in North America and so many had died out for one reason or another. She also included some colored draw I have read many of Humphreys' books and always enjoyed them. Though this was a little different from previous books, I found it very interesting as it gives a North American history of apples. Her research was thorough . She took the time to not only read about apples but also visited areas where older varieties had flourished. I found it very interesting there had been over 17,000 varieties in North America and so many had died out for one reason or another. She also included some colored drawings of a few apple types and I wished they had been put with the description of the apple. Interesting book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Noelle Walsh

    This book was pretty good. The details of the history of the apple in North America proved to be more interesting than I initially gave it credit for. Great read for anyone interested in learning more about the apple. *won as a GoodReads Giveaway*

  11. 4 out of 5

    Story

    3.5 stars. Some lovely passages and reflections here.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Another little treasure from Helen Humphreys! Excellent.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This is the most fascinating account of Helen Humphreys' research into "the lost history of some of the lost apples" of North America, that began because she became curious about the "yellow-skinned, with a faint pink blush on one side where the sun had touched them" apples she ate from an apple tree by an abandoned old log cabin just north of Toronto. Last fall I was eating wild apples [...] They were late apples, ripening in October and still edible into December. They also had an extraordinar This is the most fascinating account of Helen Humphreys' research into "the lost history of some of the lost apples" of North America, that began because she became curious about the "yellow-skinned, with a faint pink blush on one side where the sun had touched them" apples she ate from an apple tree by an abandoned old log cabin just north of Toronto. Last fall I was eating wild apples [...] They were late apples, ripening in October and still edible into December. They also had an extraordinary taste — crisp and juicy with an underlay of pear and honey. [...] The tree is dead now, killed by the harsh winter, its lace of dry branches a filigree through which I can see the green spring trees plumping the field edge when I come here to walk the dog. [...] The tree was mature but not ancient, the last holdout from an old orchard, perhaps [preface] The book is a small volume but full of the most amazing facts about apples, immigrants, neglect, Robert Frost, life-long friendships, seed catalogues, USDA illustrators, extinctions, reminiscences, and rebirth. I don't really know why I am surprised to learn that it wasn't necessarily Johnny Appleseed who planted apple orchards across the USA. It is the combination of the vague and the specific that often signals a lie. A man rode west of the Mississippi, his saddlebags filled with apple scions, in the early nineteenth century. No details of the man—where he came from, how he happened on grafts from English apple trees, why he was interested in propagating the trees. And yet, the very precise detail of the saddlebags filled with apple cuttings. The image is romantic and vigorous—a young man riding west to plant apple trees in the 1830s, during the time of the Indian Removal Act, when the indigenous peoples of America were being driven systematically from their lands to open up the west to white settlers, and their orchards were being burned to the ground or stolen from them. [Ann Jessop] And it is disheartening to learn that immigrants essentially pushed away the people who were in their way. The chapter entitled "Indian Orchard" is particularly revealing. Equally poignant are the descriptions of the water colour illustrations and illustrators for the USDA - from a time before color photography. Helen Humphreys' lifelong artist grandfather was a botanical illustrator at one point in his career in the 1920s "moving into commercial art in the early heady days of advertising, before the camera replaced the artist". The USDA illustrations of apples were done by twenty-one artists, nine of whom were women. [...] [T]he USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection belongs to the golden age of the apple in North America, and it's worth looking at with that in mind. The renderings are beautiful, and while the artists are lost to history, as are many of the apples they painted, I want to honour their act of cataloguing the fruit and show a time in recent history when art and science worked side by side and were equals. ~ ~ ~ ~ [My grandfather] would often hold up something at the grocery store—a package of biscuits or a pound of butter—and say, "An artist designed that label." Driving under a bridge, he would say, "An engineer built that, but an artist thought of how it should look." He believed, and made me believe, that the role of the artist was the most important in the world, and that the hand of the artist was everywhere and in everything. [USDA Water Colour Artists] other favourite excerpts: We talked and drove around, the day unspooling in conversation and the deep greens of the countryside, the sounds of birdsong, and a breeze stirring the leaves on the trees. I was entirely present, and yet at the end of the day I recalled almost nothing, which is how I imagine life goes. [Ann Jessop] ~ ~ ~ ~       My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree       Toward heaven still,       And there's a barrel that I didn't fill       Beside it, and there may be two or three       Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.       But I am done with apple-picking now.             - Robert Frost, opening to his poem "After Apple-Picking" [...] It was a sunny day in early July when I came to the Ripton farm. I sat on the rock outside Frost's writing cabin and listened to the whir of the poplar leaves at the edge of the woods and the sweet song of a hermit thrush. The tall grasses at the base of the apple trees were rich with wildflowers—pale yellow foxgloves, clover, flax, Indian paintbrush, Queen Anne's lace, daisies and buttercups. A robin perched in the branches of a tree above a cluster of small green apples.     It was more powerful than I had imagined [Robert Frost] ~ ~ ~ ~ To stand under an apple tree in May is to feel its life as the branches vibrate with the industry of bees visiting the blossoms. The noise of the bees and the rich, sweet scent of the blossoms is an intoxicating combination, and I feel, pausing at the base of the tree and looking up into the branches, that I am in the presence of the divine. The overlapping hum of the bees is almost choral, and it's in G, which is the key of the Goldberg Variations and was called, in the baroque period, "the key of benediction."       An apple tree in September or October is equally alive, full of birds and squirrels and insects, all intent on feeding from the ripened fruit, hanging with such poise from the upturned branches. [The Ghost Orchard] Some favourite apples (with descriptions) listed in the glossary: • Anti-Know-Nothing • Enormous • Golden Wilding • Hazel • Indiahoma • Kittageskee • McAfee (aka Gray Apple, Gray's Keeper, Hubbardston, Indian, Indian Ladies' Favorite, Large Striped Pearmain, Large Striped Winter Pearmain, McAfee Missourian, McAfee's Nonsuch, McAfee's Red, Missouri Keeper, Missouri Superior, New Missouri Nonsuch, Park, Park Keeper, Russian Snorter, Stephenson, Storr's Wine, Striped Pearmain, Striped Sweet Pippin, Striped Winter Pearmain, Uncle Zeeke, Valandigham Wine, White Crow, White Pearmain, Wyandotte and Zeeke) • Poorhouse (aka Winter Green and Winter Queen) • Seager (aka Townsend and the Hocking, this was a Pennsylvania apple of First Nations origin) • Trippe's Railroad • Volunteer • Yellow Forest "was used to make "cider almost as clear as water"" If half stars were allowed, I would give this lovely book 4.5 stars. And if Helen Humphreys had refrained from including her fictional account of "The Imagined Discovery of the White Winter Pearmain", I would assign a rating of 5 stars. Alas, Helen Humphreys' strengths do not extend to composing believable dialogue. Indeed, it is as if the tale were written by a different writer. The little story that she hopes will be viewed as a "windfall" lacks the wonderful lyricism of the other chapters. We couldn't manage to finish reading aloud that particular chapter, aborting at ""Sadly, I'm more daring at rest than in battle," said Nicholas. "Pass me another of those apples, will you?" They munched in silence for a few moments". It was just a little too much like reading The Hardy Boys.... (Mercifully, the Imagined Discovery is a short tale, but only those who are gluttons for punishment need bother with this rather bruised windfall.)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Enid Wray

