[Northkeep] Re: period fruit
talana1 at hotmail.com
Fri Aug 31 07:07:26 PDT 2001
Lady Susannah wrote:
>It was also period to preserve fruits as you got them in alch. and sugar to
>be served at Yule. You know the old ... 1 LB of fruit, 1 LB of sugar and a
>bottle of brandy. It helped preserve the fruits for the winter time and
>a tasty drink to boot!
Once brandy existed, yes. The alembic (the alchemical/laboratory name for a
still) was not introduced to Europe until the thirteenth century. Albertus
Magnus is given credit for inventing it, but the name alembic is Arabic,
like so many inventions the Middle East gave us (algebra, the spinning
And the Middle East/Asia Minor region was the root source, so to speak, of
many fruits we enjoy today. Peaches, cherries, and plums all originated in
that region, and were introduced into Europe well before the end of the
Roman Empire in the West.
The name for the beverage made by steeping fruit in brandy is "rataffia."
Some folks call it a "cordial," but that's comes from a different process.
Oranges *I think* are indigenous to the Mediterranean, though I would have
to look it up. Same for lemons. Limes are a mutation of lemons (as
grapefruit are a 19th century mutation of oranges). Spain exported vast
quantities of oranges to Europe throughout the medieval period, often in
dried form. You can still purchase dried oranges and lemons in Middle
Eastern grocery stores.
The oranges of the middle ages were much less sweet than what Sunkist and
the Red River Valley provide us with today. In fact, they were noted for
their tartness. The opinion among food historians today is that Seville
oranges are the closest we have to period varieties. You can sometimes find
Seville oranges around here.
Cherries are referred to a great deal in the literature. There is a
"Cherry-Tree Carol" from 14-15th century England in which the Christ Child
causes a tree to produce fruit out of season for the Virgin Mary. Cherry
trees were popular in English gardens in later period.
Plums were generally called "Damsoms" or "Damsons", a name still sometimes
used today. The largest source of imported plums in period was Damascus (in
Asia Minor, remember?), and they were shipped dried and sugared, hence the
original "sugar plum." Plums dried without added sugar are prunes.
"History of Food" by Mangouleme Toussaint-Samat is a fantastic book.
Besides discussion the orgins of foods, both Old World and New World, it
also covers the herring wars of the late middle ages, contains a late Roman
mead recipe, and explains how the spice trade occupied the same dominant
position in the medieval economy that the entertainment industry holds today
- unbelievably big bucks made off a commodity that wasn't a necessity for
Hope this answers someone's question.
Who has beaucoups period cookbooks on her shelf, if anyone would like to
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