The air is turning crisp outside and the orchards are ripe with bright red apples. As you are going out to enjoy some fresh apples int eh beautiful autumn weather, you may be delighted to know that Shakespeare enjoyed this same tradition as well, with a variety of apples available in England for the 16-17th century. 

Shakespeare uses the word “apple” in his works a total of 9 times, including references to crab apples, rotten apples, and the apple of your eye, among others. The word apple was used to describe the round, edible, fruit we know today, but could also apply to other fruits. In fact, some 16-17th century references use “apple” as a generic term for any fruit that included a nut. There’s even one expression from the Middle ages called “appel of paradis” which refers to a banana. The apple fruit features prominently in religious artwork for the 16th century, as well as being useful for cooking, apple cider, and of course, the famous Christmas beverage enjoyed in Shakespeare’s lifetime, Apple Wassail. To explore the history of apples in England, we are excited to welcome Nigel Deacon to show today, who will be sharing with us not only how apples are cooked for Shakespeare’s lifetime, but other more surprising places you might find them in the 16-17th century as well.  

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Nigel and Alison Deacon both worked in education for 30 years, Nigel teaching Chemistry and Alison teaching Maths, ICT and German. In 2002 they started researching and then locating the heritage apple varieties from Leicestershire in the centre of England, finding and re-introducing all but one of the 14 varieties originating from the County. Their website, SuttonElms, put them in touch with many others also interested in heritage and unusual apples, and they now have a collection of 200 rare varieties. They have a particular interest in wild apples and red fleshed apples and are now involved in a project with a leading nursery in the UK breeding new apple varieties for the garden and retail markets. 

I’ll be asking Nigel and Alison Deacon about:

  •  Were there any wild apples that grew on trees in England for Shakespeare’s lifetime?
  • Were there apple orchards, and apple farmers, who were growing this fruit commercially in the 16-17th century?  
  • What was the most common type of apple for Shakespeare’s lifetime?  
  • …and more!

Resources Recommended by Our Guest

 Joan Morgan, The Book of Apples.

Story of the Apple, by David J. Mabberley and Barrie E. Juniper videos of apple tasting and information on English apples

Here’s what’s inside the detailed show notes this week:

  • Map of the Roman Road through Britain, that we reference in today’s episode.
  • 1595 apple tree woodcut
  • 16th century painting of two men sharing an apple
  • c. 1550 painting of a saint offering an apple to Jesus
  • A Survey Of The Ancient Husbandry And Gardening Collected From Cato Varro Columella Virgil, 1600
  • Map and Image of location for Newton’s apple tree
  • 1589 guide to grafting apple trees
  • Woodcut of a Gypsy family sharing apples
  • 16th century painting of the Virgin Mary under an apple tree
  • 16th century tapestry featuring apple scenes
  • `16th century illustration of mythical apple stories
  • 1611 document, ““Pomme d’Adam” defined as an “Adam’s apple”
  • picture of the Newton Pippin apples that we talk about in the episode
  • “apples of love” in John Gerard’s Herball
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Related Episode:

Potatoes Arrived in England During Shakespeare’s Lifetime

In the play, Merry Wives of Windsor, Falstaff declares “Let the sky rain potatoes!” Potatoes are thought to have arrived in the late 1580s or early 1590s, and in 1597, the same time frame we think Merry Wives of Windsor was written, John Gerard added the first printed picture of the potato to his Herball. Here today to help us sort through what it was like to see a potato for the first time, as well as how potatoes were used in Shakespeare’s lifetime is our guest and expert in the history of plants, Sally Cunningham. 

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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard!