Sandy’s Garden ... the remarkable apple

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I was browsing a book called “A Dictionary of English Phrases”.

Compiled by Albert M. Hyamson, F.R. Hist. S. (Fellow of the Royal Historical Society) which was published in London by George Routledge & Sons Ltd. in 1922 when I came across some entries about apples which were new to me. As one example, who nowadays knows that an ‘apple-monger’ … also called an ‘apple-squire’ … is another name for a bawd? And, for that matter, who nowadays knows that a bawd is either ‘one who keeps a house of prostitution: a madam’ or ‘a prostitute’, according to Webster’s Dictionary, the name having come from the activities of sixteenth century fruiterers who, apparently, acted as go-betweens in the service of lovers? Well, well. And who nowadays knows that Prince Ahmed’s Apple is ‘a universal cure,’ the name coming from the tale of Prince Ahmed in the Arabian Nights?

That part of the story where Prince Ahmed is introduced to the apple is worth telling, for it comes from what is surely one of the greatest story books ever written, though it is largely forgotten today. “Prince Ahmed took the road of Samarcand, and the day after his arrival, went, as his brothers had done, into the bezestein; where he had not walked long before he heard a crier, who had an artificial apple in his hand, cry it at five-and-thirty purses. He stopped the crier, and said to him, “Let me see that apple, and tell me what virtue or extraordinary property it possesses, to be valued at so high a rate?” “Sir,” replied the crier, giving it into his hand, “if you look at the mere outside of this apple it is not very remarkable; but if you consider its properties, and the great use and benefit it is to mankind, you will say it is invaluable, and that he who possesses it is master of a great treasure. It cures all sick persons of the most mortal diseases, whether fever, pleurisy, plague, or other malignant distempers; for even if the patient is dying, it will recover him immediately, and restore him to perfect health.” And we merely claim that ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away!’

But, in that wonderful anthology “A Modern Herbal”, first published by Jonathan Cape Ltd in 1931 from which I have quoted before, Mrs. C. M. Grieve writes: “The chief dietetic value of apples lies in the malic and tartaric acids. These acids are of signal benefit to persons of sedentary habits, who are liable to liver derangements, and they neutralize the acid products of gout and indigestion. … The acids of the Apple not only make the fruit itself digestible, but even make it helpful in digesting other foods. Popular instinct long ago led to the association of apple sauce with such rich foods as pork and goose, and the old English fancy for eating apple pie with cheese, an obsolete taste, nowadays, is another example of instinctive inclination, which science has approved.” And then, as if these benefits were not enough, the authoress assures us that, “The sugar of a sweet apple, like most fruit sugars, is practically a predigested food, and is soon ready to pass into the blood to provide energy and warmth for the body.” And there’s more. “A ripe raw apple is one of the easiest vegetable substances for the stomach to deal with, the whole process of its digestion being completed in eighty-five minutes.” Nor must we ignore that fact that, “The juice of apples, without sugar, will often reduce acidity of the stomach; it becomes changed into alkaline carbonates, and thus corrects sour fermentation. … The Apple will also act as an excellent dentifrice, being a food that is not only cleansing to the teeth on account of its juices, but just hard enough to mechanically push back the gums so that the borders are cleared of deposits.”

The Royal Horticultural Society has predicted that there will be a bumper harvest of apples this year. That being the case, we should all enjoy a very healthy autumn and winter!

Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society