An Apple A Day…

Red_AppleA few weeks ago Wench Joanna celebrated oranges and lemons
in a blog post. Today, as Apple Day approaches in the UK, I thought I would
talk about apples. Apples are like reverse oranges and lemons; they aren’t
rare, they aren’t generally exotic although these days some apples have been developed especially for their exotic look and taste, and they will grow just about anywhere in
the UK. Yet until the 18th century most eating apples were
considered luxuries and sold mainly in London. It was the humble cooking apple
that was a staple of the ordinary man and woman’s day-to-day diet, which was
why it was particularly important to store apples correctly so that they would
last over the winter. Chaucer, in The Cook’s Tale, laments
the way that one rotten apple can turn the entire barrel and this was pretty important when the apple was a fundamental source of food.

Apples have a rich and varied mythology. Greek and Roman mythology refer to them as symbols of love
and beauty but equally they have a bad side. Although the bible does not
specify that it was an apple that Eve offered to Adam in the Garden of Eden, referring to
it only as fruit, an apple has often been used to depict the forbidden fruit.  Apples also get a bad reputation in some fairy
tales, most notably in Snow White. In Arthurian legend the Isle of Avalon, where Arthur is laid to rest, translates as the Isle of Apples. The Swiss National hero William Tell was said to have shot
an apple off his son’s head with a crossbow in order to ransom both their
lives. The symbolism and mythology of apples is everywhere, perhaps because of
their satisfying shape, perhaps because they are everyday items yet beautiful.

The arrival of the apple

Apples arrived in Europe from the Tien-Shan Mountains of
China, accompanying traders along the Silk
Apples Road. Homer’s Odyssey mentions
apples and apple orchards. Whilst there is some evidence that apples actually
grew wild in England during the Neolithic period it was the Romans who brought
the cultivated varieties to England – (apples, rabbits, carrots, parsley, feet and inches…That’s
what the Romans did for us!) The apple was particularly valued because all of it is edible, even the pips and core. However too many apple pips can be fatal as they contain a cyanide compound.

The Costermonger

Many Roman villas had their own orchards. These were
abandoned after the Romans left England in AD 383 but the apple flourished in
the wild and King Alfred the Great was the first to mention English apples in a
document of 885 AD. The Normans brought with them new, improved flavours and
the orchards of medieval monasteries grew apples of the variety Costard, from
which the word costermonger, an apple seller, comes. Costard was a cooking
apple. It’s counterpart as an eating apple was the variety Old English, which
is recorded as far back as 1204.

Costermonger 1631Costermongers are first mentioned in the 17th
century and they developed their role from apple sellers to being all-purpose
fruit sellers on the streets of Regency and Victorian cities. They would use a loud sing-song chant to attract attention
and would generally sell their fruit from a hand cart or basket. (Hence the
phrase “don’t upset the apple cart” which was first used in the late 18th
century). Costermongers gained a fairly unsavoury reputation for their
"low habits, general improvidence, love of gambling, total want of
education, disregard for lawful marriage ceremonies, and their use of a
peculiar slang language." 

The Queene Apple

You often hear about the great devastation caused by the
plague the Black Death in 14th century
Old apples England; it’s a little
known fact that it wiped out apples too because there were so few people left
to cultivate the stock. A series of droughts in the Middle Ages put orchards
under further strain and the Wars of the Roses finished them off. It was Henry
VII who was the unlikely saviour of the English apple. He instructed his royal
fruiterer, Richard Harris, to establish large-scale orchards in Kent. The most
common apple in the Tudor period was called The Queene after Elizabeth of York,
Henry’s wife.

The Gravity Tree

WoolsthorpeA couple of years ago I visited Woolsthorpe Hall in Lincolnshire where Isaac
Newton is said to have formulated his law of gravity when an apple either fell on his head
or he saw one falling from the tree. The orchard at Woolsthorpe still contains
the variety of apple that supposedly fell on Newton from what is now know as
the “tree of gravity.” It’s a pretty amazing thing to stand there and look at
those apples and think about the role they played in scientific discovery!

