Yesterday I mentioned the pomewater, a variety of apple that was enormously popular for cooking and cider-making for several hundred years, but now appears to have disappeared. The botanical name was Malus carbonaria, and it was described by John Parkinson in Theatrum Botanicum (1640) thus:
‘The Pomewater is an excellent, good, and great whitish Apple, full of sap or moisture, somewhat pleasant sharp, but a little bitter withall; it will not last long, the winter frosts soon causing it to rot and perish.’
I guess we have at least part of the explanation of the disappearance of the pomewater in Parkinson’s phrase ‘it will not last long.’ Fruit with a short shelf-life is not comfortably compatible with the needs of industrialized nations and a city lifestyle, I suppose.
So popular was this variety of apple that it made frequent appearances in literature:
‘Ripe as a pome-water, who now hangeth as a jewel in the ear of Coelo, the sky. (Love’s Labours Lost, William Shakespeare, 1597)
‘’Tis de sweetest apple in de world, ‘tis bestter den de pome-water, or apple John’ (The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus, Thomas Dekker, 1599)
‘The captain loving you so dearly, aye as the pome-water [i.e pupil] of his eye.’ (The Puritane, or Widdow of Watling-Streete, 1607)
‘Whose cheeks did resemble two rosting pomewaters.’ (A 17th C Scottish ballad,
Blew Cap for me.)
I wonder if, somewhere in the world, there is a forgotten and neglected pomewater tree - or one of the other varieties which seem to have disappeared. I understand that the list of extinct apples may run into thousands. I know that ‘antique’ varieties are being regenerated in many places, and I do salute those orchardists who are involved in the process.
In honour of the pomewater, I give you the following recipe:
To make Cyder.
TAKE Apples so thoroughly ripe that they will easily fall by shaking the Tree. The Apples proper are Pippins, Pomewaters, Harveys or other Apples of a watery Juice, either grind or pound them, and squeeze them in a Hair Bag, put the Juice up into a seasoned Cask.
The Cask is to be seasoned with a Rag dip'd in Brimstone ty'd to the End of a Stick, and put in burning into the Bung-hole of the Cask, and when the Smoke is gone, wash it with a little warm Liquor that has run thro' a second Straining of the Mure or Husk of the Apples.
Put into the Cask, when the Cyder is in, a Bit of Paste made up of Flower, and ty'd up in a thin Rag; let it stand for a Week, and then draw it off from the Lees into another season'd Cask.
Some advise to put three or four pounds of Raisins into a Hogshead, and two pounds of Sugar to make it work the better.
The best Way to fine it is to rack it off often, and always into small Vessels, keeping them close bung'd, and only a small Vent-hole, and if it should work after racking, you may put some Raisins into the Vessel for it to feed upon, and to bottle it off in March, or if you bottle it up. After it has stood but a Week or thereabouts, you must not stop the Bottles for twenty-four Hours; nor must they be filled within an Inch of the Cork or more, lest it should burst; and when you have cork'd them, it will be convenient to open them once a Day for some time.
If you bottle it for present Drinking, put in a Lump of Loaf Sugar. In order to keep it in the Winter, set it in a warm Place in cold Weather/
The Whole Duty of a Woman, 1737.
I'm glad you pointed out the probable real reason for the apple to be extinct. As a farmer's wife, it's very frustrating to hear various self-interest groups blaming farmers and big business for the demise of various plants and animals. Nine times out of ten, farmers stop growing/raising certain varieties (animal or plant) because of consumer demand. Consumers (even back then) demanded products that looked 'perfect' and had a good shelf-life. Even on the farm, apples that wouldn't keep wouldn't be popular.
Wonderful! I have a beautiful limbertwig apple on my land and have been wanting to experiment with cider making. This is just the ticket.
Lee Calhoun wrote a marvelous book on Southern Apples, divided into extant and extinct. I have purchased several apple "whips" of antique "keeper" apples such as Terry Winter, Hoover and the modern Arkansas Black and King David from Big Horse Creek Farm. I don't have any financial interest in BHCF, but I love their apple collection and customer service.
I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog posts, and love all of the primary sources you use. I happened to be looking at an apple variety called golden spice (Dyer)- which seems to also be called pomme water. It is said to have been brought over to Rhode Island in the 1600s from France by fleeing Huguenots. Not one hundred percent sure but maybe the pomewater is not extinct but just masquerading under different names.
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