Forgotten Fruit, By Christopher Stocks

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Surveying the cornucopia in our supermarkets, we may think that this is a time of unparalleled choice for fruit and vegetables, but the Victorians would have tutted at the Spartan monotony of our diet.

They grew 42 different types of cabbage, 37 lettuces, 62 peaches, 53 peas... The contraction of cultivars came about through a combination of disease, commercial requirements and crackpot legislation. It costs £2,665 to register a single variety for two years on the EU's National List of legally certified seeds.

Christopher Stocks's splendid book offers a tempting glimpse of the wealth of delights that we are dnied in our straitened age. They include the Golden Jelly turnip ("it has sweet, tender, delicate yellow flesh, whose lack of fibre gives it an almost jelly-like consistency when boiled"), the "distinctly nutty and sweet" Blenheim Orange apple ("possibly the only apple whose taste has been described as addictive") and the Warwickshire Drooper plum. It was used to make an alcoholic refreshment called Plum Jerkum that had the effect of "leaving the head clear while paralysing the legs".

Stocks provides fascinating histories for the 26 fruits and vegetables covered here. Developed into tiny nibbles such as Scarlet Globe, Icicle and Black Spanish Round, the radish started out as a large root that the ancient Greeks utilised for rhaphanidosis (translated as "radishment"), which was an "extremely uncomfortable" punishment for adultery.