Old Southern Orchards provides information about the most consequential fruit grown in the South prior to the great Depression. There were a multitude of varieties grown in the region that would become the American South from the colonial era onward. Some were native (plums, pawpaws, persimmons), some introduced from Europe. Yet there were relatively few that matter decades on end, in town and city markets throughout the region. This site documents those durable, marketable varieties. However splendid a family apple, a local pawpaw, a seedling peach, it it could not command the interest of the broader public, it does not appear here.
The idea for this site emerged from practical considerations. As Chair of the Slow Food Ark of Taste Committee for the Southern Region, I was responsible for vetting the nominations of fruits. Flavor matters in judging which items are worthy of boarding on the art, but so does historical consequence, the hold that a fruit has on the tastes of a community, the progeny in terms of other varieties that it engendered. I did not know the information needed to render these judgments, so I collected it. As an educator, as a friend to southern food, as a historian of pomology, I reckoned an effort had to be made to collect in a digestible form the kind of imformation needed to profile the various fruits that mattered most.
One of the things that one realizes quickly when studying fruit history is that this category of consumable drove the history of taste, even more than sugar. The replication of vines and trees--the use of cuttings, layering, and other means of propagation that did not require pollination led to the fixation of taste upon certain plants. Sexual propagation necessarily intruded variability into the character of a plant. But other types of propagation simply made more of the same. The first time that human taste decided definitively that a certain fruit was sufficient--not needing alteration or amplification--were with grapes, particularly the Vitis vinefera grapes that made wine. Even since that moment in the 18th century, the idea of a proprietary strain of fruit, propagated non-sexually, has dominated fruit production. It supplied the model for intellectual property rights for biological entities at the end of the 20th century.
Dr. David S Shields
Carolina Distinguished Professor, University of South Carolina
Chair, Ark of Taste American South, Slow Food USA
Chair, Carolina Gold Rice Foundation
The programming code used to construct Old Southern Orchards was written by Harry Ferguson, graduate student in Software Engineering at the University of South Carolina. Mr. Ferguson also created the MySQL back-end database used to store data for the Old Southern Orchards web site. Furthermore, Mr. Ferguson created a number of the thumbnail images that appear on the site.