'It's a way to taste the past,' says author of lost apple history
Once there were 17,000 varieties of apples in North America
It's the height of apple season in British Columbia, with festivals celebrating the fruit and afternoons spent apple-picking, but perhaps less known is the history of the apple in North America.
Helen Humphreys got pulled into the fruit's history and stories almost by accident, when she was out walking her dog and plucked an apple from a tree in an old field near her home.
Trying to figure out what variety of apple it was led her on a quest for information, mulling through watercolour illustrations from the centuries ago and old encyclopedias.
Humphreys ended up writing a book about the much-loved but greatly misunderstood fruit's history.
"There once were 17,000 varieties of apples in North America but now there are far fewer that that," she said.
The Ghost Orchard, Humphreys said, refers to both the apple varieties and the people, and their stories, that were lost to the past.
"It's sort of a metaphor for how when somebody dies or is gone from your life, they are there as a sort of ghost that shows up — the absence highlights the presence that used to be there which is the same as the apple trees," she said.
The absence is also true for the apple's history, Humphreys said. The legend of Johnny Appleseed, the American pioneer who purportedly spread the apple across the continent, doesn't capture the whole story.
People believe apples arrived with European settlers in the late 1700s and early 1800s, she said, but they were in fact around much before that.
"There were orchards planted by First Nations tribes from the 1600s and those orchards were often destroyed or taken over by the white settlers who wanted the fruit or wanted the orchards or wanted to displace the people," she said.
Humphreys said history is often reduced to simplistic narratives and the stories are lost.
"That whole history has been lost or covered up," she said. "There's this sort of mythologized figure but then there are all these stories underneath of women, Indigenous people and artists."
Eating an old variety of apple is a way to connect with the people of the past, she said.
"What I like about apples in general, the older varieties and the ones you sort of find accidently, is that it's a way to taste the past," she said.
With files from North By Northwest.