Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Ghost Orchard” as Want to Read:
The Ghost Orchard
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Ghost Orchard

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  240 ratings  ·  60 reviews
For readers of H is for Hawk and The Frozen ThamesThe Ghost Orchard is award-winning author Helen Humphreys’ fascinating journey into the secret history of an iconic food. Delving deep into the storied past of the apple in North America, Humphreys explores the intricate link between agriculture, settlement, and human relationships. With her signature insight and exquisit ...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published September 5th 2017 by HarperCollins Publishers
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.47  · 
Rating details
 ·  240 ratings  ·  60 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Ghost Orchard
Will Byrnes
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nature, nonfiction
The presence of death brings life into sharper focus, makes some things more important and others less so. I couldn’t stop my friend’s death, or fight against it. I stood out by the log cabin and the dead tree that night and thought that what I could do was make a journey alongside Joanne—a journey that was about something life-affirming something as basic and fundamental as an apple.
Our primitive senses can open pathways long sealed, if not necessarily guarded. I do not think I have ever ha
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
A sweet and thoughtful little eulogy for the thousands of apple varieties that used to exist in North America, spiced up with historical anecdotes and visions of the central importance that apples used to have to families. Kind of how everyone has a television now. At one time, everyone had an apple tree, or an orchard. The range of varieties has vanished with the change in culture and the shift to getting apples at the store instead of the backyard.

I live with over 60 venerable apple trees, an
Oct 22, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unfinished
Remember when you were in school and had to write a 10 page paper about a topic, but you only had enough interesting content for 2 pages? Yeah... that's this book. The author went on far too many loosely related tangents. She spends a chapter giving the biographies of watercolor artists in just too much detail - I don't really care that so-and-so married so-and-so in 18XX and they had 5 children named Bob, Margaret, and Bill, and they painted apples because ... insert some fantasy the author has ...more
J. Robinson
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Helen Humphreys has done it again—given her readers a beautiful book. In The Ghost Orchard: The Hidden History of the Apple in North America, Humphreys’ prose is as engaging, her descriptions as exquisite, as always; her love of her subject matter is comprehensive, thoughtful, and insightful, and can’t help but seduce the reader.

Who would have though that at one time there were thousands upon thousands of different kinds of apples (now reduced to a relative handful)? That apples belong to the ro
Brett Yanta
Nov 15, 2017 rated it liked it
"I'm sure I would be interested in 180 pages on the history of apples in North America," I thought. I was about 38% right. ...more
MissBecka Gee
Going into this I expected this to be a factual account of how, when and where apples came to be in North America with focus on the development of orchards over the years. There were some interesting tidbits to be found within all the extra unnecessary stories.... like how apples were first grown in Kazakhstan before migrating to Europe and brought to North America with the first immigrants.

She did stray waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more often than not to things that had no connection to apples or their his
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was meditative, sad and beautiful. I've been waiting for it to come out since I read an essay Humphreys wrote about apples months ago. I only wish there had been a little more about North American apple history, because what was there was fascinating. Overall though, I'm glad it was more of a book of personal reflections inspired by apples than a historical account of the fruit. ...more
Sep 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Non-fiction: the history of the apple in North America as well as an ode to the fruit. Contained much interesting information: the White Winter Pearmain has been called the best-tasting apple in the world (I must find where it can be purchased)); in the 19th century, there were over 17,000 varieties of apples in North America and now there are fewer than a hundred grown commercially, and fewer than a dozen in the grocery stores (I can vouch for that. I used to adore Winesap apples when I was a k ...more
Charland Garvin
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have read many of Humphreys' books and always enjoyed them. Though this was a little different from previous books, I found it very interesting as it gives a North American history of apples. Her research was thorough . She took the time to not only read about apples but also visited areas where older varieties had flourished. I found it very interesting there had been over 17,000 varieties in North America and so many had died out for one reason or another. She also included some colored draw ...more
Noelle Walsh
This book was pretty good. The details of the history of the apple in North America proved to be more interesting than I initially gave it credit for. Great read for anyone interested in learning more about the apple.

