Leonard Mascall, on Graffing good Pepins

Image source: illustration of grafting and tree-working tools from the text

Some trees without graffing bring forth good fruit, and some other being graffed be better to make Syder of.

It is here to be marked that though the pepins be sowen of the pomes of peares and good apples : yet ye shall finde that some of them do love the tree wehereof they came : and those be right, which have also a smooth barke, and as fayre as those which be graffed : the which if ye plant or set them thus growing from the maister roote wythout graffing, they shall bring as good fruit, even lyke unto the pepin whereof he first came. But there be other new sorts commonly good to eate, which be as good to make Syder of, as those which shall be graffed for that purpose.

When you lyst to augment and multiply your trees.

After this sort ye may multiplie them, being of divers sorts and diversities, as of peares or apples, or such lyke. Notwithstanding, whensoever you shall finde a good tree thus come of the pepin, as is aforesayde, so shall ye use hym. But if ye will augment trees of themselves, ye must take graffes, and so graffe them.

Leonard Mascall, A booke of the arte and maner how to plant and graffe all sortes of trees, 1575 edition

As this excerpt from a mid-late sixteenth century book on planting and grafting fruit trees shows, Elizabethan gardeners were fully aware that seedlings (dubbed ‘pepins’, and later ‘pippins’) can be of variable quality, with some providing fruit “good to eate”, others being useful for producing Syder and, presumanbly, many not good for anything much at all. They effectively had knowledge of genetic variation, without the theoretical tools to describe the process accurately in the terms we use today.

They also knew full well – although to be fair, so did the ancient Greeks and Romans – that if you wanted to increase the number of a particular variety of tree, “ye must take graffes, and so graffe them”, which of course is one of the methods of clonal propagation (thereby establishing a cultivar? I’m hazy on the point at which variety becomes cultivar, I must admit) still widely used today.

It’s interesting that the text contains references both to “good to eate” and “Syder” apples, without specifically mentioning cooking apples. One theory is that in the C16th most fruit was cooked rather than eaten raw as the Elizabethans distrusted anything that wasn’t – perhaps due to the likelihood of becoming ill by eating un-washed fruit, or fruit washed in less-than-clean water; although I haven’t yet come across a definitive source for the assumption – and so ‘cooking apple’ was assumed without needing to be specified? I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for references to dessert vs culinary whilst I’m poring through the historical texts.

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