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The Scrivener: The Steame Of Apple Pyes

…At the end of a bicycle drive through country lanes, on a cold winter day, it was often the warm aroma of an apple pie which greeted me when I arrived home…

Brian Barratt writes most deliciously about what many may agree is the tastiest of all subjects.

To read more of Brian’s well-flavoured words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

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"Thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes." Robert Greene, an English writer, expressed this delicious compliment in about1590.

At the end of a bicycle drive through country lanes, on a cold winter day, it was often the warm aroma of an apple pie which greeted me when I arrived home. Sometimes it was an apple tart, with thick pastry top and bottom and a wee bit brownly burnt around the crimped edges. That was well nigh 60 years ago, when the world was young and our English Sunday dinner included Yorkshire pudding with home-made raspberry vinegar; roast beef, crisply baked potatoes, and greens; plus apple pie with custard.

Helping to pluck a chicken (I didn't like the smell); stirring plum jam in a huge iron cauldron on the stove (I loved that smell); peeling potatoes (I still have a scar on my finger to prove it). These were among the kitchen chores if I wasn't out in those country lanes around Newark. Best of all was coring and peeling Grannie Smith apples, because they were on their way into a pie or a tart for dinner. And dinner was in the middle of the day, of course — we were just ordinary people, we weren't posh.

The incomparable Mrs Isabella Beeton cooked for posh people. Her 1861 recipe for apple tart or pie includes half a teaspoonful of finely minced lemon peel and a tablespoonful of lemon juice. She added, "Many things are suggested for the flavouring of apple pie; some say two or three tablespoonfuls of beer, others the same quantity of sherry, which very much improve the taste; whilst the old-fashioned addition of a few cloves is, by many persons, preferred to anything else, as also a few slices of quince".

In the garden, we had apples, pears, Victoria plums, Merryweather damsons, cherries, gooseberries, black currants, white currants, blackberries and hazelnuts. I don't think we even knew what a quince was.

200 years before Mrs Beeton wrote her renowned book, John Wecker, Doctor in Physick, compiled his remarkable "Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art and Nature, being the Summe and Substance of Naturall Philosophy, Methodically Digested". He includes some helpful hints for extending the life of apples, including:

"Apples will last a long while that are gathered in their perfection, you must pull them with your hand, and that warily, that you bruise them not. Wrap them all severally in Sea weeds or Sea moss, that they may be fully covered, and then put them into raw Earthenware pots, put also Sea weeds between them, with the stalks of the Apples that they may not touch one the other; put covers upon the pots, and set them in a high cool loft, where they may have neither smoke nor any ill sent [scent]."

You might like to apply his suggestions for making apples sweet:
"If you desire sweet Apples, dissolve Goats dung in Mans Piss, and old Wine Lees, and pour that upon the roots."

And do make sure that you pick your fruit at the right time:
"Apples must be gathered about the Autumnall Equinoctiall, according as the Climat, Ground, and Tree is by nature, and not before the fifteenth day of the Moon."

Apples have been around for over 2,000 years, perhaps a hybrid of other fruit. The word has been used in English for about 1,100 years. The phrase "apple-pie bed" didn't appear in print until about 1780. It is defined rather delightfully in the 1811 "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue":

"A bed made apple-pye fashion, like what is called a turnover apple-pye, where the sheets are so doubled as to prevent any one from getting at his length between them: a common trick played by frolicsome country lasses on their sweethearts, male relations, or visitors."

No doubt those frolicsome country lasses also had breath like the steam of apple pies.

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2009


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