[Sca-cooks] Peaches was Theatre food in Elizabethan England

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Sat Feb 27 06:31:06 PST 2010

> http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100129/od_nm/us_shakespeare_snacks
> ------------------------------
> *****************************************
> "...imported food like peaches..."??
> Peaches grow in the UK don't they? I was given to understand they had been
> grown in England for most of the mediaeval period.
> Angharad

According to Davidson, the common wisdom has been that peaches were 
introduced into England into the 16th Century; however, a reference to 
peaches in Chaucer, two peach trees were at the Tower of London in 1275 and 
peach pits excavated from a 2nd Century fishmarket in Billingsgate, suggest 
that the common wisdom is in error.  The current thinking appears to be 
peach cultivation ceased for a time and was reintroduced from France in the 
16th Century

I haven't chased down the Tower of London reference, but several sources 
suggest that it is an account entry for two trees delivered to the Tower in 
1275.  The Chaucer reference appears to be from his (probable) translation 
of Romance of the Rose, which, being of French origin, doesn't place peach 
trees in England.

We know that Pliny wrote of the peach trees in Gaul and I have no problem 
with the idea that the Romans introduced peach cultivation into England. 
There is also some evidence that Charlemagne tried to expand peach 
cultivation in France more or less unsuccessfully.  Which leads me to the 
question of yield.  If the yields were low, then the peach could have been a 
rare and expensive fruit even if grown locally.  Espaliering fruit trees, 
pruning them to open them up and increase yields, occurred in Europe in the 
late 14th Century.  It may be that peaches were in England, but were of 
limited utility due to low yields until growers adopted the new techniques 
of arboriculture.  It's an interesting question.


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