The New World Apple

Meanwhile, over the other side of the Atlantic, the Pilgrim
Fathers discovered that there weren’t many edible apples around. The
Massachusetts Bay Colony requested seeds and cuttings from England and other
settlers brought apple stock to Virginia and the South West. The first apple orchard in North America was planted in 1625 by Reverend William Blaxton but it is probably John Chapman, known as Johnny Appleseed, who was the most famous pioneer nurseryman for the apple, planting nurseries rather than orchards across a number of states.

Regency Pips 

The most famous pip of the English Georgian period was planted in 1809 when Mary Ann Brailsford grew an apple tree that was to become
the mother of all Bramley apples. This was a very useful cooking apple as it worked well in pies, desserts, chutneys, jellies and cider making. By this period almost every farm from Northumberland to Cornwall had an orchard. Labourers were paid in cider right up until the end of the 19th century. 

Such was the reputation of Oxfordshire’s famous 1818 Kempster Pippin apple, which was developed into
220px-Deutsche_Pomologie_-_Aepfel_-_036 the Blenheim Orange variety (which is confusing!) that coaches would stop at Woodstock to allow people to glimpse the apple trees and thieves would shin over the orchard wall at night to steal some wood to graft! Here's a Blenheim Orange on the right.


Unlike exotic fruits, which can only survive the British climate in a hothouse, apples flourish here, and apple trees still grow wild in the hedgerows. The number of customs and games that we have created around the apple echoes the importance it has had in our lives. Bobbing for apples used to be a traditional Halloween game when I was a child. I can't say I enjoyed putting my face in a bowl of water in an attempt to catch a fruit but it was a custom that went back centuries. 

And that brings us on to cider.  In England we have the Normans to thank once again for popularising cider drinking and the medieval monasteries enthusiastically applied themselves to cider production. To this day the UK is the largest cider-drinking nation in the world.

Cider wassailI'm a big fan of cider and when we lived in Somerset 20 years ago we enthusiastically
took part in the old tradition of the cider wassail, first recorded in 1585.
This was a ceremony of drinking a toast to the apple trees in the hope that
they would give a good harvest the following year. I wrote my first traditional
Regency, True Colours, when I was living in Somerset and I included a cider
wassail in the story. In the Regency period as well as marching to the orchard
and raising a glass of cider to toast the health of the harvest it was also the
custom to loose off several rounds of ammunition in order to scare away any
evil spirits that might be lurking around the trees to put a blight on the
harvest. Needless to say, by the time we were taking part in the cider wassail
ceremony that element had been banned for health and safety reasons. In True
Colours and in my own experience the wassail was followed by a big barn dance
with mulled cider for refreshment and plougman's cheese, bread and pickle to go with it. A fine feast.

Tonight I'll be celebrating the apple harvest with a dish of monkfish served with potatoes, pancetta and cider. I heard a celebrity chef say recently that fish and fruit should never be served together but in this case I definitely make an exception to that rule! it's delicious.

Are you a fan of apples? Do you cook with them or enjoy apple juice or cider? And are there any apple-related traditions where you are?

Some Some Summertime

Joanna here, 

The thermometer tells us it's 100 degrees today, (thank you, Mercury, god of thermometers). Another ikea bookcases
The cat is conked out on her back in the shade, too tired to harass the birds.  I'm listening to my heatstroke playlist. That's the one that starts with the Beachboy's Kokomo, ("Aruba, Jamaica ooo I wanna take ya to …") and shimmies on to the Lovin' Spoonful's Summer in the City, ("Doesn't seem to be a shadow  in the City").

Summer is upon us.

So let me ask, "What books would you take to the beach this summer?  Old friends?  New discoveries?"

There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs. 
                                 Henry Ward Beecher

HammockonBeach wiki

Here in the South we know all about the heat index creeping stealthily up toward the triple digits.  We've raised 'doing nothing' to a graceful art form.  It's an art practiced by the swimming pool or a big 'ole lake,  or at least in company with a hose spraying around the backyard.  Bonus points for the lifestyle include barbecued ribs and cold Mountain Dew.  And beer.    Backyardhose attribclapstar

For me, any day of the simmering summer is incomplete without a book in the bag.  Or a couple books, since you never know exactly how the spirit will move you.  Summer reading needs the background noise of kids running around barefoot and yelling about nothing at all.  It needs a shady porch or umbrella and maybe a dragonfly hovering just off the port side of the hammock.    

