Friday, 11 January 2013

Orange, anyone?

Someone recommended a book called Medieval Underpants as required reading for all historical fiction authors, so I duly got hold of a copy and read it on my Kindle. Basically it is an American author advising American authors that if they wish to write about European History, they must do the research, otherwise they have UK readers in hysterics. I'm not saying she doesn't address English writers as well, but the slant of the book is more geared to Americans.  There's lots of good things to learn if you are beginning in the field, but after ten years, probably more than ten now, if I stop to think about it, learning the hard way...the only thing that had me worried was oranges.

Yes, oranges. I have a character pick one out of a bowl of pears in October in 1543. A dreadful nagging doubt seized me. I was happy enough about the pears - but decided to look up oranges in my book Food and Drink in Britain by C. Anne Wilson written about 1973.
She was most reassuring. Essentially what she says is: Strange and exotic fruits began to arrive in Britian through trade with southern Europe - oranges, lemons and pomegranates. The original home of citrus fruits was India but they travelled east through Persia. Arabs brought them to Spain. Crusaders tried them around Jaffa in 1191. The fruits began to arrive in Britain about a hundred years later.  Fifteen lemons and seven oranges plus 230 pomegranates arrived on a Spanish ship to Portsmouth in 1289 for Queen Eleanor, formerly a princess of Castile.

Those oranges were the Seville orange, the bitter type that makes marmalade. An Italian vessel brought a large consignment to the Port of London in 1420. Housewives learned to use them in cooking along with currants, prunes, figs and dates. Pine nuts, and walnuts arrived. Almonds were consumed by the royal household - 28,500 pounds of them in 1286. Poor folk ate them in pottages over the days of Christmas, but wealthy household ate them at other times. Apples and pears taken at the end of a meal were usually roasted and eaten with sugar, comfits, fennel seed or aniseed.

By the sixteenth century oranges were coming into the country regularly, both the bitter and sweet variety. Sir Francis Carew began growing them, certainly before 1562,
in Croydon. So I think I can relax and leave my single orange where it is. And then of course there's Nell Gwynne and her oranges int he next century....


Jean Bull said...

Thanks, Jen, such a simple fruit, but such an history!

Jen Black said...

Amazing, isn't it?

Ursula Thompson said...

I just finished this book too! Though I still have to wonder about the month of October. Don't oranges grow in the winter, like January/February? At least here in the States? So how can there be an edible orange (probably seven months old) in England in October, without being thrown into a freezer - not very likely in 1543?

Jen Black said...

Around the Med, oranges are harvested from November to late May depending on the variety, so who knows? Add in travel by ship and that people then knew how to store fruit - apples in lofts, potatoes in straw etc etc As ot's pnly one orange for a rich man's table, I don't think it's unreasonable. A bowlful now, might be going a bit far!