The average American had never tasted a blueberry until the 1920s, and it was a woman who brought it to their palates. In 1910, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) published a report investigating the commercial potential of a small, edible, wild berry native to certain areas of the country. The report caught the attention of New Jersey cranberry farmer Elizabeth Coleman White, who soon began selectively cultivating what she called “swamp huckleberries.” After 10 years of experimental propagation, she’d produced the smooth, sweet fruit we now know, and spawned today’s $4.5 billion global blueberry market.
This is just one of the origin stories in An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits & Nuts: The US Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection (Atelier Éditions, 2021). The book’s main attraction is its hundreds of lusciously detailed, full-color illustrations: the reader can almost taste and smell the bright, juicy fruits and nuts across its pages. But the catalogue’s accompanying texts by Adam Leith Goliner, Jaqueline Landey, John McPhee, and Michael Pollan about each fruit’s history and makeup — which encompass elements of archaeology, anthropology, botany, and the arts — are unexpectedly illuminating, and nearly as delightful.
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