Kai lungI'll tuck an old friend in the straw bag — Kai-Lung's Golden Hours by Ernest Bramah.  There's a funny, clever, dreamy, irrationality to it that suits hot weather and lying by the pool.  I own it in paperback, but it's free on e-readers, being out of copyright an' all. 

(Go ahead and click on any of these book names for more information 'bout the book.)

Jennifer Crusie always picks me up.  Funny, funny woman.  I haven't had a chance to read, Tell Me Lies yet, and I'm looking forward to it.  Susan Elizabeth Phillips has a new book out in July The Great Escape: A Novel.  I might top those two off with rum and coke and Grace Burrowes' most recent book, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal

In one of those fortunate happenstances, the ARCs for Mischief and Mistletoe are wending their way Wenchward, so I have that to look forward to.  A cool read in so many ways.

Mary Jo Putney says:

I am a Reader for All Seasons, and certainly can’t evoke languid summer reading times as well as Joanna can. (The dragonfly is a nice touch. <G>)

But a favorite I just reread fits the summer reading theme: White Lies by Jayne Ann Krentz.  The  book is one of her Arcane Society romantic suspense novels, and it’s set in blazing summer heat in Arizona as the heroine, Clare Painteddesert wikiLancaster, becomes involved with murder, mayhem, and a hot alpha hunter named Jake.  I like  the characters and the plot—Clare is a human lie detector, which gives her an unusual philosophy of life.  And I like the JAK banter. 

I also like the way the book makes a reader feel the Arizona heat.  The burning steering wheels and the blasts of air conditioning when entering a building.  The deliciousness of a desert night, with softly slinking coyotes and giant stars on a dark velvet sky.  The crunch of bruschetta and the cool wine that follows.  Perfect summer reading if one is lounging on a shaded patio.  

But in general, any good story will do, summer or winter!

(Teacup attrib merdeglace, girl with hose attrib clapstar, bookshelves charliebrewer)

Nicola Cornick, who is not suffering the Virginia swelter or even Arizona's At-Least-It's-A-Dry-Heat desert, says: Teacup attrib merdeglace

There is a saying that summer in the UK consists of three hot days and then a thunderstorm, but this year it’s been so cool and damp we’ve barely had three hot days in a row and not much in the way of humidity.  So when my thoughts turn to summer reads they tend provoke ideas of pale sandy beaches and cool breezes off the sea and me sitting behind a wind break as I try to read, cradling a cup of tea from the flask to warm me up!

5 Paul Cesar Helleu (French artist, 1859-1927) ReaderMaybe that’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to reading The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick. It sounds wonderfully evocative of the county, its coastline, its history and its atmosphere. I love holidays in Cornwall and one of my all time favourite books is Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier, which evokes the spirit of time and place in Cornwall so beautifully. I was even lucky enough to stay in Daphne Du Maurier's house at Frenchman's Creek one year and I could feel the ghosts all around me.

Which brings me neatly to my other hotly anticipated summer read. This is The Silent Touch of Shadows by HWW Christina Courtenay, a time slip book set in the present and the 15th century. I love time travel books and can never find enough of them to read. There's a pdf file with an extract from the here.  It's out in a couple of weeks and I can't wait to pick it up! 

Susan King brings us three recommendations and a garden:

I'm a dedicated year-round reader, though I tend to read a little more during the summer, with the pace of the household quieter, the Guys being busy and not around as much — I'll find an air-conditioned corner, curl up with the dog, and make a dent in the TBR pile. If it's not too hot 'n buggy, I love sitting out Morton_distanthoursto read on the shady side of the deck. But summer or winter, the reading situation depends on the deadline situation, but with my deadline a ways off yet (I'm time-dyslexic, ahem), this summer I have serious Reading Intentions.  

