The Joy of the Letter

Butterfly cardNicola here, talking about letters and cards, letter-writing and research. Last week, a friend who lives a few doors down, put a hand written card through my door to fix up a get-together. She could have texted or used any one of a half dozen other ways of getting in touch but the card really thrilled me because it feels so unusual to receive hand-written cards and letters these days. Despite this, cards and other beautiful stationery are very popular and I’m always tempted to buy some when I visit historic houses or other lovely places that sell smart stationery. As a result, I have an ever-increasing pile of cards in my desk and seldom seem to have the chance to send them to anyone, though I do my best to find those occasions when I can.

At the same time, I’ve been researching the book I’m writing about the history of Ashdown House, and have been reminded of how important letters and letter-writing was to our forbears as a way of sharing news (and gossip!) and consequently how useful letters are to historians. In fact, my new fiction timeslip book also underlines this, as the heroine and her sister are both illiterate, never having been taught to read or write as children because they were poor (and girls). Learning to read is one of my heroine’s ambitions.

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The Exotic History of the Pineapple

PineappleNicola here.  Today I am celebrating the history of the pineapple as a European sweet treat. The pineapple was one of the fruits that was first brought to Europe by Columbus and it quickly became an item of celebrity and curiosity. Although English horticulturalists tried to cultivate it, it was two hundred years before they were successful. As a result, in the seventeenth century the pineapple was both expensive and sought after, affordable only for royalty and the very rich. In a work of 1640, John Parkinson, Royal Botanist to Charles I, described the pineapple as:

Scaly like an Artichoke at the first view, but more like to a cone of the Pine tree, which we call a pineapple for the forme… being so sweete in smell… tasting… as if Wine, Rosewater and Sugar were mixed together. (Theatrum Botanicum)

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