Thursday, September 22, 2016

1631 Apples to Celebrate Autumn

 Apple Sellers or Costermongers 1631

Mythology about apples is broad & varied. Greek & Roman mythology refer to them as symbols of love & beauty, but Christian history has a different tale. 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.  

 Reynier Hals (Dutch painter, 1627-1671) Women Peeling Apples

In the mountainous forest regions of Kazakhstan, some apple trees have grown 60 feet tall for centuries. Each fall they bear fruit ranging in size from marbles to softballs in shades of red, green, yellow & purple. Trade routes such as the Silk Road passed through some of these ancient apple forests, & it is likely that travelers picked fruit to take with them on their journeys. Along the way, seeds were discarded; sprouting into trees, which hybridized freely with native crabapples, eventually producing millions of different apple trees in Europe & Asia. Homer’s Odyssey mentions apples & apple orchards. While there is some evidence that apples actually grew wild in England during the Neolithic period, the Romans brought cultivated varieties to England, where Roman villas in early Britain often had their own orchards. These were abandoned after the Romans left England in AD 383, but the apple flourished in the wild. 

Gabriël Metsu (1629–1667) Woman Peeling Apples

In England, King Alfred the Great wrote of apples in 885 AD. The Normans brought new varieties, & the orchards of medieval English monasteries grew the variety Costard, from which the word costermonger, an apple seller, comes. Costard was a cooking apple. An eating apple called Old English, was recorded in 1204. Costermongers are 1st mentioned in the 17C, & as they enlarged their role from apple sellers to general fruit sellers on the streets 18C & 19C English cities. Often they would sell their fruit from a hand cart or basket. (Hence the phrase “don’t upset the apple cart” which was 1st used in the late 18C). 

Jerome Thompson, (American, 1814-1886) Apple Gatherine 1856

The plague the Black Death devastated both people & apples in 14C England.  A series of droughts in the Middle Ages also put orchards under further strain. Henry VII instructed his royal fruiterer, Richard Harris, to re-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.

Karl Witkowski (American painter, 1860-1910) Stealing Apples 1890

When early European settlers sailed to early America, they brought apple seeds & grafted trees from the Old World. In general, the grafted trees did poorly, succumbing to the harsher North American climate. The seedling trees, however, were a different story. With their thousands of years of inadvertent hybridizing, apple seeds contained a wealth of genetic variability which enabled them to thrive in climatic locations as disparate as New England & South Carolina. Thanks to the careful selection & grafting of promising varieties, within a century of English & European settlement, early British Colonial America had its own apple varieties, adapted to the soil & climate of Atlantic North America.

William Glackens (American Ashcan School Painter, 1870-1938) Girl with Apples 1911

During the British American Colonial period, most settlers believed that drinking ground water in the colonies could possibly make one sick.  To combat this real or imagined danger, colonists of every rank, age, race, & gender drank alcohol often - usually in the form of fermented, homemade, aged cider. This was a beverage served morning, noon, & night.  As early as 1629, Captain John Smith noted that peaches, apples, apricots, and figs "prosper[ed] exceedingly" in the colony. In 1642, the first governor of Virginia, William Berkley, cultivated some 1,500 fruit trees at his Green Spring estate, and 2 years later, he decreed that every planter must, "for every 500 acres granted him ... enclose and fence a quarter-acre of ground near his dwelling house for orchards and gardens."  By 1686, Virginian William Fitzhugh of Westmoreland County, describing his plantation in a letter, mentioned "a large orchard of about 2,500 apple trees, most grafted, well fenced with a locust fence." And by the close of the 17C, there were few plantations in Virginia without an orchard— some boasted as many as 10,000 trees. Orchards dotted the colonies up & down the North American Atlantic coast.

Robert Brackman (Ukrainian-born American Painter, 1898-1980) Somewhere In America 1934

Robert Brackman (Ukrainian-born American Painter, 1898-1980) Girl from Village 1960

Lawrence A. Lubduska (American artist, 1894-1966) Fruit Girl

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