Reference: The Mirror of Health – Food, Diet and Medical Theory 1450 -1660 Jane Huggett (Reprinted by Stuart Press)
There is little doubt that better educated people in the seventeenth century looked on fruit with suspicion. Being mainly ‘cold’ and ‘moist’ it was considered poor nourishment. Its moistness was believed to result in it passing quickly through the body and so there was less time for nourishment to be extracted from it; and its coldness indicated that it anyway contained less nourishment. It was also considered to be liable to putrefy in the belly causing gross or corrupt humours (1). “All fruits that are eaten before they are fully ripe ….give unto the body a moist kind of nourishment more full of excrements” [Gerard].
This led to the belief that fruit contributed to the breeding of pestilent fevers, consequently it was particularly recommended that it should not be consumed in the autumn when melancholy and the plague were most prevalent. In 1569, the sale of fresh fruit was forbidden as it was thought to be a cause of the plague then raging. Some authorities thought it best to avoid fruit altogether. Joubert mentions people blaming fruit for their illnesses. In 1603 Lady Ann Clifford records in her diary that she fell ill of a fever caused by over-indulgence in fruit. Earlier the same year she had blamed too many breakfasts and pear pies for another illness. Evelyn thought children would naturally eat fruit in place of flesh “did not custom prevail” to prevent them.
Sweet fruit, being slightly warmer, was less harmful than sour. Cooking and particularly drying made fruit ‘hotter’ and less ‘moist’. The high sugar content of dried fruit and preserves rendered them generally beneficial. The earliest preserves, those made from quinces, originated as medicinal tonics.
Mild, ripe, red apples were regarded as the best are they were considered ‘warmer’ and ‘drier’ than other kinds. “They should be eaten as a first course to relax the stomach and bowels, but they may make one hoarse. They are best eaten with sugar, comfits or fennel seeds on account of their flatulence. Sharp apples engender phlegm (2) and gross blood, are bad for the nerves and cause inflammations and colic. Cold acid apples are constipating. Apples should therefore always be cooked; they are less moist and more nourishing; they comfort the stomach, sharpen the appetite and aid digestion. The juice of apples is good for melancholics”. Turner in 1551 accused raw apples of causing more diseases than any other fruit “for they causeth ye humours through all the members”.
Jeff Parker expressed a view that the majority of what we now call dessert apples were developed during the 18th and 19th centuries. Earlier varieties, with a few exceptions, were not sweet enough to be eaten raw. This seems to be borne out by the relatively small number of varieties mentioned as ‘good eating’ in contemporary fruit registers.
(1) A description of the beliefs about ‘humours’ in the seventeenth century is in a separate Information Sheet.
(2) Phlegm is one of the ‘humours’ that seventeenth century people believed in.
Reference: Fruit Variety Register 1580-1660 Vol 1– Compiled by Stuart Peachey
Blacke Pippin – “a very good eating apple, and very like a perarmaine, both for forme and bignesse, but of blacke sooty colour” (PP588)
Kentish Codlin – “A faire great greenish apple, very good to eate when it is ripe, but the best left to coddle of all apples” (PP588)(EK495)
Deusan- “a delicate fine fruit, well relished when it beginneth to be fit to be eaten, and endureth longer than any other apple” (PP587) (EK448, 451, 456, 460, 465, 468, 472, 495)
Great Pearmaine – “differeth little either in taste or durability from the pippin and therefore next unto it is accounted the best of all apples” (PP587).
Leathercoate – “a good winter apple, of no great bignesse, but of a very good and sharpe taste” 9PP588)(EK487, 495).
Margaret – “is a fair and beautiful fruit, yellow and thick stripped with red; it hath a delicate taste, sweet scent, and early ripe, and is best eaten off the tree” (RHAA3/3/47).
Master John – “a better tasted apple then the other (Master William) by much” (PP587).
Summer Pearmaine – “is of equal goodness to the former (Great Pearmaine), or rather a little more pleasing, especially for the time of its eating, which will not be so long lasting, but is spent and gone when the other beginneth to be good to eate” (PP587) (EK476, 484).
Pomewater – “is an excellent good and great whitish apple, full of sap or moisture, somewhat pleasant sharpe, but a little bitter withal: it will not last long, the winter frosts soone causing it to rot, and perish” (PP587) (EK445,448).
Pound Royal – “Is a very great apple, of very good and sharp taste” (PP587).
Spicing – “ a well tasted fruit” (PP587) (EK472).
Town Crab – “an hard apple, not so good to be eaten rawer as roasted, but excellent to make cider” (PP588).
Wise Apple – “An early wise apple and good in taste” (TP).
Reference: Cider- The Forgotten Miracle, James Crowden, ISBN 0 9537103 0 0
The eating of apples and the use of them in making cider is a custom that has been around for a very long time.
As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. ; Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples. King James Bible – The Song of Solomon Chapter 2
May the Almighty bless thee with the blessings of heaven above, and the mountains and valleys, and the blessings of deep below, with the blessings of Grapes and Apples.
Bless, O Lord, the courage of this Prince, and prosper the work of his hands; and by thy blessing may this land be filled with Apples, and with the fruit and dew of heaven, from the top of the ancient mountains, from the Apples of the eternal hills, from the fruits of the earth and it fullness. – Saxon Coronation Benediction
Cider traditionally formed part of the wages of agricultural workers. Women workers received half the cider ration of men.
Of the third class, there arte Pippins and Pearmains but of all the table fruit Gilliflower and Marigold Apple and Kate Apple and Onion Apple are to be preferred :J ohn Worlidge 1678
Moreover, cider was such a health giving drink that Englishmen newly prosperous would bea strong and health people, and Long Lived….,able to go forth to Warre and be a terror to all our enemies. :-R Austen 1653
For fine dining at the gentry or officers’ table, it follows that it would not be appropriate to be eating raw apples, unless a specific part of the scenario, using a variety mentioned above. On the other hand cooked apples would be entirely acceptable such as those used in tarts and pies.
For common soldiers, especially in a siege scenario, it may be reasonable to eat raw apples. Soldiers during the siege of Pontefract Castle were risking their lives to gather fruit and sell it to their comrades. The accounts of Great Chalfield give the price of apples as 1 shilling and 6 pence (for an unknown quantity) – about the same price as a bushel (3) of oats.
They were probably also growing apples in the orchards of the manor. Otherwise apples should only be available sparingly when in season in UK – i.e. from July to October, and not earlier in the year.
(3) A bushel is approximately equivalent to 56 lbs or 25 kg.
Ian MacDonald Watson