The Beautiful Complexities of the Apple

Episode 5 February 08, 2022 00:28:20
The Beautiful Complexities of the Apple
Fruit Love Letters
The Beautiful Complexities of the Apple

Show Notes

“Writing to you is akin to writing a single letter to all the humans.”

Humans have been tinkering with crossbreeds of apples for thousands of years. Gidon Coll, the owner of Hudson Valley Apple Project, shares some of the types he grows and why so few varieties of apples are available for sale at the store or from your local apple farmer. Luckily for Jessamine, she gets to sample some of the rare breeds Gidon grows on his farm. Then she has a conversation with William Mullan, a New York-based artist who elevated apples to his photographic muse.

Topics covered in this episode:

Learn more about this episode of Fruit Love Letters at, on IG and Twitter at @whetstoneradio, and YouTube at /WhetstoneRadio.

Guests: William Mullan (@pomme_queen), Gidon Coll (@hudsonvalleyappleproject)


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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hey everyone. I'm Jesse Sparks host of the new podcast. The one recipe from the team behind the splinted table. This pod is all about that one recipe that you lean on. The one you share with friends, the one you make, when you need a little love. And the one, you know, will work every single time. Every week. I talk with chefs and gifted cooks from all over the world about their one and the story behind it. We're here to help you build your kitchen library. One dish at a time, follow the one recipe, wherever you get your podcast. Speaker 1 00:00:29 Have you ever wondered why rotisserie chicken is so cheap or whether eating a plant based burger can really help fight climate change? Or how about what labels to look for? To know which food is the healthiest or the best for the environment. If those questions intrigue, you try the new podcast. What you're eating from food Speaker 1 00:00:52 They connect the story behind your food, to what you eat every day. What you're eating helps you understand how food gets to your plate to see the full impact of the food system on animals, planet, and people from conversations with farmers and chefs, to discussions with policy experts on the barriers to sustainability food prints, new podcast covers everything from the why to the how join host Jerusha clipper director of food, every other week for new episodes and more answers to the question you have about what you're eating, listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcast or at food you're eating. Speaker 3 00:01:38 There is a lot to say about you. Apple writing to you is akin to writing a single letter to all the humans. We have been tinkering with cross breeds and capturing delicious wild seed spas for thousands of years, leading to well over 7,500 varietals. Unfortunately modern homogeneous tendencies have once again, let us astray leaving behind about 10 commonly consumed apple varieties, easy to ship and store very red or green, generally crisp and lightly sweet. Yes, but gone are the nuances of the pink flesh, Ruby yacht or the anise undertone of the sweet 16. The apples we eat today are fine. Our lives together as snack or pie. Sustain love letter worthy though. I'm uncertain pink lady and Fuji. Please don't take this too personally, lifelong friends for sure. And Elizabeth in times, women would often hold a slice of apple in their armpit for the day, a pone gift for their lover. The truest emotional letter held on the cells of a fruit. Apple trees have written these letters to us. They may require the heavy fog only produced on a mountain slope, the moisture of a river bank. The need to be eaten directly from the tree or painstakingly stored through the winter. The question is, will we do the work to read them? Speaker 3 00:03:33 I'm Justin star. You're listening to fruit. Love letters. Speaker 3 00:03:39 Food for me is a way to express love. I'm a chef in Atlanta and I fold my feelings into the meals I cook for my family, my friends, even strangers. It can be hard for me to say, I love you, but you will know it when I serve you. Carrot ginger soup with carrot top and peanut pesto noodles. But if I peel you an apple slice you a perim, pick you a Mulberry with my stained fingers. Then we'll both know it's really serious fruit of course have long been considered symbols of love, even Afros on this show, I'm exploring our love of fruit and what it says about us people on this episode, apples, if my love letter to the apple sounds uninspired it's because our modern apples, the red delicious, the Macintosh's, the gala are not my favorite, but here's the thing I know there are other apples out there. I've always known this, but really started to think differently about apples. When I saw William Mullen's photos, William is an artist and photographer he's based in Brooklyn, New York. Speaker 4 00:05:10 I have an ongoing project that started centering around apples called odd apples, that documents all sorts of apple cultivars through photography portraits. Speaker 3 00:05:22 The portraits he takes of apples are probably not what you think of when you think of a picture of an apple. Speaker 4 00:05:29 We typically see apples in more. I would say like rustic kind of photos, like a lot of still life work shadowy and kind of traditional looking all that's very beautiful. Or you have like this sort of food, photography style, which is sort of like lots of table settings and stuff like that. Or you see orchard