*won as a GoodReads Giveaway*
3.5 stars. Some lovely passages and reflections here.
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Another little treasure from Helen Humphreys! Excellent.
Feb 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is the most fascinating account of Helen Humphreys' research into "the lost history of some of the lost apples" of North America, that began because she became curious about the "yellow-skinned, with a faint pink blush on one side where the sun had touched them" apples she ate from an apple tree by an abandoned old log cabin just north of Toronto.
Last fall I was eating wild apples [...] They were late apples, ripening in October and still edible into December. They also had an extraordinar
Enid Wray
Nov 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a gorgeous, beautiful little book - nominally about apples - or rather, an apple, the White Winter Pearmain - but really a contemplation on life, and death, and art, and memory, and colonisation.
Oh how this book talks to the inner geek in me - not to mention the geographer and social scientist.
I chatted with Ms. Humphrey's about the book at the IFOA in Toronto last week... and was beyond delighted with the way in which - as she put it - she had to 'think outside the box' to come up with muc
Feb 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is an odd little book and really hard to categorize. Ostensibly it's about the history of apples in North America - but it's less than that and more than that all at the same time. The author is processing grief over the loss of her friends and apples is how she does it. It wasn't as apple-y as expected but I learned lots of interesting little tidbits that I can share and annoy my friends with (who knew there was a job title called "pomologist"?) . All in all an interesting book ...more
Heather D H
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: giveaway-wins
There were moments that I really enjoyed in this book. And I learned unexpected things - like how female Quaker ministers in the nineteenth century went about their business - about disparate subjects, including but not limited to, apples. But overall the book didn't leave me feeling like I'd read a coherent narrative. ...more
Josephine Ensign
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
An odd book that reads more like a slim collection of somewhat linked essays. The least effective, and the chapter/essay taking up the largest number of pages is "USDA Watercolour Artists." ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a lovely, lyrical book. It is similar to Robert MacFarlane and Nan Shepherd, although perhaps not as coherent. The theme of apples - their history, cultivation and cultural impact - is used as the basis for a meditation. It is not a thorough and organized review of the topic. Humphreys does get you thinking - the very idea that there were once hundreds of identified apple varieties is astonishing.
The book pays homage to Robert Frost and his deep friendship with the great English poet, Ed
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Who knew there were 17000 types of apples? And that apples are related to roses. And that the apple tree and its fruit has been the scene of great battles, great folly, the shame of settlers destroying one of the First Nations primary sources of food, and the subject of decades of research and inspiration for thousands of drawings for the government. The apple seed, the apple, Robert Frost, Henry David Thoreau.

The Ghost Orchard is a text that is hard to classify, and perhaps even to accustom yo
Cathy Savage
This is the story of the history of the apple in North America intertwined with the author's remembrances of a dead friend, a fellow writer. Although off the topic I was expecting, for me, it neither improved nor detracted from the main thrust of the book.
Who knew there were so many apple varieties grown in the mid-1800's? Certainly not me! Although a little on the dry side with repetitious wording (hard to describe the attributes of an apple otherwise!) it was mildly interesting to learn some
May 19, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pomologists
2.5. Kind of boring, but I have to say it would probably have been even more boring if anyone other than Helen Humphreys had written it.

In fairness, I wouldn't have read it if I'd read *about* it first. I loved the first couple of Helen Humphreys' books that I read, so I ordered a few more. I didn't realize this one was literally about the history of apples in North America. I don't even really like apples all that much.

I now know more about apples than I ever thought I would. In fact, I now kn
Sheryl Kirby
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
An exploration of lost North American apple varieties, Humphreys traces her own search for the Winter White Pearmain, a heritage apple she discovers, but also spends time looking at Robert Frost and his love of apples, as well as the travels of Anne Jessop, who travelled the US with apple scions (those are the branches that are grafted onto existing trees, as opposed to planting seeds directly into the ground). This feels like a very personal work, as Humphreys tells stories from her own life as ...more
Aisha Toor
Nov 23, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. I love apples, history and Helen Humphreys so this book was tailor made for me! I did really enjoy much of the book but can't say I loved it. Humphreys is a wonderfully lyrical writer and really does bring to life the ghosts of apples long forgotten. I loved the images of lost orchards and apples and how they were woven through the history of North America. I loved the story of Ann Jessop; a woman with a vision. I loved looking through the author's eyes at the past and how she binds u ...more
Sherry Monger
Dec 19, 2017 rated it liked it
I am a fan of Helen Humphreys' fiction and heard her interviewed about this book, so thought I would give it a try. Who knew there were once about 17 000 apple varieties in North America when the fruit was initially introduced? Now there are fewer than a 100 varieties grown and you would be hard pressed to find more than a few of those in your local grocery store. Humphreys has a fascination with the history of old orchards and set out in search of some specific apples that are no longer grown.
Sep 03, 2017 rated it liked it
I'm not sure how to rate this really. I felt sad the whole time reading it because it starts with the inevitable death of the authors friend. That sort of set the tone for me.

