This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
I take the liberty to offer through the medium of the Horticulturist, a few words of criticism upon the want of unity of language and idea, and upon what I conceive to be the misemployment of terms on the part of pomo-logical writers, as shown by them, especially in their descriptions, pro forma, of the distinguishing characteristics of fruits. In venturing upon those strictures I am encouraged by the hope that they may lead to the employment in those descriptions, as far as may bo practicable, of a universal language; that it may not be considered a matter of indifference with writers to preserve in them an identity of idea, with themselves, at least, if not with others; and that terms evidently improper may give place to such as are evidently correct.
In referring to the works of the popular pomologists of the day, it will be seen that,, both in idea and language, they differ alike with each other and with themselves. Thus, in the late enlarged edition of Downing's work, under the supervision of his brother, Charles Downing, the dominant idea of the editor is, that the saccharine, or acid, or vinous characteristic of a fruit constitutes its flavor; while in the "Fruit Culturist" of Thomas, by the word flavor is meant (generally) the property communicated to a fruit by the presence of an aromatic. Each of these writers, however, occasionally trangresses his own idea and adopts that of the other. The following and similar expressions employed in descriptions introduced into the former work occur so frequently as to show that my understanding of its editor's idea is correct.
"Sugar and acid both abound, but so nearly balanced that without prevalence of either, an excellent rich flavor results".
- "with a rich vinous flavor".
"with a sweet and rich flavor".
"with a very rich brisk sugary flavor".
"with a sugary, vinous flavor," etc, etc.
But in the quotations which follow, he disregards his governing rule, and shows that the tangible or solid properties of a fruit instead of constituting the flavor, are dependent for it upon the presence of an aromatic. Thus - "Flesh very saccharine and rich, with a slightly musky flavor".
"a pleasant juicy fruit, with a musky flavor".
"buttery, juicy, melting, with a rich aromatic perfumed flavor".
"exceedingly sugary and rich, with a highly perfumed aromatic flavor".
- - "very sugary, with a decided flavor of almonds".
Here, then, we have two opposite ideas of what flavor is, both of which cannot be correct; - one material, as "sugary," "vinous," "acid;" the other essential, as "musky," "aromatic," "perfumed".
In the first examples given, it is the flavor and not the flesh which is "sugary;" in the others, it is the flesh and not the flavor. As this word flavor is defined to be "the rarified essence of bodies which affect the organ of taste," - something independent of the substance to which it is added, the latter examples are evidently correct, while the former are not Thus we have in confectionery the popular article of lemon drops. Here, neither the sugar nor the acid, which communicate the sensations of sweet and sour, but the essential extract of lemon, constitutes the flavor. A substance may have a sweet or sour taste, but a sweet or sour flavor is a perversion of language. As well might we say of the style of a building, it is a wooden or. brick style, because wood or brick predominates in the materials of which it is composed.
But what is exceptional with Mr. Downing seems rather to be the rule with Mr. Thomas,.of which the following quotations are believed to afford a fair sample.
"Flesh melting, juicy, rich, sweet, perfumed, with a first rate flavor." "buttery and melting, with a fine rich aromatic flavor".
"juicy, melting, sweet, with a very high perfumed flavor".
"melting, juicy, sub-acid, with a good second rate flavor".
It will be seen that what is here set down as sweet, and sub-acid, is considered to be distinct from what is characterized as flavor, and that they are not used as terms to qualify it. He sometimes repudiates his rule, however, as instances of which transgression I simply quote the following:
"Flesh very juicy, melting, buttery, with a rich sub-acid, or vinous flavor".
- "with a very rich, sweet, and excellent flavor".
Such examples with him, however, are rare. He evidently knows the right, but yet (occasionally) the wrong pursues.
With a consciousness, I suspect, of this want of uniformity of description in others, and with an apparent purpose to avoid it, the Boston notion seems to be to divide the internal characteristics into two heads, viz.: flesh and flavor, - Mr. Hovey's formula quite uniformly running in this wise: - "Flesh white, fine, melting, and very juicy; flavor rich, sugary, vinous, and perfumed." So far as this form is marked by order and system, it is worthy of all acceptation; but as the idea of what constitutes flavor seems to be a compound of those entertained severally by Mr. Downing and Mr. Thomas, it can claim no farther advantage over theirs, except in being a consistent mingling of truth and error, forced upon him of necessity in order to maintain his separate heads.
