Book Notes: Taming Fruit, by Bernd Brunner

Taming Fruit, by Bernd Brunner. Greystone Books (4th November 2021)

Bernd Brunner’s rather superb new book, Taming Fruit, offers a truly panoramic overview of humanity’s relationship with fruit and fruit-growing, spanning the eras from the dawn of recorded history to the present day and beyond.

In fact, the book opens by reporting on an intriguing theory that the evolution of primate intelligence may well have been kick-started and guided by the drive to forage for fruit rather than simply eat leaves, and from there Brunner goes on to explore a wide and fascinating range of fruit-related topics.

Beginning with the likely origins of what might conceivably be called an orchard space – planted, or at least encouraged plantations of date palms in oases – through to the more formal organisation of fruit trees into the walled gardens of Mesopotamia, Egypt and other regions of the fertile crescent, the vital importance of fruiting trees and the ingenious methods used to protect and nurture them is explored, with plenty of examples from the historical and archaeological record.

From there the author takes us on a fruitful journey through the ages. Discussion ranges from the latest theories as to the evolution of the apple and other fruits, to the transportation and dissemination of fruit cultivars and cultivation methods throughout the classical Greek and Roman world, to the survival of fruticulture skills and knowledge through Europe’s so-called Dark Ages in monastic gardens and orchards, and then on to the glorious heydays of fruit growing in Europe and America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the development of pomology as both a respected branch of science and an art-form in its own right.

The final chapters of the book highlight ongoing innovations and experiments in orchard growing techniques, and look to a hopeful future of renewed interest in greater variety in orchard growing, as smaller producers move away from industrial monoculture plantations towards more naturally harmonious methods of planting, growing and harvesting the fruits of the orchardists’ labours.

With such a huge subject area and timespan to cover, you might think that Taming Fruit would be something of a whistle-stop tour of the subject. However, Brunner is adept at moving the narrative forwards whilst lingering just long enough at each major stopping point along the way to provide the nuggets of fascination that keep the reader interested throughout. I certainly learned a few new factoids that I hadn’t encountered elsewhere (no spoilers, you’ll have to discover them for yourself).

Whilst there much of content in the book is sourced from the realms of academia, the tone and language used never strays too deeply into academic cant. Brunner keeps everything perfectly pitched for the general reader to enjoy and appreciate. Taming Fruit is gorgeously illustrated as well, with historical prints and drawings, photographs and works of art to enliven the text still further. Greystone Books have clearly done the author proud, producing a volume that is as beautiful as it is interesting, one that would be well worth adding in hardcover to any pomological library or botanical history collection.

There are, of course, already a number of excellent books available that offer in-depth explorations of the botanical and cultural history of individual fruits – The Extraordinary Story of the Apple by Juniper and Mabberley, and of course Joan Morgan’s The New Book of the Apples and The Book of Pears spring to mind – and Brunner’s work sits comfortably alongside them. At the same time, the broader focus in Taming Fruit extends the frame of reference in which those and other focused, highly detailed works are located. Taming Fruit also, I suspect (and hope), highlights a few additional areas of potential for in-depth exploration and future publication.

Taming Fruit is an abundantly intriguing read, detailed without being exhausting, and thoroughly accessible throughout. I think it would make for a perfect autumn fireside read; if you’re looking for a really good fruit book to sit down and spend a deeply pleasant afternoon or evening with then this would be an absolutely ideal choice. Do seek out a copy.

My thanks to Greystone Books for sending an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Taming Fruit, on which this review is based.

Taming Fruit, by Bernd Brunner. Greystone Books (2021)

Taming Fruit by Bernd Brunner is available from by Greystone Books (r.r.p. $39.95 in hardcover) from November 4th 2021. You can order a copy direct from the publisher, and it ought to be available from all good independent or chain high street and online booksellers, including Amazon1Affiliate link. If you do decide to buy a copy via Amazon, I’ll receive a small referral fee, at no extra cost to you, which I promise to put towards my next fruit book purchase (trust me, I really don’t take much persuading on that score…).


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    Affiliate link. If you do decide to buy a copy via Amazon, I’ll receive a small referral fee, at no extra cost to you, which I promise to put towards my next fruit book purchase (trust me, I really don’t take much persuading on that score…)

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