298: Pomology: Fruits, yo!

298: Pomology: Fruits, yo!

Brain Junk
Brain Junk
298: Pomology: Fruits, yo!

Apologies for the sound quality. Trace solemnly swears this is our last Zoom recorded episode.

In 1886, the US government decided it was time we cataloged every fruit. Lacking the ability to take color pictures, a small group of artists, led by a talented female painter, began to create a record of over 6,000 fruits.

Show Notes:

USDA Pomological Watercolors

United States Dept of Agriculture: Ag magazine article on pomological watercolors

Daily “old fruit pictures” bot on that site formerly known at twitter

Deborah Griscom Passmore’s lovingly written obituary Page 1 of 4 and Page 4 of 4.

P.S. We mention a mangosteen and then never explain what it is. Mangosteen is an evergreen tree from Central Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, etc.) The ripe fruits are purple and considered a food and a medicinal item.


[00:00:03] Speaker A: Should we do a different one? Welcome, Brain Junk. I’m Amy Barton. I’m here with my cozy cup of tea. And today we have with us Trace Kerr. Trace, tell us a little about yourself.

[00:00:13] Speaker B: I hate everything about that.

[00:00:15] Speaker A: Today we’re going to be talking about muffin tops. We’re never going to talk about that. We’re never going to. I’ll circle back. I’m going to try it one more time, but I’ll do it properly and won’t say Amy Bart like it’s a question. I’m going to be decisive that that’s my name. Okay.

Welcome to Brain Junk. I’m Amy Barton.

[00:00:34] Speaker B: And I’m Trace Kerr. And today is everything you never knew you wanted to know about pomology.

I didn’t think we were going palm P-A-M-P-O-P-O-M. Pomo.


[00:00:48] Speaker A: Okay.

[00:00:49] Speaker B: Yeah.

It’s the science of fruit breeding and production.

[00:00:53] Speaker A: Most things I’ve heard of a little. I’ve never heard of that.

[00:00:56] Speaker B: Me neither. And the reason why I know about it, actually, we’re not really specifically talking about that, but we are going to be talking about a whole bunch of paintings that were done in what Anson dubbed ye oldie seed catalog, volume one.

[00:01:12] Speaker A: I love that style.

[00:01:15] Speaker B: I do, too.

[00:01:15] Speaker A: My favorite tattoo artist also is an illustrator for botanical books and does a lot of that cool stuff. Anyway, side road.

[00:01:23] Speaker B: Let’s get to these botanicals. I am going to send you a couple to look at. I’m going to text them to you. Did the pictures come through? Have you seen them?

[00:01:36] Speaker A: Yes. They’re amazing.

The first apple. You all out there, look them up too. It looks like you could pick it up. And it’s a screedoesn’t it? Does 7497 hand drawn pictures.

[00:02:18] Speaker A: Wow. How many different artists?

[00:02:21] Speaker B: Okay, so 21 artists. But here’s the thing. This is the thing that really kind of set my hair on fire. So most of them were done by nine painters, six of which were women.

[00:02:32] Speaker A: Nice.

[00:02:32] Speaker B: And three of them Deborah Griscom Passmore. She was the leader of the staff of artists. She is known to have painted more than 1500 of the pictures.

[00:02:44] Speaker A: Oh, wow. Right. Okay. What was the date range again? It was mid 18. Hundreds to early 19s.

[00:02:49] Speaker B: Yes. So 1886 to 1942. Was the whole project. The bulk of them were done between 1886 and 1916.

[00:02:58] Speaker A: Okay.

[00:02:59] Speaker B: Also, what I like about the, like, if you look at the peach that I sent you, and these are all public domain, so I may have some in the show notes, but you’ll notice there’s kind of a bruise on the peach. And if a specimen was going bad when it was sent to one of the artists, like, for example, there’s one of a pineapple that was clearly mailed to somebody, and it had a bruise on it when they cut it open. They were supposed to paint it as it’s seen.

[00:03:24] Speaker A: Oh, wow. So you get those little brown.

[00:03:27] Speaker B: Yep. You got the bruises. You got wrinkles. I looked at one of a moldy lemon.

[00:03:35] Speaker A: Awesome.

[00:03:36] Speaker B: Yeah, most of it was moldy, and it turns out that. Well, and then. Okay, so I did tell you that there were three women. So there was Deborah Passmore. She was the leader. She got brought on. She was 52 when she got brought into this program. And very quickly, they were like, wow, you are really good at this. You should be running the show. And then Mary Daisy Arnold, she painted about 1600 of them. And Amanda Almira Newton, those three women did about half of the collection.

[00:04:03] Speaker A: Wow.

[00:04:04] Speaker B: What’s unfortunate is a lot of the time, they weren’t even signed, because they’re just doing this project for the creation of keeping a record of all of these different fruits and some nuts. The reason for the paintings was not just to document the variety of fruits and nuts. And it wasn’t just the United States. It was the United states and 29 other countries.

[00:04:26] Speakernshot from a computer screen to me. And it is amazingly lifelike. The peach pit. You can see that texture. It’s amazing.

