Nine fruits I haven't seen before

Rubus idaeus var. Brinkles Orange (raspberries) by Mary Daisy Arnold (1873-1955) in 1915. There are also purple raspberries, black raspberries, wineberries, and cloudberries. Image source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a collection of pretty old watercolor paintings of a wide variety of fruits freely accessible online. Here are ten of them you probably won't find in an American supermarket chain. Usually when people talk about "exotic fruits" they mean tropical Southeast Asian fruits like longan, rambutan, or something in the latex family. This collection includes some tropical fruits, but also many older, perhaps rare varieties of common fruits.

According to the USDA, the paintings are "technically accurate" and were commissioned for use as illustrations in various USDA publications. The works were created between 1886 and 1942, with most painted between 1894 and 1916, and include species from all U.S. states, one U.S. territory, and twenty-nine countries. The collection includes 7584 watercolor paintings, lithographs, and line drawings by about twenty-one different artists, many of them women. Nearly half the works, 3807 of the over seven thousand, feature apples as the subject.

All images in this post are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection; Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705.

1. Feijoa

Acca sellowiana by Ellen Isham Schutt (1873-1955) in 1909.

Also known somewhat erroneously as pineapple guava, feijoa is native to southern Brazil, western Paraguay, Uruguay, northern Argentina, and Colombia. It is in the Myrataceae (myrtle) family and is named after a Spanish botanist. Feijoa are eaten a bit like apples: raw, used as pastry fillings, or as flavoring for ice cream and sodas.

Schutt painted over 700 watercolors for the USDA and built a house out of concrete in 1906 (Wikipedia).

2.  Amanda strawberries

Fragaria var. Amanda (1912).

An agricultural bulletin published in 1915 about strawberry varieties lists the Amanda variety in the categories of "Desirable", "Prolific Plant Producers", and "Very Productive". Read more about the history of strawberries in an earlier post.

3. Clymans Russet apple

Malus domestica var. Clymans Russet by Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840-1911) in 1897.

The book The California fruits and how to grow them by Edward James Wickson (Dewey & Co, 1891) says the following about this variety:

Clyman's Pippin -- Originated in Green Valley Sonoma County from seed brought from Oregon by Lancaster Clyman early in the fifties. He fruited a large lot of seedlings and two of them were propagated and distributed by W. H. Pepper of Petaluma and others. These two were shown at the first county fair in Santa Rosa some years ago, and one was named Clyman's Pippin and the other Clyman's Russet, although it showed no russet except a little at the stem. Mr. Pepper has the latter in bearing and calls it the "Clyman." In the upper part of Santa Rosa Valley they are growing as the Clyman Pippin the one known in Mr. Pepper's neighborhood as "Clyman's Russet," or the "Clyman." This matter should be straightened out.

There are many other apple varieties that don't look like the Red Delicious, including the Decarie and Yellow Transparent varieties.

Passmore painted over 1500 watercolors for the USDA in the late 1800s and early 1900s, making her the most prolific artist there. She was also a teacher distantly related to Betsy Ross. In her paintings, she sometimes used a hundred washes to achieve the right look. (Wikipedia)

4. Popoulu Hawaii banana

Musa var. Popoulu Hawaii by Amanda Almira Newton (1860-1943) in 1907.

The description of this image lists the geographic origin of perhaps this Popoulu as Puerto Rico. Other sites report the origin of Popoulu as Hawaii and say it is common there, but at least today it is not readily available at markets or widely consumed in Hawaii. The World of Bananas in Hawai'i: Then and Now (Angela Kay Kepler and Francis G. Rust; 2011) says the origin of the Popoulu banana group can be traced back tens of thousands of years to Vanuatu. Five of eight known Hawaiian Popoulu cultivars still exist but are all Critically Endangered (the other three are extinct) due to pests and diseases. Kepler and Rust (2011) estimated that just 200 Hawaiian Popoulu plants remained in Hawaii altogether. None of the varieties they named were "Popoulu Hawaii", nor is that phrase listed in the index.

Newton painted over 1200 watercolors for the USDA, and made wax models of fruits grown or tested in the U.S. at the time. Her grandfather was the first commissioner of the USDA; she was the second most prolific watercolor artist there. (Wikipedia)

5. Shropshire plum

Prunus domestica var. Shropshire by Mary Daisy Arnold (1873-1955) in 1916.

I was not able to find anything about the Shropshire plum, but Mary Daisy Arnold was the third most prolific painter of watercolors for the USDA, colored lantern slides, and also painted landscapes in her free time. (Wikipedia)

6. Red Georges peach

Prunus persica var. Red Georges by Elsie E. Lower in 1910.

Like the Shropshire plum and Amanda strawberry above, this print is about the only information online about the Red Georges peach. There is also a variety called Wonderful, and another called Red Bird Cling, in the watercolor collection, among many others.

Lower also worked for the US Forest Service as an artist, and was one of a few of the fifty USDA artists that went on to become an exhibiting artist. She was the daughter of a decorated Civil War veteran and married a pomologist. (Wikipedia)

7. Etrog

Citrus limon var. Etrog by Amanda Almira Newton (1860-1943) in 1916.

If you're Jewish, you may know alot about etrog, one of four components of arba minim. A California citrus grower took on the challenge of meeting the strict rules for growing etrog suitable for Sukkot under the supervision of a rabbi even though only a quarter of his Etrog crop made the cut in 2010. He is the only known grower of etrog for Sukkot in the U.S as of 2011. Someone in New York said etrog can sell for as much as $250 each.

8. Tabog

Swinglea glutinosa by Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840-1911) in 1909.

One source describes the fruit as "aromatic" with a sour juice "like a lemon" used to make soda in the Phillipines, and says it has potential as Citrus root stock.

9. Baobab

Adansonia digitata by Amanda Almira Newton (1860-1943) in 1924.

Baobab trees have a distinctive form. Most species of baobab are native to Madagascar. They grow up to a hundred feet, are one of the oldest angiosperm trees, and store up to 26000 gallons of water in their trunks. They also shed their leaves in the dry season. (Wikipedia) Adansonia grandidieri is an endangered species of baobab endemic to Madagascar.

The tree has various uses. The fruit pulp is eaten raw, or mixed into various foods. The pulp dries out naturally in the pod, kind of like a coconut. Watch baobab fruit processing here, and find out how it tastes.

10. Mangosteen

Garcinia mangostana by Deborah Griscom Passmore (1840-1911) in 1909.

And because this painting is amazing, mangosteen is a bonus number ten. Of unknown origin, the "Queen of Fruits" is thought to have been domesticated in Thailand or Burma/Myanmar. The tropical tree is slow growing, does not respond well to vegetative propagation, and the fruit are said to have a short shelf-life. All of these aspects make the fruit rare and highly sought after. When buying, counterintuitively select fruit that are firm, not soft. The bark contains tannins used in leather tanning in China, the wood is used to make rice pounders in Thailand, and its rind when dried and made into a powder is used in India for various medicinal purposes. Read more about this fruit on Purdue's horticulture website.

Have you seen or eaten any of these? I'll have to be on the lookout now.

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