Unlike vegetables, most of the fruits commonly eaten today were also eaten in the Middle Ages.
Apples and Quinces
- Apples were often used in medieval recipes.
- They had the advantage of keeping well (especially quinces) and thus were one of the few fresh fruits available during the winter.
- Apricots were late coming to the West.
- It was supposed to have been brought to Greece following Alexander the Great's invasion of Central Asia.
- From Greece, the apricot went to Italy, where Pliny referred to it as 'the Armenian plum', and eventually arrived in English 'noblemen's' gardens around 1540
- In the Middle Ages, blackberries were available in season from hedgerows and woodland margins.
- They were so common that they did not become a cultivated plant until the 1860's.
- A close relative of the blueberry (called the "bilberry") is native to Europe.
- It may have been used in period but I have found no references to its use until after the discovery of the New World blueberry.
- Cherries were probably domesticated around 2,500 years ago in Southern Turkey or Greece.
- The Romans knew and valued numerous types of better quality cherry, and they spread these forms throughout their empire.
- With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, cherries faded from attention, and by the 13th century only references to the general types 'sweet' and 'sour' appear.
- Interest in cherries revived in the 16th century and, they were again extensively planted in Europe.
- The English word 'currant' has been used for this fruit only since 1550, taken from the fruit's resemblance to the dried currants of Greece, raisins made from a small seedless grape.
- The much older English name 'ribes' is of ancient Indo-European origin and is common to other languages.
- Since ancient years, dates have been one of the most important foods in the desert regions of the middle east and North Africa.
- When the Moors invaded Spain they brought the date with them.
- Figs have been cultivated since antiquity in the Mediterranean region.
Grapes and Raisins
- Originating in central Asia, cultivation reached Greece around 3,000 years ago, and quickly was throughout the Mediterranean.
- Vine culture went with the Romans throughout Europe, and monasteries in Europe become one of the repositories of knowledge of culture and varieties.
- Lemons went from the Middle East along the shipping routes to Spain and northern Africa in the Middle Ages.
- Cultivated around the Mediterranean since ancient times.
- Olive trees, ‘Olea europaea,’ are the oldest fruit trees and certainly are one of the most important fruit trees in history.
- Olive tree culture has been closely connected to the rise and fall of Mediterranean empires and other advanced civilizations throughout the ages.
- Small citrus groves and protected 'orangeries' of the noble courts were well established in suitable European climates from at least 2,000 years ago.
- Melons date back 3000 BC (Persia).
- The Romans ate cantaloupes.
- The Arabs were responsible for introducing of many types of melons into Spain during the Middle Ages.
- By the renaissance a wide variety of melons of various shapes, sizes, rind patterns, and flesh colors, were available in Europe.
- The black mulberry (Morus nigra), is native to western Asia and has been grown for its fruits in Europe since before Roman times.
- The peach is thought to have been introduced to Greece by Alexander the Great.
- The Europeans thought the peach came from Persia, so named this fruit from China 'persica', which means 'Persia'.
- The pear was also cultivated by the Romans, who ate the fruits raw or cooked, just like apples.
- Pears (along with apple and quince), are among the most common fruit eaten in the Middle Ages.
- It is probable that pears were cultivated in Britain during the Roman occupation but the production
of the fruit was slow to develop although there is mention in the Domesday Book of old pear trees as boundary markers.
- In 13th century England, pears were used mainly for cooking rather than eating raw.
- In 65 BC, Pompey the Great introduced the plum to the orchards of Rome,
and Alexander the Great eventually brought them to the Mediterranean regions.
- There are two main kinds of plum:
- The European plum, Prunus domestica, generally oval, mellow and often intriguingly flavored fruit and,
- The Japanese plums, P. salicina, the main fresh plums of commerce.
- This fruit was known to the Romans.
- The origin of the name is subject of some conjecture:
- Some think that is was named it malum punicum with respect to their suspected origin, Carthage (punicus).
- Others think that it was named malum granatum since granatum derives from granum "grain" and means "multi-grained".
- Both schools of thought agree on malum which means "apple"
- Pomegranates are often used as symbols in Medieval Europe, but are not common in medieval cookbooks or feasts menus.
- Red Raspberries have been cultivated in Europe for over 400 years.
- The strawberry eaten in Europe during the Middle Ages was far inferior to the modern strawberry.
- In France strawberries were cultivated in the 13th century for use as a medicinal herb.
- Internally, the berry was used for diarrhea and digestive upset, while the leaves and the roots were used for gout.
- Externally, it was used for sunburn and skin blemishes, and the fruit juice was used to whiten discolored teeth.
- It wasn't until seeds of a North American species, Fragaria virgininiana were sent to Europe in the 16th century that the stage was set for production of the modern strawberry.
- The wild form of the watermelon is quite large, crisp and juicy, but it is also tasteless.
- Watermelons were cultivated in Egypt as far back as 2500 B.C. as evidenced in ancient hieroglyphics.
- Medieval references to the watermelon indicate that the domesticated watermelon of the Middle Ages was also tasteless .
Fats and Oils