[00:01:57] Speaker B: Yeah. So from 1886 to 1942, 21 artists were commissioned to paint accurate illustrations of fruits. So this was the USDA in 1886. They created the division of Pomology, which sounds so fancy, A: Oh, wow.

[00:04:27] Speaker B: It was a way for farmers to claim ownership of a new cultivar. So you’d be like, see this picture of this apple with this kind of flesh and this kind of skin? That’s my apple, which I just love. I could just imagine some guy unrolling this piece of paper. This is my apple.

[00:04:43] Speaker A: Yes. Now there are patents, and it’s a whole thing like, wsu just put out the cosmic crisp. I am quite sure there’s probably a patent involved there. And they probably have pictures, too.

[00:04:55] Speaker B: Yeah.

[00:04:55] Speaker A: And it’s also digitized.

[00:04:57] Speaker B: Delicious. So delicious.

[00:04:59] Speaker A: Yeah.

[00:05:00] Speaker B: And there were a lot of apples. A little more than half of the pictures of these 7497 pictures are apple varieties.

[00:05:10] Speaker A: That is the fruit of America. Wow.

[00:05:13] Speaker B: We’re going to talk about apples. And now all of the pictures are gathered together at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland, which I did not know about. I think we need a field trip.

[00:05:24] Speaker A: I was just going to say the same thing. We’ll go see Alcott’s house, and then we’ll go see the apple pictures.

[00:05:30] Speaker B: We could just look at. Yeah. Lots of. And occasionally there’s a BlackBerry, there’s paw paw. There’s all sorts of different. So there’s lots of cool stuff to look for. Also, if you are on the website formerly known as Twitter at pomological is a bot that was created by someone affiliated with the National Agricultural Library, and it puts a new image from the collection out into the world every day.

[00:05:56] Speaker A: Oh, could they move over to, like, insta or something?

[00:06:00] Speaker B: I know. I was like, why there? But I will have a link to that in the show notes in case you do. I went and looked and I went, oh. And then I went, dang, they might have one on Instagram. I didn’t actually go looking. That would be smart. And what’s funny is the collection used to be behind a paywall.

[00:06:18] Speaker A: Really?

[00:06:19] Speaker B: Yeah. And then people were like, guys, this is in the public domain. You could print these pictures. People should be able to see this. I mean, this is a mountain of work of watercolors and also black and white pictures. And so they’ve made it so that it’s publicly accessed. Although right now they’re doing some website reshuffling, because when I went and looked, I tried to look at more images, and they were like, you can’t right now. We’re in the middle of something.

By the time this comes out, they will probably be available. So I’ll have links to all of that.

[00:06:48] Speaker A: Did they do what would have been considered an exotic fruit, like, if we got any bananas or oranges in there?

[00:06:54] Speaker B: Yes, there were bananas because, like I said, 29 other countries. So they were bringing true stuff from other places. There’s a picture of a mangostine, tropical fruits.

[00:07:06] Speaker A: What is a mango? I don’t know what a mangosteen is. I know that. I don’t like the way it smells in tea.

Oh, those are weird.

[00:07:14] Speaker B: And the bananas are funny because they are a different looking kind of. They’re very short. They’re not the hotel banana that we get now.

[00:07:21] Speaker A: Yeah. We’ve cultivated bananas.

[00:07:23] Speaker B: They’re short, fatty guys with little brown spots on them.

[00:07:27] Speaker A: Yeah.

[00:07:28] Speaker B: My mother would hate them. She only likes to eat bananas that are still green. And I hate that because they stick to your teeth.

[00:07:32] Speaker A: I prefer the almost completely yellow with no spots. But you need both kinds of people in a household because they go bad with spots. But my son will eat bad bananas, so that’s good.

[00:07:47] Speaker B: He’s like, in a past life. I was a butterfly that liked to eat those rotten bananas. At the zoo.

[00:07:53] Speaker A: There’s a window of time where no one in our house will eat them, and we just have to ride it out.

[00:07:57] Speaker B: You’re like, oh, no, banana bread again.

[00:08:00] Speaker A: Well, know that it’s the mid period where probably most people would be like, yeah, that’s a banana. And we’re like, no, not for either ends. We’ll like some pretty spotty. And we like them pretty. Not spotty.

[00:08:14] Speaker B: Or it has just one or two blemishes. You don’t like a couple of freckles.

[00:08:17] Speaker A: Not a big fan.

I will be an adult and eat them so that they don’t go to waste. But it pains me.

[00:08:24] Speaker B: Yeah, I’ll do that, too. I’ll be like, well, somebody’s got to eat it. I guess it’s me.

[00:08:29] Speaker A: Anyway, I derailed us so these women didn’t get particularly any credit. I suppose it was like me signing the pages I’ve edited. Sincerely, Amy Barton. Yes, it was just their work.

[00:08:44] Speaker B: Yeah, it was just their work. It was part of a collection, and a lot of artists were painting. You can tell if you look at them different.

Even just glancing over the. I saw maybe 100 different ones while I was doing research. And you’re like, oh, that looks like Deborah’s.

[00:09:02] Speaker A: That looks like their distinct styles came through.