photos. And, you know, it occurred to me that you really don't see fruit and apple specifically presented as art objects, trying all these apples over years, you see variances in them. You see quirks in their forms or things that are more typey or typical of that CVA and VA. And it kind of struck me that the tree like creates these essentially like little sculptures that hold seeds to ensure it's survival. And those sculptures are intended to attract people to eat them. So they're made to be beautiful Speaker 3 00:06:34 Williams photos honor that beauty they're elegantly lit set on colorful backgrounds that accentuate the fruits colors. And shapeliness they're somewhere between a high end product shot and a OI photo. Speaker 4 00:06:52 I just thought it would be really fun to really capture them as art objects in a way that I felt encompassed for lack of a better word, their character or mood or vibe. Speaker 3 00:07:05 When I eat fruit, I'm tasting not just the fruit, but the sense of place it brings to my taste buds, the history of its propagation spread and evolution. In other words, it's not as simple as its flavor because in fact I'm tasting its whole world. I can't separate them. It's like synesthesia, but every bite is a story. And William captures this perfectly in his apple portraits. Speaker 4 00:07:36 I definitely feel like I make object image, flavor, image connections when I eat things. And sometimes when I just see them, Speaker 3 00:07:45 One of the things that keeps William interested in apples is a particular trait of the fruit. Speaker 4 00:07:53 I learned that they were heterozygous and that if you plant an apple seed, you won't get the same apple that you have to graft them. It just kind of blew my mind that one, realizing that every apple in that store, all those seeds carry new genetic information. Like they can make a new apple tree. They won't all do that successfully, but they have the potential. So that really blew my mind. Speaker 3 00:08:20 Apples are like people in that respect, every offspring is unique. Speaker 4 00:08:26 We're all product of our parents. And we share traits with them that have been passed down. But we also have our own unique traits as well. The extreme heterozygous nature was pretty unique to apples. It's just very, very extreme. They do not go true from seed and sometimes grow wildly different from seed. Speaker 3 00:08:51 So there's an unpredictability to apples, grown from seed the potential for infinite diversity, a diversity that reflects place and environment and even human intervention. Because of course we've taken the apples heterozygosity and we've selected for what we like bread apples for this trait or that one William wanted to capture all of this in his photos. Speaker 4 00:09:21 Although one might wanna color it as more like our agency. I do see it as a collaboration between us and the tree. Cause it's sort of a response. The tree is responding to our selection. It's always responding to its environment and manifesting itself differently, wherever it grows. And then it can grow everywhere. For me. What I really love about apples is with a seed lane or grafted tree in the city, you'll find them in graveyards, alongside highways, seemingly without proper soiled and depth for their roots. And like someone's front yard along a fence. There's so many trees in New York city where I'm like, how does that tree have enough space for it? Roots? How is that soil deep enough? And it's surviving, it's producing a lot of fruit. It's just kind of astounding, truly amazing in, in a very real sense of that word, what this species can do and how it collaborates and responds to not just us, but the other things around it that consume it and ensure it's survival. I do see it as kind of like an ongoing dance in a way, an ongoing dialogue. Speaker 3 00:10:43 He hopes his photos, encourage people to embrace a wider array of apples. Speaker 4 00:10:49 What I would love for apples and our relationship with them would for it to be true to its nature, that apples are heterozygous that some apples grow better in some places than others. Some apples express themselves really well in certain localities. And there's a new apple ripening literally on a weekly basis when in season. And so when something's gone, it's gone, unless you can store it and keep it well. But then there's something new and exciting on the horizon with the different flavor. There's so much diversity in the C cult. Our, the malice genius has made so many versions of itself bust genius and the species I would love for all of those to be celebrated, especially specifically within their regions or localities. Speaker 3 00:11:39 That's not how we think about apples now, but it could be Speaker 4 00:11:45 This culture of diversity and celebrating diversity and sort of a lack of expected uniformity or obsession over one cultivar over another. Maybe it's in our nature to do that. And this just is not possible, but this is the way that this species is in the genius is Speaker 3 00:12:04 The apple offering all of its myriad ways of being to us. I'd seen all the different apples at the farmer's market. Sometimes UN unidentified trees growing along country roads and in abandoned orchards. And I tasted those apples too. I knew they were different, but I wanted a guide to help me understand how different they truly are. So I call Guidan Cole. Speaker 5 00:12:33 My name's Guidan Kyle. I live in New York. We have an orchard tour orchard in Columbia county, New York, about 120 