The author of “The BIG APPLES of New York: the story of how New York became THE BIG APPLE,” has fond memories of cooking with her mother, and has a connection with New York history as a relative of the French Huguenots who founded New Paltz, New York. Learning to ask “why?” when researching has taken her on many journeys, but one thing remains the same and that is that, “New York is a magical state and it will stay that way.” In this interview with A. L. DuBois, she shares with us her experiences as a historian and botanical artist and how the two melded together in this book.
There is an incredible amount of information in your book “The Big Apples of New York: the story of how New York State became The Big Apple” it is practically three books in one, a historical account of apples in New York, botanical apple art, and apple recipes. How long did this book take you to complete?
The amount of time to complete the book has been 3+ years. Two years for the botanicals that were done from life and required traveling to many orchards from August to November. Food history is an interdisciplinary field that examines the history of food, and the cultural, economic, environmental, and sociological impacts of food. Food history is considered distinct from the more traditional field of culinary history, which focuses on the origin and recreation of specific recipes. I look on food as one of the most important elements of cultures, reflecting the social and economic structure of society.
As an author what is your preferred method of research, i.e. archives, oral history, ECT?
I do all that I need and I go where the book takes me. This book took me on quite a journey, as with any research the story creates a life itself. I enjoy research and in my own research I just keep asking “why?” and that carries me through the project. History is life and a very interesting field to be involved with, it has been amazing where this project has brought me.
As an artist what is your preferred medium, is this the same medium you used to create the plates in your book?
The medium I used for this book involved graphite, Derwent color pencils, watercolor and tempera paint. My subjected use usually dictates the medium, i.e. I do large landscapes in oil on a wood panel.
You chose the empire apple for the cover, did you choose it because as you mention it is the most popular apple?
Yes. It is popular and has been one of the most successful apples, introduced by Cornell, but I chose it because I was lucky enough to get its flower.
(Follow up) Is the empire apple you favorite apple?
No, but definitely one of my favorite from out of 10,000 varieties. Some apples I favor for pies, others for kuchen ect. Originally only Spiters were used for cider and now people look for specific varieties for cider.
You included quite a few recipes for cooking with apples in this book, is cooking another one of your talents? Did you ever consider a stand-alone apple cookbook?
I do enjoy cooking and I have fond memories in the kitchen with my mother. Of course out of the recipes included in my book hers are my favorite, but I’m not interested in devoting the time and developing the skill it would take for me to do a cookbook.
Your book could be of interest to a variety of people did you have a particular audience or purpose in mind?
Yes, people who are interested in Agricultural/Food history and hopefully to increase that interest.
(Follow up) Do you see this as being used as a reference book in educational curriculum?
Junior High and High School level definitely. I have very fond memories of my own high school history teacher Mrs. Grief. She taught her class with passion, enthusiasm, and brought history to life in her classroom. Mrs. Grief was always asking “why?” to further the student understanding and knowledge, she had a tremendous influence on me and how I do my own research.
You mentioned the historical significance of the French Huguenots in apple history, DuBois is a name commonly associated with the Huguenots, do you have any personal connection?
Yes, I’m a direct descendent of Louis DuBois (grandfather 8 times removed) the founder of New Paltz. Our royal crest indicates that we were the Keepers of the Woods. I like to think I inherited my interest in plant life.
#ApplePicking has been mentioned nearly a quarter million times on Instagram this season alone, how do you feel about the family entertainment aspect of apple picking?
Farming has always been a family/community activity. Traditionally we sang about it, danced, and played games as a part of harvest time. Our community structures and content has changed but the urge and need to gather for the harvest is still there.
With the interest to buy local, the success of the green movement, and the increase in farmers’ markets that you mention in your book, in one hundred years how do you think history will view this time period in terms of apple growing in New York?
Food and good fresh food will always be central to us. Now and I fear more so in the future the poor will not be included and the corporate power will be more in evidence. This won’t be just New York but global. As a society we are socialized to our food in relation to our choices in food, and in changing our perception we can create new relationships with food.
Will you be having any events coming up that those with interest in botanical art and history could attend to meet with you and purchase your book?
I’ve listed my events on my website, http://thebigapplesofnewyork.com/ , I will be having events at both the Hyde Park Free Library as well as the FDR Library.
You have an upcoming project you are working on, “Plants of Life (plants are people and people are plants),” can you tell me more about that?
Yes, if we are what we eat we are then plants. Even the meat we eat is from vegetarian animals. At this point I’m seeking a publisher and I’m also working on “The Grapes of New York,” a companion book to the apple book.