Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mystery Fruit

Sometimes it's kind of embarrassing how my brain works.

A friend of mine (Hi Erica!) posted this picture to Facebook, and of course (embarrassment #1) I found it amusing and (embarrassment #2) I responded with a fruit-based pun.

But this is a 17th century painting of a fruit & vegetable seller, so my brain isn't going to let me ignore all the food in it. In short order I've got it open at the highest resolution the meme will allow and unlike a majority of guys my age, my eyes are quickly drawn to (embarrassment #3) this one particular fruit.

There's something about it that looks different from the nearby apples. In fact, it kind of looks like a frickin' tomato.

For those not so into medieval European cooking, here's the thing about tomatoes: they're a new-world food that wasn't available in Europe before around 1500, and weren't commonly eaten until the 1700s. John Gerard mentioned them in his 1597 herbal, but he thought they were poisonous. That means it's a bit unusual to see one depicted in a 17th century painting with a bunch of food.

The resolution of the meme is too low to tell for sure though, so I start looking for a better image. My Google-fu skills quickly reveal that the painting is Cookmaid with Still Life of Vegetables and Fruit, by Nathaniel Bacon (c. 1620-5). Google also politely provides me with a much better quality image.

I eagerly zoom in and here's what I see:


That's helpful, kind of, sort of, but ... huh.

I'm pretty sure it's not an apple. The shape is very tomato-like, as is the glossiness. The thing in the middle doesn't look right though. It looks more like the calyx (bottom belly-button like thing) of an apple than either the calyx (top leafy bit near the stem) or stigma (bottom little nubbins) of a tomato. Also if it were the top of the tomato I'd expect some discoloration or cracking around the shoulder.

Another friend (Hi Drake!) suggested it might be a persimmon, which would match the glossiness and shape but not really the color, and again the calyx isn't right. Persimmons have a calyx and stigma more like a tomato.

It's certainly not a medlar - it's not nearly obscene enough.

At the moment I'm still not sure. Maybe it's just an oddly-shaped, wet apple.

The (probably wrong) answer I find most appealing though is that it's a tomato, and that the artist chose to put it into a still-life that would normally be associated with fertility, fecundity, and a bit of eroticism, specifically to provide a touch of hidden peril.

La Maison Rustique - The Potherbs - Saffron

From: L'agriculture et maison rustique, Charles Estienne (Rouen, 1658).

The Potherbs

(Chapter 31)



As to saffron, as will be said below, it loves moderate soil, not strong, nor dunged, and at the same time well aerated, exposed to the sun, and well turned, and grows well where onions will have been planted. It loves water, fears the mouse and mole, and grows better planted from bulbs than seed. It is not sown, but its bulblets and remains similar to leeks or sea-onions, are planted in furrows in April or May, and let it be first planted, to kill the onions heaped up in the area in eight days in the shade of the Sun, in some place which is not damp, and plant them with the root in well-fired earth, and about half a hand from each other, and three fingers deep, and it grows better in an open walkway. It blooms every year in the Autumn for a continuous month, and then wildly lets the blossom fall: bu tit keeps its leaves throughout winter all green until Spring when it begins to wither, and does not appear in any way in Spring; it can endure being planted for up to nine years, and if it is transplanted elsewhere it will still be able to benefit. True, it wears several spices and kernels, which should be culled from three in three years, otherwise the herb would be suffocated. No one plants it, and for the better, after mid-August until mid-September, and put at their root a quantity of grapes pulled from under the press, and leave them in the ground for two or three years, and each year, in April and May, bind the herb for drying, and tamp them down by foot around two fingers deep, without hurting the bulb. After thoroughly cleaning the herbs when the flower is dead, as in August and through Autumn, harvest them in the morning as the Sun rises, and keep them in a closed room, and dry. In addition, the good saffron can be known if it is very fat, if held in the hand it makes a crackling sound; if put into some liquor it dissolves; if held in the hand and carried to the face, it gives some bite to the eyes; if it is of a golden color; if it dyes the hands with this color, and if it has a scent that is somewhat acrid and poignant that is not very fragile. Saffron taken in very small quantities is good for weakness of the stomach, and failing of the heart, preserves the drinker, and protects from the bite of snakes and spiders. In large quantities, either by mouth or applied to the outside, stirs up torments and pains in the head, and brings a clouding to the eye.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

La Maison Rustique - The Potherbs - Marigold

From: L'agriculture et maison rustique, Charles Estienne (Rouen, 1658).

The Potherbs

(Chapter 17)



Marigolds do not need much cultivation, for they grown in the uncultivated fields, and in whatever soil one wants, and do not require to be sown every year because once sown will revive itself. They bloom in all months of the year, as much in summer as in winter, for which reason the Italians call it the flower of all months. In fact it is very difficult to recover land where they have been sown. If they are cultivated a little and often shorn they will carry more beautiful and fuller flowers, still more in autumn than in spring. The juice of marigold flowers taken when fasting has a great virtue to excite the menstrual flow of women. The perfume of these flowers collected by funnel to the bashful parts does the same, and brings out the back burden, and delivers the young girls of their color. The preserve of these flowers has the same virtue. The women of Italy use both to provoke the months, but for stopping them fry the juice and tender tops of the herbs, with yolks of eggs and eat them. The same juice mixed with very little wine or warm vinegar is excellent to appease extreme pain of the head and teeth if used in the form of a wash. Drinking this juice in the amount of one ounce with the weight of a crown of powdered, prepared earth greatly benefits those with jaundice. It is said that eating the leaves of marigold, makes for good vision. The water distilled from marigold leaves, instilled into the eyes, or cloth soaked in it and applied to them, cures the redness of the eyes. The powder of the dried leaves put into a tooth cavity cures the pain in that tooth. The juice of marigold flowers, drunk in the quantity of two ounces at the start of a pestilential fever protects from the plague, provided that the patient after drinking this juice, is immodestly clothed and sweats well-covered in bed. It also protects against jaundice and heart palpitations. The preserves of marigold flowers does the same. Drink with about three ounces of white wine, half an hour before the start of a fourth fever, diluting seven grains of marigold. Repeating this beverage several times in the morning is an excellent remedy for the fourth fever.