miles from New York city. And my family's old dairy farm. And the orchard contains 150 varieties of apples. And the 10 of the orchard is just to show how diverse apples can be. Speaker 3 00:12:53 Gaan started the orchard about 10 years ago, his interest in apples stemmed from his business. Speaker 5 00:13:00 I started a SI 25 years ago called original sin, which is one of the first American modern day ciders. I started with very little resources going bar to bar in New York city in a truck at a time when people didn't know what cider was or what knowledge there was, was oftentimes quite negative. And then 10 was to market a dry cider and through watching the industry grow of how the opportunity to meet many orchards and in such realizing that there are this whole spectrum of apples that can be used for cider and make much richer, more interesting flavor profile ciders. Speaker 3 00:13:38 So yes, he looks for interesting apples from which to make his cider, but he's just as invested in this tiny orchard. He maintains where the point is just to enjoy the apples. Speaker 5 00:13:52 Our dairy farm was 106 acres. We have 130 dairy cattle when it comes to orchard. It's only two acres, but the nature of plant, uh, varieties is you can literally have one tree and through grafting you could have a hundred apples on one tree. Speaker 3 00:14:07 Grafting means joining one kind of plant to the root of another. So the bottom trunk and root might be one kind of apple, but the branches up top can be completely different varieties. Speaker 5 00:14:20 So anyone with a backyard and a few trees can have an incredibly diverse array of apples. You just have to learn the skill of grafting. Fortunately, for all of us graftings, very forgiving and can be learned quite quickly. Speaker 3 00:14:33 Kean looks for apples for his orchard all over, but one of his favorite places is the us department of agriculture, apple collection in Geneva, New York, Speaker 5 00:14:44 The SD orchards in Geneva, New York is a genetic repository run by the U S D a in which they have 2,500 of apples. Once a year, they open up that repository to the general public. I went up there for that one day 14, 13 and 12 years ago, you had a chance to walk through the rose and literally bite apples and throw them on the ground. And through those visits, I was so blown away with just the history and the different bright apples. Speaker 3 00:15:11 Would you tell me a little bit of that history? Speaker 5 00:15:14 Yeah. So if you take a seed from an apple that seed genetically is half the mother tree and half wherever the B came to cross pollinated, I think in 2010, 17 universities around the world, decoded the genome of the apple and discover that apples have more genes than humans, actually more complex, their genomes, more complex than humans. Speaker 3 00:15:35 That's where their heterozygosity comes from. That trait of the apple. That William Mullen also admires. Speaker 5 00:15:43 If you plant a red apple, it will not necessarily give you an apple similar to the original trade. So if you plant a Mac, it's not gonna give you a Mac, a red apple can give you a yellow apple, a green apple, a large apple will give you a small apple. And as such, it said that only one over 10,000 seeds is where their propagation, what happened in this country. When the first sellers came to this country, they weren't advanced with horticulture. And rather than grafting, they planted seeds for the intent of making cider throughout the frontier. And by planting hundreds of millions of seeds, they developed a whole culture of American varieties. And it was said that in many ways, what occurred then was the greatest Western amateur genetic experiment in history because we were planting these hundreds of millions of seeds. Speaker 3 00:16:28 There was the sheer quantity of seeds, which led to great variety in the us, but there was also burgeoning specificity to the apples. Speaker 5 00:16:38 There are apples that go back to our founding fathers. One is apple called Hughes, Virginia crab, which is an apple that Thomas Jefferson grew. And Ella specifically for the purpose of making cider. Also, it was said in the early days of our country, the best side of the country was made in New Jersey. And the best side of in New Jersey was made in Newark. The most famous of the Newark apples was an apple called the Harrison, which in 1822 in a book called American orris, it's written that George Washington had a pint Harrison cider and he deemed it better than Hughes Virginia crab cider, which was Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple, which shows you two things. One or found fathers were drinking cider. And two, they were talking about very specific apple varieties. And which shows you just culturally, how different things are Speaker 3 00:17:23 Guidon says there was this golden age of ology in the us between 1805 and 1905, Speaker 5 00:17:30 Where a country was literally obsessed by the almighty apple at the peak of that golden age, right around the point in the civil war. There was many as 20,000 name varieties. It was said that basically every town in this country had an apple. They grew with civic pride. The fruit grown on our soil was really a point of national pride so much so that in 1769, when Benjamin Franklin was in England, he actually barrels of Newtown. Pippin brought him to England to show the British what great fruit was being grown here. And it's even said that until the 1850s, I believe that to some extent, fruit growing with