Apples & if the frost be very extreame January 9th

Gervase Markham was born in 1568, in Nottinghamshire, and was a prolific writer. Today, prompted by the Perpetual Almanac by Charles Kightly, I am looking through Markham’s eyes at Apples. Apples were an important source of joy as well as nutrition through a cold winter, as fresh produce became unavailable.

Markham wrote detailed books for use by the householders, the Husbands and the Housewives. And with the coming of frost, you would be advised to look at Markham’s books to ensure the survival of food in your food store. When the frosts hit, as they are now doing in the UK, you had to look after your store of apples, which were an important sweet food source over the winter, and Markham is the source of extensive advice on keeping your food deep into winter.

For the women, he wrote the English Housewife, published in 1615. Here is his recipe for Apple Tart (more of an apple purée tart, I think).

How to Make Apple-tart

Take apples and peel them and slice them thin from the core into a pan with white wine, good store of sugar, cinnamon and rosewater, and so boil it all shall it be thick. Then cool it and strain it, and beat it very well together with a spoon, and then put it into your coffin or crust and bake it. It carrieth with the colour red.

Gervais Markham, the English Housewife 1683 version (quoted by Charles Kightly).

For the men, he wrote the English Husbandsman, published in 1613 and ‘Printed by T. S. for Iohn Browne, and are to be sould at his shop in Saint Dunstanes Church-yard.’ This is the St Dunstan’s in Fleet Street, I think. The book is available on Project Gutenberg (Gervase Markham the English Husbandman. Project Gutenberg).

So to the frost – Markham ends his extensive piece on the best way to store apples as follows:

To keepe Fruit in frost. If the frost be very extreame, and you feare the indangering your fruit, it is good to couer them somewhat thicke with fine hay, or else to lay them couered all ouer either in Barley-chaffe, or dry Salte: as for the laying them in chests of Iuniper, or Cipresse, it is but a toy, and not worth the practise: if you hang Apples in nettes within the ayre of the fire it will kéepe them long, but they will be dry and withered, and will loose their best rellish.

I remember my Grandmother would store her excess apples from the tree, wrapped in paper and stored in cupboards in the pantry or outbuilding. I cannot remember which. They were often wrinkled but always delicious, and I think were Russets, which still remain my favourite apple.

At the bottom of the piece, I include the rest of his advice for storing apples. To summarise it, don’t store them near the ground, and put them on shelves ordered by variety based on which variety lasts longest. So at the back will be the long-lived species such as Russets and Pippins, to eat as spring approaches and at the front the ones you need to eat now such as the ‘Costard, Pome-water, Quéene-Apple‘ varieties.

Markham wrote many books, including one on the famous performing horse Marocco which starred in shows at the Bell Savage, just outside Ludgate in the City of London. Marocco would whinny in triumph with the naming of an English King, and snort with derision with the naming of a Pope, and could count and add up. He was rumoured to have been burnt at the stake as a witch in Edinburgh. But this does not appear to be true. Pocahontas also was shown at the Bell Savage, as was a Rhinoceros and other prodigies.

The Storage of Apples

If you want a more modern text on what to do with excess apples from your tree, have a look here, but do read on to get an insight into life in the 17th Century.

The place where you shall lay your fruit must neither be too open, nor too close, yet rather close then open, it must by no meanes be low vpon the ground, nor in any place of moistnesse: for moisture bréedes fustinesse, and such     naughty smells easily enter into the fruit, and taint the rellish thereof, yet if you haue no other place but some low cellar to lay your fruit in, then you shall raise shelues round about, the nearest not within two foote of the ground, and lay your Apples thereupon, hauing them first lyned, either with swéet Rye-straw, Wheate-straw, or dry ferne: as these vndermost roomes are not the best, so are the vppermost, if they be vnséeld, the worst of all other, because both the sunne, winde, and weather, peircing through the tiles, doth annoy and hurt the fruit: the best roome then is a well séeld chamber, whose windowes may be shut and made close at pleasure, euer obseruing with straw to defend the fruit from any moist stone wall, or dusty mudde wall, both which are dangerous annoyances.

The seperating of Fruit. Now for the seperating of your fruit, you shall lay those nearest hand, which are first to be spent, as those which will last but till Alhallontide, as the Cisling, Wibourne, and such like, by themselues: those which will last till Christmas, as the Costard, Pome-water, Quéene-Apple, and such like: those which will last till Candlemas, as the Pome-de-roy, Goose-Apple, and such like, and those which will last all the yéere, as the Pippin, Duzin, Russetting, Peare-maine, and such like, euery one in his seuerall place, & in such order that you may passe from bed to bed to clense or cast forth those which be rotten or putrefied at your pleasure, which with all diligence you must doe, because those which are tainted will soone poyson the other, and therefore it is necessary as soone as you sée any of them tainted, not onely to cull them out, but also to looke vpon all the rest, and deuide them into thrée parts, laying the soundest by themselues, those which are least tainted by themselues, and those which are most tainted by themselues, and so to vse them all to your best benefit.

Now for the turning of your longest lasting fruit, you shall know that about the latter end of December is the best time to beginne, if you haue both got and kept them in such sort as is before sayd, and not mixt fruit of more     earely ripening amongst them: the second time you shall turne them, shall be about the end of February, and so consequently once euery month, till Penticost, for as the yéere time increaseth in heate so fruit growes more apt to rot: after Whitsontide you shall turne them once euery fortnight, alwayes in your turning making your heapes thinner and thinner; but if the weather be frosty then stirre not your fruit at all, neither when the thaw is, for then the fruit being moist may by no meanes be touched: also in wet weather fruit will be a little dankish, so that then it must be forborne also, and therefore when any such moistnesse hapneth, it is good to open your windowes and let the ayre dry your fruit before it be turned: you may open your windowe any time of the yéere in open weather, as long as the sunne is vpon the skye, but not after, except in March onely, at what time the ayre and winde is so sharpe that it tainteth and riuelleth all sorts of fruits whatsoeuer.

Gervase Markham the English Husbandman Project Gutenberg