The history of the apple in North America. Not going to lie; I was bored most of the time. I was invested in the apple at the beginning but the author lost me with the short autobiographies of apple artists and writers. The writing was a bit stiff and never really felt involved in the story. Most of the time I felt like I w
Megan Gilchrist
Jun 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I find it hard to classify this book - it is equal parts history, journal, and prose. While each chapter is an engaging read on its own, I did find it meandered a bit and sometime wandered down a side path. For a Canadian author, there was also a very heavy focus on the American story - I would have loved to have known more about the orchards, records and stories of Canada. However, I still enjoyed the book, and it was a nice light summer read to pick up bit by bit when I had a few moments to sp ...more
Marci -
Oct 23, 2017 rated it liked it
As much as I wanted to love this book, it just didn’t give me the satisfaction of a well read book. I love Helens writing, but it just seemed so jumbled in places, I wanted to know more if she actually found the particular apple she was looking for, did she grow a tree? The images that were placed in the back of the book were just amazing, and so well detailed. It was looking at a photograph instead of a painted picture an artist rendered.
Nov 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An utter deliight. Helen Humphreys indulges her long-time interest in apples -- kinds, history, anecdotes -- to create a thorough resource that is also a personal odyssey. As she researches and muses on the role that apple trees have played in North America since they were introduced by European settlers, she muses on personal connections, grieving for and honouring the passing of her friend of many years. This is a thoughtful and heartwarming book by one of my favourite authors.
Amy Roebuck
Jan 30, 2018 rated it liked it
This was an interesting little book, with bits and pieces of personal reflection, historical anecdote and horticultural background. Good for a quiet Sunday afternoon. I picked it up because I've met Humphreys (hosted her at a library author reading) and liked her. I appreciate the variety in her writing, both in topic, style and format. Two of my favourites are her book on the Thames, and Lost Garden. ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it liked it
In this book Humphreys goes on a search for some of the 17,000 different varieties of apples that have been grown in North America in the past. Of course the orchards are long gone, along with many of the apples species, by she finds evidence of them in the names of villages and streets. At times I found the book to be just a listing of what grew where. The greater message is how much has been lost over the centuries.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Hidden World of the Fox
  • Indians on Vacation
  • A History of My Brief Body
  • Consent
  • Harrow the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #2)
  • Veritas: A Harvard Professor, a Con Man and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife
  • The Company We Keep
  • Close Encounters with Humankind: A Paleoanthropologist Investigates Our Evolving Species
  • A Hanging at Dawn (Bess Crawford, #11.5)
  • When Stars Are Scattered
  • Dead Game (Keith Calder Book 1)
  • Show Me the Honey: Adventures of an Accidental Apiarist
  • The Searcher
  • Better Queens
  • Stories about Storytellers: Publishing Alice Munro, Robertson Davies, Alistair MacLeod, Pierre Trudeau, and Others
  • Look Homeward, Angel
  • Alice, Let's Eat: Further Adventures of a Happy Eater
  • Trust Me
See similar books…
Helen Humphreys is the author of four books of poetry, five novels, and one work of creative non-fiction. She was born in Kingston-on-Thames, England, and now lives in Kingston, Ontario with her dog, Hazel.

Her first novel, Leaving Earth (1997), won the 1998 City of Toronto Book Award and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her second novel, Afterimage (2000), won the 2000 Rogers Writers

Related Articles

  Discover lots of new and upcoming nonfiction reads this spring with our author interviews, articles, and book lists!   Interviews with...
4 likes · 3 comments