Sams with apple growing that 80% of what nurseries were selling were apple trees partially because of the popularity of cider. So I think that apple just played such an important impact on the early days of our country. It was even said that early newspapers during the time reviewed apples with the same sort of Gusto that today we review new films and new music. So it was really just sort of the way we thought about apples back then was very, very different than how we see apples today. Speaker 3 00:18:32 Our love affair with apples fizzled out pretty quickly from those 20,000 name varieties at the height of our apple mania, just a fraction remain in our orchards and imaginations. Guidan says the last number he's heard is that there are some 7,500 named varieties today, which means the majority of those apples once grown in this country have been lost. Speaker 5 00:18:58 So in this country, 12 varieties represent 88% of what's sold in the supermarket average Americans had six varieties, but once again, we're talking 7,500 varieties. Speaker 3 00:19:07 So we went in a few hundred years from having thousands and thousands to now basically consuming six to 10 varieties. How did that happen? Speaker 5 00:19:17 There was a lot of reasons. One is in the late 18 hundreds, there was an increase in the disease pressure in orchards. It became much harder to grow apples effectively. So that was one issue. States and universities got involved in a culture with intent of making farming more efficient and more profitable. So all those things it became, they wanted to find out apples that were easy to grow efficient, to grow. They would handle disease pressure and would also transport well like today, the apples you see in, so markets are apples that look good. They're, aren't gonna bruise easily. They're gonna store well and probably gonna grow well in a lot of different terrains and even things like the golden delicious and red delicious, for example, maybe where at Fuji gala really grow well all over the world, Speaker 3 00:20:00 Right? Like the apples that we get in the store are there for their looks. And I hear that people say that they like Christmas, but what are the characteristics that we're missing? I mean, I know there's a million. Speaker 5 00:20:14 Yeah. Almost every new apple introduced has the word crisp in it because of the success. Partially the honey crisp, developed by university of Minnesota. But now obviously the big apple from Washington, state's cosmic crisp the big apple of Cornell recently released a snap dragon. You're gonna have a crispy experience, right? Maybe not gonna have necessarily a lot of flavor. Some do some don't, but it's definitely gonna be crispy, Speaker 3 00:20:34 But flavor is what I'm here for. It's why I love fruit. Why I love apples and Guidon gets so excited about showing off varieties that don't make it to the supermarket shelves that he actually sent me an entire box of apples before we talked. Speaker 5 00:20:53 The flavor range is so extreme that it's just sort of like this amazing experience. Like you almost couldn't define it by one apple, but you have apple like essentially at Hudson's golden gem that tastes like a pair. The apple has sent to you called the Pitmaster and pineapple. It says be reminiscent of a pineapple. Another apple I sent you called sweet 16, which tastes like black liquorish. So these apples kind of go all over the gambit with wet apples. Can't taste like Speaker 3 00:21:20 I wanted to taste these apples with Keon, guiding me. Speaker 5 00:21:24 Let's start with frostbite, which is a wacky one. <laugh> all right. So university of Minnesota found a ceiling on their experimental station where they're doing the breeding. It was so strange. They didn't wanna release it. And they called it mm, 4 47. And yet some of the most important apples that university of Minnesota's developed date back to this apple, including the honey crisp, which is mm, 47 as a grandfather of the honey crisp, eventually apple geeks were like, why is mm, 47 in every important apple you released actually, including the sweet 16, which is the one black lake you gotta release it. So this guy named John bunker in Maine is one of the real critical people in this industry, contacted the breeder from Minnesota, got them released that Minnesota had a competition to decide what the name would be. And they called a frostbite. Cause in order to survive Minnesota winners, you have to be a very cold party. And it said to be an apple, you the love or you hate, but when you bite into, it'll probably be an apple, like nothing you've ever tried before I could show you which one is, Speaker 3 00:22:20 Is it big or little red or green? Speaker 5 00:22:23 It's little. And it's kind of reddish striped. It's quite small. It's one of the smaller ones that is it. I believe, I believe that's it. Yeah. Speaker 3 00:22:32 Gaden and I are talking by video from our homes. So I'm holding up apples from the box. He sent up to my camera and he's helping me identify. What's what it's either this one or this one. And it has a pretty classic apple look. It's just small. It is small. It fits in the Palm of my hand. It's red and it has, I'm pretty classically red, but then it's got little cracks of yellow going down the sides Speaker 5 00:23:03 That simply has all the characteristics of a moderny apple, but it's small in order to make store apple, you have to be a very specific size. So even just the size alone is a major strike against it. But I think when you bite into it, you