"A State which bore this kind of fruit..."
June 15, 2018 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Do you like Apples? Peaches? Grapes? Strawberries? Lemons? Or perhaps you're into weird things like mulberries, cherimoyas, serviceberries, or cloudberries? Or maybe you're just nuts. Between 1886 and 1942, the USDA commissioned 7,584 watercolors from 21 artists depicting a wide variety of fruit.

High-resolution copies of each work are available, if you want a copy for your wall or something.

(Apologies to Thoreau for the post title.)
posted by ragtag (29 comments total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Oooh, these are lovely. Thanks for posting this.

posted by cortex at 2:53 PM on June 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Ohhhh I sort of wish I still worked at a state agency under USDA. I'd print these out and wallpaper the entire office with them.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:07 PM on June 15, 2018

Growing up, we had a big mulberry tree in our yard. It was excellent. My dad built us a treehouse in it. The mulberries were delicious. They leave a beautiful purple stain too.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 3:39 PM on June 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Sometimes I think about the wild edible fruits that European North Americans just ignore, either because the fruits aren't easy to farm or because we just don't. Did you know about sea grapes? Neither did I until the other day.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:39 PM on June 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

cool, there's a pawpaw in the collection (pawpaws previously on mefi).
posted by namewithoutwords at 4:07 PM on June 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

These would be so pretty as postage stamps!
posted by mochapickle at 4:19 PM on June 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

ok disappointingly but not surprisingly a lot of these depict diseased fruit so most of the lemon ones aren't exactly the most appealing drawings
posted by GuyZero at 4:24 PM on June 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

OMG My wife is going to flip out over this. I'm kind of excited too.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:26 PM on June 15, 2018

I have a 24" banner printer and am so tempted to find some neat ones and print them out.

Except that Dr Bored for Science and my apartment is already covered with photos.

Regardless of whether I print any or not, this is awesome and I'm glad I know about it now.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 4:36 PM on June 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you would like to receive a digital version of one of these paintings on a regular schedule, you can follow @pomological on this here twitter web site thing.
posted by pykrete jungle at 4:39 PM on June 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Personally, I'm a big fan of this other US federal government (and therefore public domain) work.

I'm trying to figure out how to get a big blown-up print of this for my wall, but the .pdf is too low-resolution for lots of applications.
posted by pykrete jungle at 4:41 PM on June 15, 2018 [5 favorites]

soursop x
No records found.

im calling the police
posted by poffin boffin at 4:48 PM on June 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have two mulberry trees and can confirm: they are delicious, even if the trees themselves are overgrown and vaguely malevolent and apparently trying to invite themselves into my house and my neighbors' via the roof.

Actually, now I want french vanilla ice cream with homemade rosemary-mulberry jam on it. Mmmmmm.
posted by sciatrix at 5:02 PM on June 15, 2018

These are gorgeous, thanks for posting this!
posted by carter at 5:14 PM on June 15, 2018

Hell yeah mulberries. And we've got two seagrapes in our yard, and just planted a Chicaksaw plum last weekend. Fruit!!!!
posted by saladin at 5:32 PM on June 15, 2018

I am reassured to see that wineberries are indeed a thing that exist, although the ones Ihad were a little more rosé that this illustration.
posted by maryr at 6:27 PM on June 15, 2018

We had a mulberry tree when I was a kid, but nobody ever did anything with the fruit, which is, in hindsight, incredibly disappointing.

Everything sure was purple all summer, though.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:00 PM on June 15, 2018

I grew up with cloudberries, though they're known locally as bakeapples. More prosaic name aside, they're still wonderful and well worth the work to forage for them.
posted by peppermind at 7:13 PM on June 15, 2018

Gooseberries, FTW.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:35 PM on June 15, 2018

I love this!!
posted by delight at 7:51 PM on June 15, 2018

Ohhh, this is my kind of geekery right here.
posted by desuetude at 9:18 PM on June 15, 2018

Gooseberries, FTW.

We had gooseberry, currant, and blackberry bushes, plus wild blueberries and blackberries from Grandma's woods. Our little fingers would be so pricked and stained by the end of berry season! The currants were the hardest because of all the little tiny stems, but the gooseberries practically jumped into your pail!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:31 PM on June 15, 2018

I know serviceberries as juneberries, and they’re deeply significant to me. I lost a close friend/mentor shortly after moving to Philadelphia in 2012. On my way to meet up with someone to cry and reminisce, I passed a mother and child picking berries in a park. “What are those?” I asked. The child explained that they were juneberries, and told me to try one. I did, and they were delicious, somewhere between a blueberry and a cherry in flavor. I made a note of where the trees were to come back. A few nights later I came away with a mixing bowl overflowing with berries, enough to make a triple batch of juneberry crumb bars for my friends’ memorial. (This recipe, with juneberries swapped 1:1 for the blueberries).

