Fruity Season’s Greetings to One and All!

Hello, hello! And a very happy Christmas, Xmas1Which, by the by, turns out not to be a modern abbreviation, but actually dates back a few centuries, at least according to the chaps on the The Rest is History Podcast, way back in Episode 10., Hanukkah, Yuletide, Bacchanalia, Winterval2Sorry, I know it isn’t really a thing and has been blown out of all proportion into a full-scale urban myth, but I couldn’t resist… or however you’re celebrating the season3And, if you’re not feeling the celebration but could really use some sort of contact at Christmas, don’t forget there’s the #JoinIn hashtag on Twitter, full of folks reaching out, connecting, chatting, helping each other through, all thanks to Sarah Millican who set it up around 13 years ago, or seeing yourself through the short, dark days of the end of the year. Oh, unless you’re a reader from the southern hemisphere, of course, in which case: happy midsummer! How’s your fruit-set looking?

I’m definitely feeling the joy this year thanks to some recent good news – more on that in the New Year – but I’m not really feeling the inspiration to rattle off a new piece of orchard-themed seasonal cheer. So instead I’m going to take the lazy route and do one of those round-up posts of stuff I’ve written in the past, on the off-chance there’s something in there that grabs your attention or just tickles your fancy.

Fruity Goblins!

First though, a quick recommendation: I listened to the latest episode of Tony Robinson’s Cunningcast yesterday – available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you do your podcast listening – in which he read Christina Rosetti’s poem ‘Goblin Market‘.

One of Arthur Rackham’s utterly lovely illustrations for ‘Goblin Market’

Somehow this rather wonderful piece had completely passed me by4And now I need to buy a copy of the Arthur Rackham illustrated version…, and when you consider that one of the main themes is ‘forbidden fruit’; that does seem like something of an oversight on my part.

And when I say ‘fruit’, I really do mean fruit, and lots of it. Here’s the first part of the poem:

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.

Which is all rather lovely, and must surely be music to an orchardist’s ears. Although, taking into account how the rest of the poem unfolds, I do feel the urge to point out that not all orchardists are lustful goblins, hell-bent on luring young maidens into a life of sticky-sweet debauchery. I mean, most of us are, obviously, but sometimes a tasty apple is just a tasty apple, y’know?

Anyway, I highly recommend ready the entirety of ‘Goblin Market’ at somewhere like PoetryFoundation.org, or – much, much better than reading it yourself – have a listen to the podcast to get the full effect of Tony Robinson doing all the goblin voices. It’s a really wonderful reading, well worth 10 minutes or so of your time.

And now, its on with the link-dumping… er, I mean, seasonal content sharing!

Biffins!

It would be remiss of me to allow the season to go by without mentioning that star of the Victorian Christmas table… no, not the turkey, or the figgy pudding – I’ll come to that in a minute – but the humble Norfolk Biffin!

No less a literary luminary than Charles Dickens himself was a big fan, and gave them a mention in his festive magnum opus ‘A Christmas Carol’, in this description of a Christmastime shop window:

“There were pears and apples clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers’ benevolence, to dangle from conspicuous hooks that people’s mouths might water gratis as they passed; there were piles of filberts, mossy and brown, recalling, in their fragrance, ancient walks among the woods, and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves; there were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags, and eaten after dinner.”

“The great compactness of their juicy persons”! Super stuff. I think he’s got talent, that Dickens lad. He’ll most likely go far. Anyhow, if you’re wondering what the heck I’m wittering about, then the short version is this: Norfolk biffins were dried, pressed apple sweetmeats traditionally made from ‘Norfolk Beefing’ apples by bakers in Norwich and other parts Norfolkian, who would dry them overnight in their cooling bread ovens. They were packaged and sold, by mail-order, right across the country, especially as Christmas-time treats.

If you’d like to learn more – a lot more – about Norfolk Biffins, then you’re in luck! I wrote a (very) long-read article – The Norfolk Biffin, a History, Part One – all about biffins, and the many fascinating snippets and side-stories that I discovered as I researched them. Enjoy!

Figgy Pudding!

I promised you figgy pudding, and figgy pudding you shall have.

Figgy Pudding! Image generated by Bing

Last year I took a look at the history of figgy pudding – probably most famous for its appearance in the menacing extortion ditty ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ – and mentioned a few historical recipes that might just count as ancestors, or at least precursors, of said dish, such as Comadore and Fygeye. I then concluded that Charlotte Mason’s ‘Excellent Plumb Pudding‘ was probably much closer to the version being sung about by carousing carollers intent on emotional blackmail.

I even found etymological confirmation that “figgy” pudding does indeed mean a plum, or currant pudding, rather than one that necessarily contains figs! How’s that for background detail?

Have a read of Oh, Bring Us a Figgy Pudding (Or Else..!) for all the plump, juicy, brandy-soaked details.

Wassail!

The year before I talked about figgy pudding, I briefly looked into the tradition of wassailing.

If you’re not familiar with it by now, this fine, ages old ritual5Yeah, I know, it was probably invented by the Victorians as part of the whole faux-medievalism thing they were so fond of. involves a melange of orchard-based rites and customs; everything from signing and drinking cider – remembering to pour a libation for the trees as you go, of course – to hanging bits of toasted bread in the branches and firing shotguns into tree canopies6I really can’t recommend this as a pruning method… in order to variously attract, cajole and/or terrify the spirits of tree and fruit into bringing you a good harvest in the year to come.

It’s all great fun, and tends towards the charmingly shambolic in the way that a lot of these sort of things do. Unless, of course you’re folk music royalty, in which case you’re far more likely to come up with something like this, from the wonderful Waterson:Carthy

That’s how you do it.

Take a look at Wassail, Wassail, With a Jolly Wassail! for a big, wooden bowl full of hot, spiced story and song.


Right that’s more than enough from me. I shall leave you all to get back to your mulled cider.

Have a great one, however you celebrate, and whatever you choose to do. Take care of you and yours, and I’ll see you soon.

Footnotes

  • 1
    Which, by the by, turns out not to be a modern abbreviation, but actually dates back a few centuries, at least according to the chaps on the The Rest is History Podcast, way back in Episode 10.
  • 2
    Sorry, I know it isn’t really a thing and has been blown out of all proportion into a full-scale urban myth, but I couldn’t resist…
  • 3
    And, if you’re not feeling the celebration but could really use some sort of contact at Christmas, don’t forget there’s the #JoinIn hashtag on Twitter, full of folks reaching out, connecting, chatting, helping each other through, all thanks to Sarah Millican who set it up around 13 years ago
  • 4
    And now I need to buy a copy of the Arthur Rackham illustrated version…
  • 5
    Yeah, I know, it was probably invented by the Victorians as part of the whole faux-medievalism thing they were so fond of.
  • 6
    I really can’t recommend this as a pruning method…

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