    What a gorgeous, beautiful little book - nominally about apples - or rather, an apple, the White Winter Pearmain - but really a contemplation on life, and death, and art, and memory, and colonisation. Oh how this book talks to the inner geek in me - not to mention the geographer and social scientist. I chatted with Ms. Humphrey's about the book at the IFOA in Toronto last week... and was beyond delighted with the way in which - as she put it - she had to 'think outside the box' to come up with muc What a gorgeous, beautiful little book - nominally about apples - or rather, an apple, the White Winter Pearmain - but really a contemplation on life, and death, and art, and memory, and colonisation. Oh how this book talks to the inner geek in me - not to mention the geographer and social scientist. I chatted with Ms. Humphrey's about the book at the IFOA in Toronto last week... and was beyond delighted with the way in which - as she put it - she had to 'think outside the box' to come up with much of the historical detail she was able to find, beginning with old maps and agricultural census data to point her in the direction of where to look. And I've been to (Middleton and Ripton) Vermont, where Robert Frost maintained his writing cabin, and have walked the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail - the last time in snow up to my knees!! And I've spent time in the Finger Lakes, Geneva and environs. I'm already planning my next trip back to those parts, on my own apple seeking adventure.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    This is an odd little book and really hard to categorize. Ostensibly it's about the history of apples in North America - but it's less than that and more than that all at the same time. The author is processing grief over the loss of her friends and apples is how she does it. It wasn't as apple-y as expected but I learned lots of interesting little tidbits that I can share and annoy my friends with (who knew there was a job title called "pomologist"?) . All in all an interesting book This is an odd little book and really hard to categorize. Ostensibly it's about the history of apples in North America - but it's less than that and more than that all at the same time. The author is processing grief over the loss of her friends and apples is how she does it. It wasn't as apple-y as expected but I learned lots of interesting little tidbits that I can share and annoy my friends with (who knew there was a job title called "pomologist"?) . All in all an interesting book

