Title: Apples of Uncommon Character
Author: Rowan Jacobsen
Strong points: If you are a “foodie” looking for new taste experiences this may be the book for you. One hundred twenty three apple varieties, heirloom and modern, are described as if each apple were a fine wine. Artful yet accurate photos raise this book to coffee table quality. The book’s matte finish cover give it a sensory appeal far beyond that of other ordinary books.
Weaknesses: The author appears to have a minor love-hate relationship with nearly every variety in the book. It makes me wonder which apples he actually does like or would recommend. It appears that most of the hands-on apple growing experts that the author used as his sources come from New England or at most the east coast. This does create some limitations in the variety sampling. If this book were specifically presented as being regional, indeed these sources are some of the best in business.
Green thumbs rating:
I find myself having somewhat of a bipolar reaction to Apples of Uncommon Character. Just like its author who starts each variety description with its shortcomings, I find this book in some ways unsatisfying because that is the first impression it gives me of numerous apples I know to be praise-worthy. Yet, eventually he often brings the narrative to a close with ornate prose on a given variety’s best virtue. At the same time I find the acknowledgment that not every apple is at its best all the time to be realistic and very true. I could not agree more on that point.
As a matter of personal taste, I find the flavor evaluations that are written as if critiquing high-end wines a bit off-putting. For many of us the apple is the everyman’s fruit. The descriptions give me the feeling of puffery—stretching to make the apples something they are not. Yet, for those who fancy themselves as connoisseurs, “foodies,” or having a highly sophisticated palate this may be just the book for you. For this later group, there are also a small selection of recipes that feature apples. Most would not be something I would make for my everyday meal or perhaps ever (Lobster Waldorf Salad ???) A few certainly are enticing for a special occasion attempt.
The apple varieties in Apples of Uncommon Character are grouped by most likely use—summer season fruit, desserts, bakers and sauce, keepers, and cider fruit with a few oddballs wrapping up the lot. Indeed that makes this book an easy to use reference. After all, the majority of us choose and grow our fruit based on how we ultimately plan to use it. It also makes side-by-side comparison of apples with similar character easier if we need to limit our choices when garden space is at a premium. Realize that this title is in no way a “how to grow” book, nor does it in any way portray itself as such.
Overall, I am still trying to decide what taste Apples of Uncommon Character leaves me with. The writing style is crisp and at times offers a chuckle of recognition when reading about apples I know well. Yet some of it left a too pretentious feeling that I somehow felt was forced though perhaps not really intended. So, I’ll close by saying you’ll have to read and decide for yourself. As with apples, books are often a matter of personal taste. Such is the case with Apples of Uncommon Character.
ISBN: 987–1-62040–227-6 (Hardcover)
# of pages: 311 pgs.
Photos: Yes, beautifully and creatively done.
Appendix: Glossary, mainly of author/pomologists of historic note; Resource page of nurseries, hard cider makers, and apple festivals.
Index: Presented as an alphabetical list of the varieties described
Publication Date: September 2014