“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





01 November 2013


With apples, the dead are many
Spook yourself with these ghosts
Another beautiful Adelaide book

For Halloween I spooked myself with a book about the ghosts of apples and pears.  Dead ones.  Types long gone.

It's the work of Tony Kanellos, who's Cultural Collections Manager and Curator of the Santos Museum of Economic Botany in the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide.

The book, Imitation of life - a visual catalogue, was made with a lot of help from a pomologist called Heinrich Arnoldi.  A pomologist is a fruit expert.  Pomology was once a very popular science, but there are only about 200 accredited pomologists working on Earth today.

Apple 219 - Apfel aus Halder - issue 74, 1897 photo Paul Atkins
[click any image to enlarge]

Arnoldi was seventy when he died in 1882.  He sought to improve the quality of life by recording its diversity, and by his quiet science encourage the propagation of as many types of fruit as possible.  He made a business of fruit delivery by subscription.  His fruit was built to last.  His company made exquisite copies of fruit -  and fungi - from hand-painted, waxed and stuccoed  papier-mâché, a secret technique he invented.  These remarkable artworks are not meant to be beautiful, but were built to be perfectly true examples of their type.  Colour, shape, size, form and texture had to be scientifically accurate to tolerances and exactitude modern artisans have yet to equal.  The sorts of specks and imperfections the 21st century fruit consumer refuses to accept were all part of the picture to Arnoldi.

The  Museum of Economic Botany in the Botanic Gardens, Adelaide.  Once a standard fixture of every distant branch of the British Empire, this is one of only three still extant.  The others are in the  Indian Botanic Garden in Kolkata and Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, UK  ... photos Grant Hancock

Dr Richard Schomburgk, director of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide from 1865 to 1891, wanted a reference collection of fruits his fellow colonists should consider for import and propagation, and to help avoid misnaming types already described, named and planted here.  Just months after his appointment, he was negotiating with his fellow countrymen in Germany to purchase a subscription of supplies of fruit from Heinrich Arnoldi and Company.  This soon began to arrive in batches.

Apple 176 - Schwarzrother, Platter Winter Calvill - issue 62, 1886 ... photo Paul Atkins
While Arnoldi himself died in 1882, his company continued its deliveries until the last in 1899.  It produced replicas of 456 fruit varieties over 43 years, delivered in 76 instalments.  In spite of them being "lost" with the advent of modern monoculture, and hidden in storage for over fifty years, 360 of these priceless exhibits - apples, pears, plums, peaches, and an apricot - survive in the Santos Museum of Economic Botany.

It is Kanellos we should thank for the restoration and study of this extremely rare exhibit.

Apple 1 - Gravensteiner - Issue 1 1856; 2nd edition 1873 ... photo Paul Atkins

Each of these perfect replica fruits took two years to make and approve.  The book presents haunting Paul Atkins photographs of 225 apples and 161 pears.  I counted six apples and two pears in the local Coles yesterday, and none of them looked like food like the fruits on these pages do.

Apple 163 - Sary Ulma =- Issue 57, 1882 ... photo Paul Atkins

My interest in apples and pears comes partly through my curiosity about cider and perry.  While these drinks are in boomgate flood currently, most of them are simple sweet kiddylikker rotgut made from the juice of excess so-called "eating apples," much of which is imported as frozen concentrate.

Typical of humans to name their most inbred, bland, industrially-repeated fruit "eating."  In contrast, we should not forget the appellation, "drinking."

With his Somerset cider background, my favourite Australian cider and perry man, Warwick Billings of Lobo at Mt Torrens, wails aloud about the dearth of old apple and pear strains which are essential for proper cider and perry.

Just as it tortures me, it drives him nuts to see this range of fruits, many of  which died out long ago, others probably dying somewhere now.

"It's a source of mass frustration - a mass of heritage that we haven't looked after," he says.  "You can't taste papier-mâché.  Those flavours have gone forever.  I can't drive past an old orchard now without wanting to get out of the car and save them."

Anybody with remnant apple or pear types in old orchards should contact Warwick - he needs quality fruit for his cider press.  Imitation of life - a visual catalogue, may be a useful tool to name old types you don't know. But I'll be surprised.  My feeling on spending an hour in these pages is one of grief for what I suspect is lost forever.  If you have any doubts, take a wander into the Santos Museum of Economic Botany next time you're in town, and visit the originals.  They trigger that very exciting mixture of grief and joy at the appreciation of both extremes of humanity's capacity for obvious commonsense.

Apple 221 - Bismarck Apfel - Issue 74, 1897 ... photo Paul Atkins
In his foreword, Botanic Gardens Director Stephen Forbes refers to your modern patented supermarket fruit by quoting John Seabrook writing in The New Yorker of an apple invented at the University of Michigan:

"As a piece of intellectual property - branded, patented and trademarked - (SweeTango) has more in common with the apple on my laptop than the one I used to carry in my lunchbox."

While our society seems to have carefully got itself down to just  a handful of horrid bland apples, Forbes points out that when the mapping of the apple genome was completed in 2010, 57,000 genes were identified, more than in any other known plant.   With his typically understated assertion, he calls Kanellos's story of Heinrich Arnoldi and his fruit "one that resonates with contemporary issues in biodiversity conservation and food security."

No need to wait until Halloween. These beautiful ghosts will haunt you anytime.

Tony Kanellos (author, Cultural Collections Manager and Curator of the Santos Museum of Economic Botany), Dan Mullins (viticulturer, Yangarra), Stephen Forbes (Director, Botanic Gardens Adelaide), Chris Carpenter (winemaker, Cardinale, Lokoya and La Jota, Napa, California) and Michael Lane (vineyard manager/viticulturer, Yangarra) at our visit to the Museum in April ... photo Philip White

Prof David Mabberely, the eminent botanist, historian and author of The Story of the Apple will officially launch this profound edition at a Marble Hill picnic on November 17.  Imitation of life - a visual catalogue (26x25cmx3cm; hardcover; sleeve) will sell for $69 at the Diggers Garden Shop, behind the Museum of Economic Botany in the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide.  Wakefield Press will distribute it through all good Australian bookstores.

POSTSCRIPT: To read David Mabberly's speech at the book's launch and see some more photographs, click here.


Dorothy said...

When I built my house, I retained the apple tree that would be many decades old. It produces an apple that I haven't seen elsewhere. It is quite tart and a visitor once told me that it might be an old cider apple. I don't know where or how to get the apple type identified. If anyone wants seeds from this tree, they are also most welcome.

Philip White said...

Dorothy, if you e-mail me at whiteswine@hotmail.com I can assist you track your apple's trail.