  16. 4 out of 5

    Heather D H

    There were moments that I really enjoyed in this book. And I learned unexpected things - like how female Quaker ministers in the nineteenth century went about their business - about disparate subjects, including but not limited to, apples. But overall the book didn't leave me feeling like I'd read a coherent narrative. There were moments that I really enjoyed in this book. And I learned unexpected things - like how female Quaker ministers in the nineteenth century went about their business - about disparate subjects, including but not limited to, apples. But overall the book didn't leave me feeling like I'd read a coherent narrative.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Josephine Ensign

    An odd book that reads more like a slim collection of somewhat linked essays. The least effective, and the chapter/essay taking up the largest number of pages is "USDA Watercolour Artists." An odd book that reads more like a slim collection of somewhat linked essays. The least effective, and the chapter/essay taking up the largest number of pages is "USDA Watercolour Artists."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Heep

    This is a lovely, lyrical book. It is similar to Robert MacFarlane and Nan Shepherd, although perhaps not as coherent. The theme of apples - their history, cultivation and cultural impact - is used as the basis for a meditation. It is not a thorough and organized review of the topic. Humphreys does get you thinking - the very idea that there were once hundreds of identified apple varieties is astonishing. The book pays homage to Robert Frost and his deep friendship with the great English poet, Ed This is a lovely, lyrical book. It is similar to Robert MacFarlane and Nan Shepherd, although perhaps not as coherent. The theme of apples - their history, cultivation and cultural impact - is used as the basis for a meditation. It is not a thorough and organized review of the topic. Humphreys does get you thinking - the very idea that there were once hundreds of identified apple varieties is astonishing. The book pays homage to Robert Frost and his deep friendship with the great English poet, Edward Thomas - both of whom must be great sources of inspiration to Humphreys. She cites Frost's "Apple-Picking": My long tw0-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree Toward heaven still, And there's a barrel that I didn't fill Beside it, and there may be two or three Apples I didn't pick upon some bough... And then to an homage of his friendship with Thomas: To rumours of the war remote Only till both stood disinclined For aught but the yellow flavorous coat Of an apple wasps had undermined. The book's beautiful passages don't just belong to other authors though. The final passage serves as a fine example: There should be a word for how the dead continue, for how the fact of them gives over to the thought of them. Even love. Even rain. The fox crossing the leafy avenue. Darkness from the field. The wet ring on the table under the beer glass. The scent of lilacs on the hill. Even laughter. Even breath won't remember you. Nevertheless, you are still there. In the line of morning song outside the window. The dark plum of dusk. The dream. In the scatter of words on a page. The rise of green before the wild orchard. In the taste of this apple. One final note - the first chapter tells the role of the First Nations in apple cultivation - the history of the Indian Orchard. Sadly, the destruction of these orchards, primarily on orders from George Washington, is a painful metaphor for the woe and hardships of the native peoples. This part of the book is fascinating history and had been unknown to me.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Who knew there were 17000 types of apples? And that apples are related to roses. And that the apple tree and its fruit has been the scene of great battles, great folly, the shame of settlers destroying one of the First Nations primary sources of food, and the subject of decades of research and inspiration for thousands of drawings for the government. The apple seed, the apple, Robert Frost, Henry David Thoreau. The Ghost Orchard is a text that is hard to classify, and perhaps even to accustom yo Who knew there were 17000 types of apples? And that apples are related to roses. And that the apple tree and its fruit has been the scene of great battles, great folly, the shame of settlers destroying one of the First Nations primary sources of food, and the subject of decades of research and inspiration for thousands of drawings for the government. The apple seed, the apple, Robert Frost, Henry David Thoreau. The Ghost Orchard is a text that is hard to classify, and perhaps even to accustom yourself to read. Humphreys’ book is a lament for a lost friend, a celebration of the expansion of the apple in North America, a requiem for all the orchards and varieties of apples that no longer exist, and thus we will never taste, and a song to acknowledge every old apple tree that one can still find in the byways of the countryside. At times there are lists of apples and their properties in the book; at other times there are pictures from artists who have painstakingly drawn the fruit. On each page, however, can be found tasteful prose, insightful thought and a core of values that will bring you closer to the fruit you may have just finished eating without much thought. Bon appetite.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cathy Savage