June’s been a tumultuous month since that year, but finding places to pick juneberries anchors me and gives me time to reflect. I got kicked off the grounds of a public building in Center city for berry foraging this year, and I regret nothing—still came away with just enough harvest for juneberry strawberry bars. Later, in my neighborhood where no one gives a shit about a weirdo poking around in the trees, I got enough for juneberry muffins plus extra to freeze.

Most relevant to this post though—the service/June sketch linked above was the reference image for my tattoo! Now I finally know that sketch’s origin!
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:01 PM on June 15, 2018 [8 favorites]

I know serviceberries as juneberries

What? That’s an odd name. I’d’ve called ‘em saskatoons.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:48 PM on June 15, 2018

ActionPopulated, serviceberries actually have a special meaning for me, too! (And, of course, were the first fruit I looked up in the watercolor database.)

I've mentioned before that I've been reforesting a couple dozen acres out in the country. Getting to that point was a major turning point in my life, since I grew up suburban and had spent my adult life up to that point in a city.

My wife and I were walking around a park near our apartment at the time. She was studying botany, and I was quizzing her by pointing out trees and having her identify them by common name, Latin name, and she'd further note any salient information about them.

"What's that one?" "Easy, it's a Norway maple, Acer platanoides. People plant them in cities all the time since they tolerate pollution."

"How about this one?" "That's a callery pear, Pyrus calleryana. They used to be popular in cities, too, but now they're considered invasive." ("Don't all pears have calories?" "What? Oh! No, it's C-A-L-L-E-R-Y. Named after some French guy.")

"How about that really big one?" "It's called a tulip-tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. You can tell because the leaves look like little kitty-cat faces." (It's true, they do.)

"Okay, how about this bushy one?" She looked it over carefully for a few moments. "Actually, I'm not sure... I think maybe it's called a serviceberry?"

Now, I had never heard of a serviceberry before, and she had only seen it in a landscaping book, so as soon as we got back from our walk we looked it up. Native to North America, related to apples and pears, with a fruit that looks like (and tastes kinda like) a blueberry. Evidently Thoreau was fond of them (and noted that the plant was nearly unknown in his day, too). This was all very fascinating, and I wanted to try one!

...but no luck, there. Only one species, the saskatoon, is cultivated commercially, and then only for local markets, half a continent away. If I wanted to try any, I'd need to grow them myself.

At the same time as all of this, we had been going through a lot of stress in our personal lives. We had become allergic to a bunch of different kinds of food (and had finally started to stablize again); my wife had left her career (for a few reasons); I was disillusioned with mine (but didn't have the opportunity to leave). My wife was taking solace in plants and was going back to school to learn more about them. I wanted to get away from noise and hustle and bustle.

We were already toying with the idea of moving out of the city, and wanting to taste a serviceberry is what finally closed the loop for us. A few months later we bought a little house out in the country. A week after that, I planted half a dozen little serviceberries from her school's arboretum. I guess I've been planting trees since. (And also casting about for other native plants that nobody grows anymore but should.)

Incidentally, it's been three years since then, and while I've tasted a serviceberry, it's literally only been a taste. I've had exactly one berry. I knew something was up when I was planting the trees, since the sparrows—which normally keep to themselves—gathered around me in a wide circle and watched me with rapt attention, only erupting into noisy gossip and flying away when I was done. Turns out serviceberries are their very favorite fruit. They strip the trees bare before the berries are even ripe!
posted by ragtag at 3:51 AM on June 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

These are just gorgeous. I especially liked the apples and the grapes.

Poffin, re soursop it looks from the pic like "cherimoyas" might be soursop? (we call them custard apples here in Aus)
posted by smoke at 3:55 AM on June 16, 2018

The instant love that these provoke prove the still potent power of handmade, human-drawn depictions of even the humblest natural objects. There will always be place for hands, eyes and brushes.
posted by Modest House at 7:34 AM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I love seeing this here! Their twitter feed is one of my favorite things.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 2:36 PM on June 18, 2018

ActionPopulated, there aren't enough + for me to properly favorite your post. (Also I live in Philly and have always meant to forage for berries on public land!)
posted by desuetude at 7:30 AM on June 19, 2018

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