I've just started The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, and then I've got my eye on A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. At the same time (because who reads just one book), I'm catchingDeck_summer up with some Wench novels (Mary Jo's delicious No Longer A Gentleman is toppling the stack). I've also loaded up the Kindle with lots of books and good intentions — mysteries, romance, a couple of YAs.
In a few weeks, when we'll be at Lake George for a bit, I'll find time to sit out on the breezy porch and read for hours. There's always the bottomless stack of research books, notes, and pages to read/revise — that sort of reading never stops!
It's a lovely thing, reading. I couldn't get through a summer (fall, winter, spring) or a lifetime without it!
The library in summer is the most wonderful thing because there you get books on any subject and read them each for only as long as they hold your interest, abandoning any that don't, halfway or a quarter of the way through if you like, and store up all that knowledge in the happy corners of your mind for your own self and not to show off how much you know or spit it back at your teacher on a test paper.
                    Polly Horvath

Andrea Pickens
brings us a couple few interesting suggestions, including our only hit on nonfiction:
It’s been a little hard to think of summer reads because here in the northeast where I live, it’s been unseasonably cool. But the vernal equinox seems to be bringing in a wave of sun and heat, so am looking forward to stretching out under a beach umbrella and diving into some of the books on my TBR pile.

I can highly recommend one that I just finished. Anatomy of Murder, by Imogen Robertson, is the second in her Georgian-set mystery series and it features fascinating characters, a compelling plot and wonderfully gritty description of life in London. It’s a compelling read that’s very hard to put down.  I’ve also got Past Wench Loretta Chase’s new release, Scandal Wears Satin, in my beach bag, for her pithy humor is perfect for making me laugh on a lazy summer day.

Now,  I know it’s the season for light reads, but I thought you all might get a laugh at what else I’m currently reading. A  dear friend of mine is fascinated by physics—about which I know less than nothing. However, he finds the subject so interesting that I recently read The Clockwork Universe, which was about Isaac Newton,  the Royal Society and the making of the modern world of science, so I could talk to him about it. To my surprise, I found it fascinating. However, I’ve now opened Pandora’s Box, because he just gave me Quantum, a book on quantuBanished bridem physics. I have started it—and feel like I’m back in school because I’ve started taking notes so I can try to understand some of the concepts. To my utter shock, I am enjoying learning about something that is utterly alien to me. And given that we want young people to get excited about science as well as reading, I feel I’m doing my bit. (If I don’t surface for the rest of the summer, you will know why!)

And (Shameless plug!) for those of you in the mood for a traditional Regency read, I've just posted three more of my old Signet books in e-book format at Amazon.  The Banished Bride, Second Chances, and A Stroke of Luck.

Jo Beverley points out:

I've never understood the concept of summer reads. To many it seems to mean a Marie_Danforth_Page Young Girl Reading 1914time when they're allowed to goof off and read the books they actually enjoy instead of the ought-to tomes. Come on now, break free and read for pleasure all year long!

Next, I'm not sure people have the most reading time in summer. Why should that be? Surely many people spend their summer holidays places they enjoy, not escaping to somewhere else in fiction. Now a long winter evening — that sounds like good reading time!

Anyway, I've never liked reading in the sun. However, that might not be a problem, given the weather summer's starting with here in England!
Irving Ramsay Wiles (American artist, 1861–1948) Reading in the Garden
Do you read more in summer?

And we round it off with suggestions from Anne Gracie:

It's a lovely idea — summer reads — but it's a bit hard to wrap my head around at the moment, because where I am (downunder) it's cold and wet and wintry, so I'm thinking more of reading curled up in front of the fire, or snuggling down under the bedclothes with a good book. In any case, I'm like Jo — I don't much like reading on the beach. Too bright and glarey to read, and I always end up with sand in the pages.  Give me a shady garden with a hammock and a long, cool glass standing by, any time.

R Curt Herrmann (1854-1929) Sophie Herrmann. (2)I'm actually not reading a lot at the moment because I'm on deadline, and at such times I reread, more than read,  but I have a lovely pile of new books ready on my TBR pile, and a few more on order.

I have Eloisa James's Paris book waiting, and Loretta Chase's Scandal Wears Satin on order, and I did try to leave Nalini Singh's Tangle of Need until after I'd finished my book, but I gave in. I've been hooked this series since Slave to Sensation. Julia Quinn's latest is singing its siren song to me, too. I've also got a pile of P.G. Wodehouses standing by — a lot of my old copies have gone walkabout, so I treated myself to a pile of new ones recently.

But summer heat or winter chills, as far as I'm concerned it's always time for a good book.

So, there you are — round about two dozen books for your delectation and enjoyment.  Have you read any of these?  Would you second the recommendations?

Is summer your time for light reading and a lot of it?  Are you expecting to get much reading done over the next few weeks?