    This is the story of the history of the apple in North America intertwined with the author's remembrances of a dead friend, a fellow writer. Although off the topic I was expecting, for me, it neither improved nor detracted from the main thrust of the book. Who knew there were so many apple varieties grown in the mid-1800's? Certainly not me! Although a little on the dry side with repetitious wording (hard to describe the attributes of an apple otherwise!) it was mildly interesting to learn some This is the story of the history of the apple in North America intertwined with the author's remembrances of a dead friend, a fellow writer. Although off the topic I was expecting, for me, it neither improved nor detracted from the main thrust of the book. Who knew there were so many apple varieties grown in the mid-1800's? Certainly not me! Although a little on the dry side with repetitious wording (hard to describe the attributes of an apple otherwise!) it was mildly interesting to learn some of the back story of apples in this part of the world, the vast number of cultivars grown over the years and where they originated. Some of them sounded quite delicious but, alas, they are extinct now. There is a compendium of extinct apples previously grown in North America in the back of the book - 34 pages worth! I only glossed over that portion of the book but it too was mildly interesting. Still, it was interesting as one of my ancestors was an apple (crabapple) propagator and was instrumental in setting up a Canadian agricultural research station near where I live.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Zoom

    2.5. Kind of boring, but I have to say it would probably have been even more boring if anyone other than Helen Humphreys had written it. In fairness, I wouldn't have read it if I'd read *about* it first. I loved the first couple of Helen Humphreys' books that I read, so I ordered a few more. I didn't realize this one was literally about the history of apples in North America. I don't even really like apples all that much. I now know more about apples than I ever thought I would. In fact, I now kn 2.5. Kind of boring, but I have to say it would probably have been even more boring if anyone other than Helen Humphreys had written it. In fairness, I wouldn't have read it if I'd read *about* it first. I loved the first couple of Helen Humphreys' books that I read, so I ordered a few more. I didn't realize this one was literally about the history of apples in North America. I don't even really like apples all that much. I now know more about apples than I ever thought I would. In fact, I now know more about apples than I even thought possible. My favourite part was the biographical sketches of the women artists who painted apples for seed catalogues. It's an aesthetically pleasing book. I really like the design, the cover, the size and the illustrations. And it's well written and mercifully short.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sheryl Kirby

    An exploration of lost North American apple varieties, Humphreys traces her own search for the Winter White Pearmain, a heritage apple she discovers, but also spends time looking at Robert Frost and his love of apples, as well as the travels of Anne Jessop, who travelled the US with apple scions (those are the branches that are grafted onto existing trees, as opposed to planting seeds directly into the ground). This feels like a very personal work, as Humphreys tells stories from her own life as An exploration of lost North American apple varieties, Humphreys traces her own search for the Winter White Pearmain, a heritage apple she discovers, but also spends time looking at Robert Frost and his love of apples, as well as the travels of Anne Jessop, who travelled the US with apple scions (those are the branches that are grafted onto existing trees, as opposed to planting seeds directly into the ground). This feels like a very personal work, as Humphreys tells stories from her own life as well as her family — her grandfather was an artist who painted fruit for seed catalogues. She ends with a massive list of lost apple varieties that will make anyone standing in the supermarket considering "red, green or yellow" tearful at what we're all missing.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Aisha Toor

    3.5 stars. I love apples, history and Helen Humphreys so this book was tailor made for me! I did really enjoy much of the book but can't say I loved it. Humphreys is a wonderfully lyrical writer and really does bring to life the ghosts of apples long forgotten. I loved the images of lost orchards and apples and how they were woven through the history of North America. I loved the story of Ann Jessop; a woman with a vision. I loved looking through the author's eyes at the past and how she binds u 3.5 stars. I love apples, history and Helen Humphreys so this book was tailor made for me! I did really enjoy much of the book but can't say I loved it. Humphreys is a wonderfully lyrical writer and really does bring to life the ghosts of apples long forgotten. I loved the images of lost orchards and apples and how they were woven through the history of North America. I loved the story of Ann Jessop; a woman with a vision. I loved looking through the author's eyes at the past and how she binds us to our history and geography. However the book occasionally became plodding and I got bored with the tangents and unrelated topics.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sherry Monger