Mr. Elliott, of the Fruit Growers' Guide, while equally consistent, and not less systematic, is more comprehensive and concise, embracing under one term all the properties of a fruit, thus: "flesh white, melting, juicy, rich, perfumed." He exhibits in his work a pains-taking carefulness and method, and seems not to have gathered up and published descriptions as dissimilar as their origins are various, without having duly digested his materials, and assimilated them to a a definite idea of his own. He cautiously avoids the confusion of the others, and evidently rejects, as absurd, the idea that a sweet or an acid is a flavor. But while he is careful to shun this error, he falls into that other, common to all pomological writers whose descriptions I have met with, - the obnoxious and intolerable perversion of the words perfume and perfumed, as applied to things that we eat.
In all definitions of perfume it is represented as affecting only the organ of smell; "volatile particles emitted from sweet-smelling substances;"
"a sweet scent;" "a wide-spreading smell." Yet pomological writers with one accord seem to take a strange delight in debauching the integrity of its signification by using it as descriptive of an effect produced upon the palate, and making it in this connection interchangeable with aromatic, a term characterizing substances submitted to both senses, smell and taste. To describe the aroma, or aromatic flavor of a fruit as a perfumed, - that is to say its flesh is perfumed, - as though it were made to smell of and not to eat, falls but little short of being not absurd, merely, but ridiculously so.
While these writers, with one exception, err in,their idea of what constitutes flavor, - Mr. Downing very generally, Mr. Thomas occasionally, and Mr. Hovey always, - and while all of them, more or less frequently, agree in calling that a perfume which is subjected only to the judgment of the palate, they also afford examples, more or less rarely, in which the proper mode of description and just employment of terms are recognized. I do not therefore anticipate from them objections to a general adoption of those words and forms which thus have the sanction of their authority; but I rely, on the contrary, upon their cordial codperation in the summary rejection of those careless methods which tend directly to confusion and error, and in the establishment, in their stead, of system, order, and uniformity, whereby such exactness in the use of language shall become so general among pomologists that words in truth represent things, and misconception of their import be rendered impossible.
The possibility of erroneous information being conveyed by the want of a common understanding of what constitutes flavor, may be easily conceived. Mr. Downing, for instance, with his idea that where " sugar and acid both abound" in due proportion, "an excellent rich flavor results," may say of a fruit rivalling the Seckel in its exquisite aroma, that "it has 'not a high flavor." Mr. Thomas, on the other hand, with a true appreciation of the term may say of the same fruit, "we know \of no pear that has a more delicious flavor," (i. e., aromatic, or musky, like the Seckel); but, forgetful for the moment that Mr. Downing's idea differs from his own, he may add in perfect sincerity the disparaging words, "Charles Downing says it has not a high flavor," (i. e., is not exceedingly sweet, sugary); "hence we infer that it is variable, and if so, its value must be greatly lessened by this characteristic." This example, indeed, is not imaginary; the language is quoted from the descriptions of the two writers of the pear Des Nonnes. A fruit of unsurpassed excellence, which an observation of seven successive years, by the writer, has shown to be remarkably constant, never within that period having proved to be "variable," is thus qualified into virtual condemnation because of the absence of a uniform understanding of the significance of the one word, flavor, in the minds of the writers.
Is not one instance of this kind argument enough in favor of the inauguration of a reform? And does not the great and constantly increasing interest in pomology demand it?
It will be observed from what has been written, that the formula of Mr. Elliott is considered the least objectionable. Indeed, by substituting aromatic for perfumed, and aroma for perfume, whenever those words occur, it would be a model of simple, uniform, condensed description, enumerating with rigid brevity and scientific exactness, all the characteristics which the specimen under examination may possess, and ignoring utterly the slatternly manner, the tautological and nonsensical forms and expressions which disfigure the descriptions of other writers in books and magazines. Where the flavor will admit of a specific term to characterize it, as bergamot, musky, (or Seckel), lemon, pineapple, almond, let it by all means be employed. But where the qualities of the fruit are merely luscious, grateful, refreshing, of a high relish, from an abundance of sugary or acidulous juice, flavor has no part in them, and should be resolutely excluded from the description, how much soever the temptation may be to indulge in its employment.
New editions of the popular works on pomology will be constantly required to supply the demand themselves have created; and publications altogether new are yet to come. Whether their authors may agree with the writer or not, in the opinions here expressed, let us hope, at least, that in their future editions and forthcoming works, some standard of description may be adopted as their own, and adhered to; and that the rag-bag accumulations, tumbled together from all sorts of sources, undigested and incongruous, which disfigure in a greater or less degree all the pomologi-cal publications of the day, may be steadfastly and utterly abjured.
J. C. H.
Syracuse, January, 1859.