Fruit Forum

Heritage Fruits and Vegetables Book- beautiful but brief

Photo - see caption


Tom La Dell reviews a new beautifully illustrated book on heritage fruits and vegetables.

What should one expect of a book with the title ‘Heritage Fruit and Vegetables? Will it be a scholarly work or a gardener's guide, a dictionary of species and varieties (cultivars), a history of fruit and vegetables. Alternatively it may be a social history, the story of how they were used or beautiful descriptions of the tastes, colours and eating qualities that meant so much to the people who grew them and why we should love them today? I had no idea as I preordered the book some months before on the basis of its title and an enthusiasm for the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale and the Heritage Seed Library of vegetables (and fruits as it includes tomatoes and other capsicums) at Garden Organic, Ryton.

The book is covered in hessian and and the publishers are obviously keen to give it a rugged feel. Stuck in the centre is a photograph of pea pods and a vine of Prince Albert in a clay seed pan, rather like the first colour gardening books of the late Victorian era. What can one expect? A quick flick through shows that it is full of beautiful photographs of the fruits and vegetables against black backgrounds and fewer pages of text. This is a stylised photographic essay that aims to capture the beauty of the fruit and vegetables in an artistic form. Clay Perry trained as a photographer in the fine art tradition. He explains that he is referring back to the traditions of Spanish and Dutch still life painters of the 17th century.

The fruits are displayed in wooden bowls or on a polished table top, usually with only one or two varieties of the fruit. The text with the photographs is short, covering a little about the origins of each fruit and vegetable and early cultivation in Britain. Few varieties are mentioned. The text feels as allegorical as the photographs. This may give a sense of 'Heritage' but where is the 'Diversity'? As Raymond Blanc says in his Foreword, the continued use of heritage varieties is for their tastes, seasonality and textures. He also recognises their value for breeding future crops that will respond to environment and climate change.

This is the underlying reason for the conservation of heritage varieties. In an age of reduction and standardisation of food diversity we should cultivate and enjoy the old varieties for the sheer pleasure of eating them, besides helping to ensure that they do not disappear.

This is a beautiful book but short on the wonderful diversity of heritage fruit and vegetables. We can only hope that it will inspire more books that tell the stories of the varieties and the ways they were used when they were grown.

Tom La Dell

Heritage Fruits and Vegetables, text by Toby Musgrave, photographs by Clay Perry; published by Thames and Hudson and the Royal Horticultural Society, 2012; price £39.00