[00:09:05] Speaker B: Yes, they do come through. And the historians know, and a lot of them, they would say, this isn’t signed, but we really think this was done by Amanda Newton because this looks like an Amanda Newton. They weren’t selling them individually because they were part of a collection. But I have a PS about Deborah Passmore, the lady who was kind of in charge of the department. Okay. She was born in 1840s and died in 1911 at the age of 71. Her obituary was four pages long, and it was written by a woman named Carrie Harrison. So history says they were perhaps friends. But I got to tell you that neither woman ever married and no friend writes a long and loving obituary like that. I have my own opinions.

[00:10:01] Speaker A: I would give you a solid two paragraphs, probably three. Yeah, maybe a page. But a different sort of affection for me. Yeah.

[00:10:11] Speaker B: And it went through her entire, like it was a page of her family’s history back to the 16 hundreds. And then it talked about her career and where she worked and how she liked to paint in light and how she was this beautiful person. And her sister had once said she was very plain as a child and she thought that was really cruel. And I was like, yeah.

[00:10:32] Speaker A: I love that she had someone in her life like that.

[00:10:35] Speaker B: I do too. Yeah. So that’s the US commission of art. Let’s see. Commissioned art of every fruit. Although it really wasn’t. But it was a lot of fruit. 7497 pieces of fruit.

[00:10:48] Speaker A: They had goals and they lost funding. Commissioned art of every fruit. I’m looking that up later.

[00:10:55] Speaker B: They covered a lot of it. And then also in addition to recording the fruit, as farmers, American farmers were doing more and more farming. They were trying to say, hey, there’s more than just the tomatoes, the cucumbers and that sour apple you like to make cider with. Look at the variety that we have that you might want to grow.

[00:11:14] Speaker A: That’s interesting. Wow. 3500 apples in this thing.

[00:11:19] Speaker B: Yeah.

[00:11:20] Speaker A: Wild. Although every time I go to the grocery store, I’m like, what’s this opal apple? And they’re very creative.

[00:11:28] Speaker B: Well, and we go to an orchard at Green Bluff, which is a farming community right outside of Spokane, which is your favorite. Hanson’s orchard.

[00:11:37] Speaker A: Okay.

[00:11:38] Speaker B: They do apple cider, but they have lots of varieties of. They had one called Spy.

[00:11:46] Speaker A: Spy, yes.

[00:11:47] Speaker B: And it makes good applesauce. But they said crisp. That’s a lie. It was not.

[00:11:53] Speaker A: Oh, sad.

[00:11:55] Speaker B: I like my honey crispy kind of apple, but they have a lot of old fashionedy kinds where you walk along and you read the names and it’s like, I’ve never heard of any of these apples before. So that’s just one family orchard. And they had at least 40 different species.

[00:12:09] Speaker A: Wow.

[00:12:10] Speaker B: I could see how you could have that many different kinds of apple.

[00:12:14] Speaker A: Yeah. Because back east, they have an entirely different everyday run of apples. I think Macintosh’s are big. Not here. We get them, but.

[00:12:24] Speaker B: Yeah. And then people crossing stuff in their backyard.

[00:12:27] Speaker A: Yep. John of gold’s.

[00:12:28] Speaker B: Yeah. So root, who knew?

[00:12:31] Speaker A: Yeah. Look up the illustrations, everyone. They really are quite beautiful. You’ll be changing your phone screen and putting up your desktop backgrounds for yourself.

[00:12:39] Speaker B: If I had a really good color printer, I think I would be printing them and then making wallpaper out of them.

[00:12:45] Speaker A: Yes.

[00:12:46] Speaker B: That would be so cool.

[00:12:47] Speaker A: Put a few prints in a row. Really go look at them. Because there is handwriting on these ones.

[00:12:53] Speaker B: Yes.

[00:12:54] Speaker A: I just googled it and this was the first thing that came up. And so you get to see that old fashioned script, too. Lots of reasons to look these up.

[00:13:02] Speaker B: Some of them are notes that were written by the horticulturist that was on staff. So you’d have the drawings or the paintings. The paintings. And then they were sent in and cataloged and details were written down on them. So it was definitely a group project.

[00:13:19] Speaker A: Yeah. And the peach, you can totally tell it looks exactly like not the best peach from the box. There’s a little depression at the top near where the stem would be. And you’re like, I know, exactly. I’m cutting that part off.

[00:13:31] Speaker B: Yeah. And I like that. I like that it’s not idealized. And that was something that they talked about. They said, you’re just going to have what this actually looks like. This is a real photograph, not a selfie. That’s what this.

[00:13:46] Speaker A: Yes, no filters would be what we would say now for these.

[00:13:50] Speaker B: Yep.

[00:13:52] Speaker A: That’s lovely. Well, thank you. Of course, as always, we are on Facebook and Instagram as brain junk podcast, and we love it when you like and subscribe to that. And brainjunkpodcast.com is where our merch store is. You can find I have a delightful t shirt and a wonderful mug that makes my coffee taste better. We’ll make yours taste better, too, or whatever you decide to put in it.

Trace and I will catch you next time when we share more of everything you never knew you wanted to know, and I guarantee you will not be bored.

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