So, How Do You “Coddle” an Apple?

‘Keswick Codlin’ apples on parade

One of my favourite apple varieties is ‘Kewsick Codlin’, a dual-purpose early season cooker / mid season sharp dessert apple. Ever since I first encountered it – which was a few years ago, in the heritage orchard at Ordsall Hall – and researched its name, I’ve understood that the ‘Codlin’ element of the name refers to its suitability for coddling, as per John Walker’s A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary (1791): “an apple generally codled“. And coddling is a method of cooking that involves… well, I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. Mr Walker’s dictionary also contains the entry ‘To Codle’, which simply says “To parboil[1], so that doesn’t really help.

I do know that coddling used to be quite a popular method for cooking apples (and eggs), but is one that has fallen out of favour long since. So, being the curious type, I thought I’d see if I could find out what it is and how to do it. Time to hit the historical texts[2].

The earliest mention of coddling that I can find online is via John Parkinson’s Paridisi In Sole Paradisus Terristris (1629), as part of a description of the ‘Kentish Codlin’ apple, which we’re told is:

"[A] faire great greenish apple, very good to eat when it is ripe, but the best to coddle of all other apples."

Which is nice to know, but rather assumes the reader is already familiar with the actual method of coddling. And, as we’ve already established, I’m not. Right then, what’s next?

John Rea’s Flora Seu, De Florum Cultura (1676) is another early source, but, alas, it isn’t much more help, saying basically the same as Parkinson, but about the ‘Gyant Apple’:

"...the fruit is great, and long, yellow, and well tasted, and, either to coddle, or bake in Tarts, the most excellent of any Somer Apple."

Sounds lovely, but still no instructions. Perhaps we should move away from pomology manuals and try an early cookbook instead. Aha! Here’s something. From The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected, Taught and Fully Manifested (2nd edtn, 1675) by William Rabisha: ‘To coddle Codlings green, to serve up with Cream’:

"Take Apples from the tree fit to coddle, put them into a broad Pan (or Skillet) of water, set them over an heap of charcoal fire ; so that they may be alwayes scalding hot, and never boyl, kept close covered; only to have an eye on them, that now and then they may be turned in the pan ; This constant sober heat without boyling (and being kept close) causeth their greenness ; when they are tender, take off the outward skin ; your cream being boyled up, and seasoned, you may put them in whole or in halves, all over your cream ; being very well sprinkled with Rose water : so scrape on sugar, and send them up."

Interesting. You put your coddle-ready apples – from the tree, no windfalls please – un-peeled and presumably un-cored as well, into a large pan of water, then you simmer them, at a “scalding” heat but without actually letting them boil, until they are tender, at which point you peel them. Then you boil and season (add spices?) your cream, add in the cooked apples and flavour the whole mixture with rose water and sugar.

Okay, that sounds do-able. But let’s just double-check another source or two, see if we can find something a little more modern. Maybe a recipe that doesn’t require a charcoal fire. Skipping forward in time a couple of centuries or so, here’s something from Volume 12 of The Wisconsin Farmer magazine (1860):

"CODDLED APPLES - Take fall apples, wash them, and put half a peck into a preserving kettle; add half a cup of water, sweetened with a large cup of sugar, or half a cup of molasses. Cover them, and boil gently until tender."

So that’s fall (Autumn, rather than fallen) apples simmered in a heavy sugar- or molasses-syrup, until tender. That sounds simple enough. But sometimes simplicity can be a little… ordinary? Here’s a version that’s sounds a little less so, taken from Miss Parloa’s Kitchen Companion (19th edtn, 1887), by the eponymous Maria Parloa:

"Pare and core eighteen tart apples. Put a quart of water and a pint of sugar into a large saucepan. and boil for ten minutes; then put into the boiling syrup as many of the cored apples as the saucepan will hold without crowding. Cook gently until a broom-straw can be thrust through them; and when they are done, take them up carefully, and lay them on a large plate or platter. When all have been cooked, sprinkle them with granulated sugar, and put them into the over for ten minutes; then set away on the platter to cool. 

"Boil the syrup down to a pint, and cool it. At serving-time life the apples from the platter to a glass dish, and pour the syrup around them. Great care must be taken that they do not get broken. 

"Both the fruit and the syrup may be flavoured with cinnamon by boiling a stock of the spice in the syrup, or with lemon by putting the thin rind and juice of a lemon on to boil with the sugar and water. If the apples be tart, they will require no flavoring." 

So, there we have it. “Coddled” apples are peeled (or not) then gently boiled in water, with sugar (or molasses), either with or without spices, or lemon, until they are tender, then peeled (or not) as required. They sound rather pleasant to me. I think I’ll have to give them a go, perhaps with the last few of our Keswick Codlin apples, which should be past ready for picking by now.

Oh, by the by, if you mis-read the title of this post, and thought I was going to explain how to cuddle an apple (and have therefore been sadly disappointed) then I have just the remedy. I ran a quick search and found a video on YouTube that explains how to do just that.[3]

You’re welcome[4].

How about you? Have you ever felt the urge to coddle an apple? Are you already a regular apple-coddler? Do you feel newly-inspired to give your ‘Codling’ apples a damn good coddling? Please do feel free to let me know how you get on, or how you already like to coddle ’em, via the comments.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 There then follows a lengthy discussion as to whether or not the verb and the associated ‘codling’ noun ought to be spelt with a single or double ‘d’ and how that ought to affect the pronunciation. Apparently the confusion is all Doctor Johnson’s fault.
2 I know, I know, any excuse…
3 What, seriously? Oh yes, apparently so…
4 And now you won’t ever be able to un-see that video again, either. You’re doubly welcome.

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