    I am a fan of Helen Humphreys' fiction and heard her interviewed about this book, so thought I would give it a try. Who knew there were once about 17 000 apple varieties in North America when the fruit was initially introduced? Now there are fewer than a 100 varieties grown and you would be hard pressed to find more than a few of those in your local grocery store. Humphreys has a fascination with the history of old orchards and set out in search of some specific apples that are no longer grown. I I am a fan of Helen Humphreys' fiction and heard her interviewed about this book, so thought I would give it a try. Who knew there were once about 17 000 apple varieties in North America when the fruit was initially introduced? Now there are fewer than a 100 varieties grown and you would be hard pressed to find more than a few of those in your local grocery store. Humphreys has a fascination with the history of old orchards and set out in search of some specific apples that are no longer grown. I applaud the research that has gone into the writing- as expected it showcased the author's talent, but found that my interest waned fairly early.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

    I'm not sure how to rate this really. I felt sad the whole time reading it because it starts with the inevitable death of the authors friend. That sort of set the tone for me. The history of the apple in North America. Not going to lie; I was bored most of the time. I was invested in the apple at the beginning but the author lost me with the short autobiographies of apple artists and writers. The writing was a bit stiff and never really felt involved in the story. Most of the time I felt like I w I'm not sure how to rate this really. I felt sad the whole time reading it because it starts with the inevitable death of the authors friend. That sort of set the tone for me. The history of the apple in North America. Not going to lie; I was bored most of the time. I was invested in the apple at the beginning but the author lost me with the short autobiographies of apple artists and writers. The writing was a bit stiff and never really felt involved in the story. Most of the time I felt like I was reading a text book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Megan Gilchrist

    I find it hard to classify this book - it is equal parts history, journal, and prose. While each chapter is an engaging read on its own, I did find it meandered a bit and sometime wandered down a side path. For a Canadian author, there was also a very heavy focus on the American story - I would have loved to have known more about the orchards, records and stories of Canada. However, I still enjoyed the book, and it was a nice light summer read to pick up bit by bit when I had a few moments to sp I find it hard to classify this book - it is equal parts history, journal, and prose. While each chapter is an engaging read on its own, I did find it meandered a bit and sometime wandered down a side path. For a Canadian author, there was also a very heavy focus on the American story - I would have loved to have known more about the orchards, records and stories of Canada. However, I still enjoyed the book, and it was a nice light summer read to pick up bit by bit when I had a few moments to spare.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Marci -

    As much as I wanted to love this book, it just didn’t give me the satisfaction of a well read book. I love Helens writing, but it just seemed so jumbled in places, I wanted to know more if she actually found the particular apple she was looking for, did she grow a tree? The images that were placed in the back of the book were just amazing, and so well detailed. It was looking at a photograph instead of a painted picture an artist rendered.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bev

    An utter deliight. Helen Humphreys indulges her long-time interest in apples -- kinds, history, anecdotes -- to create a thorough resource that is also a personal odyssey. As she researches and muses on the role that apple trees have played in North America since they were introduced by European settlers, she muses on personal connections, grieving for and honouring the passing of her friend of many years. This is a thoughtful and heartwarming book by one of my favourite authors.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Amy Roebuck

    This was an interesting little book, with bits and pieces of personal reflection, historical anecdote and horticultural background. Good for a quiet Sunday afternoon. I picked it up because I've met Humphreys (hosted her at a library author reading) and liked her. I appreciate the variety in her writing, both in topic, style and format. Two of my favourites are her book on the Thames, and Lost Garden. This was an interesting little book, with bits and pieces of personal reflection, historical anecdote and horticultural background. Good for a quiet Sunday afternoon. I picked it up because I've met Humphreys (hosted her at a library author reading) and liked her. I appreciate the variety in her writing, both in topic, style and format. Two of my favourites are her book on the Thames, and Lost Garden.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    In this book Humphreys goes on a search for some of the 17,000 different varieties of apples that have been grown in North America in the past. Of course the orchards are long gone, along with many of the apples species, by she finds evidence of them in the names of villages and streets. At times I found the book to be just a listing of what grew where. The greater message is how much has been lost over the centuries.

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