Thursday, May 29, 2008

Vintage Apples.

May 29 ...

There is no doubt that Henry D. Thoreau was a marvellous observer of life in the woods. As for his observations on humankind, I am not qualified to answer, but his journal entry on this day in 1857 suggests that he was capable of being quite judgemental. And I don’t just mean about farmers’ boys.

“I think I have noticed that coarse-natured farmers' boys, etc., have not a sufficiently fine and delicate taste to appreciate a high-flavored apple. It is commonly too acid for them, and they prefer some tame, sweet thing, fit only for baking, as a pumpkin sweeting.”

The consummate snobbery aside, this statement begs a number of other questions.

Mr. Thoreau seems to imply:

- that a ‘high-flavored apple’ must be acidic, not sweet (Is a highly-flavoured very sweet apple impossible? surely the perfect apple is a perfect balance of both?)

- that a taste for the acidic rather than the sweet represents a more highly developed palate,

- and perhaps that coarse-natured boys would probably not like acidic pickles, on account of their unsophisticated and indelicate tastebuds.

I read into it also that he feels that a variety of apple which is particularly good for baking is intrinsically inferior to one that is good for eating out of hand. But perhaps I am being hard on Mr. Thoreau.

I am grateful to him however, for telling me of a never-before-heard-of food. What a charming name for an apple. Is it called a pumpkin sweeting because it is as sweet as pumpkin? As yellow as a pumpkin? Or because it is as good as pumpkin in a pie?(it cant be that, surely – it must be the other way around – the apple pie must be the benchmark?)

Apparently the apple goes by a number of names, most referring to either the pumpkin connection or the sweetness. Modern references mention it as having a firm yellow, crisp, juicy, and very sweet flesh - which makes it sound like the perfect eating apple, but I await some informed opinion from my American readers. The Pumpkin Sweeting is said to have a particular affinity with quinces, and to make good apple butter. It does both in this recipe. You could make the cider for the recipe with them too, if you have a good supply.

Apple Butter.
Boil down new sweet cider to one half the original quantity. Stew peeled and cored apples, with one quarter as many quinces, in this cider, till it is a very dark color. If well boiled, it will keep a year in jars, and is called Apple Butter.
[Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book: Designed As A Supplement To Her Treatise On Domestic Economy. Catharine Esther Beecher, c1846.]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Seven things to do with salt beef.

Quotation for the Day …

Adam was but human-this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. Mark Twain.


Rosemary in Utah said...

When I read the phrase " only for baking, as a pumpkin sweeting" I figured it meant those apples were used as pumpkin (or squash) *sweeteners*, like putting sugar in a dish.
I think most children dislike tart foods due to having lots more tastebuds than adults. But that's childlike, not unsophisticated!

The Old Foodie said...

I dont much like sour foods myself (question to self - when does 'tart' become 'sour'?), so am I childlike or unsophisticated in my tastes? My first thought was the same as yours, that the apple was an alternative to pumpkin - funny, isnt it, that a 'vegetable' is the sweet standard in this context?

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that sweet apples were boring. I certainly prefer a preponderantly tangy apple. This particular taste of yours sounds unsophisticated to me. I know, for instance, I always liked 7-up okay as a child, but upon tasting one recently found it sickly sweet. Have my tastes changed? Hardly; I found out that 7-up has about 2 and a half times as much sweetener now than it had in the 70's.

On the other hand, I like sweeter white wines rather than dryer ones; the dry ones taste like someone tried to make vinegar and just somehow failed. So that's MY unsophisticated taste. I'm NOT saying I like wine cooler, now that's too sweet.

The Old Foodie said...

Thankyou, Anonymous. I guess there is no accounting for taste, is there? Or, as my dear Mum would have said "it wouldnt do for us all to be the same"