probably see it just like how unique it is. So, Speaker 3 00:23:20 Oh my, I have definitely never tasted an apple like that before. It definitely doesn't have the sweetness of an apple, but it still very fruit like, like it still has the muskiness of a fruit. Speaker 5 00:23:38 It's got some like molasses qualities too, right? Speaker 3 00:23:41 Yeah. It has like a, the sweet is more earthy than it is the light. What I think of an apple sweetness is Speaker 5 00:23:49 The average apple in stores is about 11 or 12% sugar. That one I would guess is probably 15% sugar, which is once again interesting for cider, because it's gonna make a little higher alcohol cider. Speaker 3 00:24:00 The next apple is totally different from the first one Speaker 5 00:24:04 That one's called Hudson's golden gem. It's an apple like we were talking about with seedlings. It was an apple that was found in a hedgerow in Oregon. It was introduced, I think in the 1930s. And people thought it was a pair, but it's actually an apple. And this is right now, our most popular apple. It almost tastes like a Bosque pair. Speaker 3 00:24:22 It kind of looks like an Asian pair except in apple shape. Speaker 5 00:24:26 Yeah. And it's got that crazy electronical side. It said to be one of the largest of the ruts, probably one of the best for eating. Speaker 3 00:24:33 Okay, I'm gonna try this one. And again, it's got a bit of a rough skin, but I would still say a pretty classic apple shape except for it being brown in color. That's the only thing that is different. And it's more of a yellow way. Brown really crisp, really white on the inside. Hmm. That is delicious. That is so good. Speaker 5 00:25:00 Such a cool name. Even like the Pitmaster and pineapple, like these aren't like names crisp, like the silly names. I think some of these older own apples have just wonderful names, you know? Speaker 3 00:25:10 Yeah. I was reading through some of the names around the turn of the century and I swear it felt like people were just coming up with new apples so that they could name it because it's fun to come up with a new, funny name. Speaker 5 00:25:23 Yeah. And I agree. Speaker 3 00:25:25 The next one I pick up is a big red apple. Speaker 5 00:25:34 The parentage of that apple is Northern spy times frost by it. And actually you wanna talk about the history of American apples. Northern spy might just give you a sense of just how rich a legacy of tradition of our country's obsession with apples can be Northern spy originates in east Bloomfield, New York. If you drive into the town, it's about 40 miles from Rochester. I believe if you drive into the town today, you'll get a sign, says east Bloomfield, New York, the home of the Northern SP apple. That's how proud they are. And if you keep driving, you'll find the spot of the original Northern spy tree. And there's a monument up and says, this is where the original Northern SP apple stood. Just a sense of like that. We, once we were just so proud of fruit grown in our country, and that's just like a perfect example of it. Speaker 3 00:26:20 We end up going through half a dozen apples and each one is different. Each one has its own story, look and taste. It's amazing that all these fruits are called apples. Speaker 5 00:26:33 Honestly, the great thing about it is that like almost every apple, especially these HEOM apples have a point of origin and a reason for propagation and a story behind them. And it's partially the beauty of the stories, which makes them so special. And in many ways, the story of each individual, apple as a greater picture is really the story of our country. So like when you're delving into these apples, you're delving into anything from Thomas Jefferson's journals and George Washington journals to venture in Franklin, traveling to Europe, to Thomas Jefferson, writing letters back from France saying, there's no apple here that compares to our new town Pippin. I mean, it goes on and on and on. So it's that richness of the story, which is so amazing. And unfortunately for us, that history has really been lost. Speaker 3 00:27:23 Deon is doing his best to revive some of that history. Speaker 5 00:27:27 It's fun. Cause I've been doing little tours of our little orchard. I'll stop at each apple and tell the story. And the tour goes long, longer than it should. <laugh> because each apple has a story, you know? Yeah. I do tell the stories a often, but I just feel like duty to do it. I just kind of wanted people to be connected with it. Speaker 3 00:27:47 Thank you to Guidon call. I loved the box of apples you sent. I ate every last one of them. And also thank you to William Mullen. You can subscribe to fruit, love letters anywhere you get your podcasts and we'll be back next week with more love letters to fruit, Fruit love letters is part of what stone radio collective. Thank you to the fruit love letters, team producer, Joof audio editor, Bethany sands researcher, Carolyn Crosby and intern indigo Clarkson. I'd also like to thank what stone founder, Steven Satterfield Wetstone radio collective executive producer, Celine Glaser sound engineer, max cold associate producer, Quin Lebo, and sound intern Simon lavender I'm Justin star. Thanks for listening to fruit of letters. You can learn more about this [email protected], Instagram and Twitter, Wetstone radio And subscribe to our YouTube channel Westone radio collective. For more podcast, video content, You can learn more about all things [email protected]

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