Henry Phillips.

Pomarium Britannicum : an historical and botanical account of fruits known in Great Britain online

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duced, in the highest perfection, nearly all the
known fruits of the world.

Cucumbers are much less used in their na-
tural state than formerly, among wealthy fami-
lies, but they are in great request for stews and
made dishes, and when preserved they are es-
teemed one of the most agreeable sweetmeats.
As a pickle, girkins have been long admired ;



131

but whoever purchases them, should be care-
ful to get them free from any substance that
may have been used to colour them.

Lunan, in his account of the sativus, or cul-
tivated cucumber, says, " although cucumbers
are neither sweet nor acid, they are consi-
derably acescent, and so produce flatulency,
cholera, diarrhoea/' &c. Their coldness and
flatulency may be likewise in part attributed
to the firmness of their texture.

They have been discharged, with little
change, from the stomach, after having been
detained there for forty-eight hours. By this
means, therefore, their acidity is greatly in-
creased; hence oil and pepper, the condi-
ments commonly employed, are very useful
to check their fermentation. Another condi-
ment is sometimes used; viz. it's skin, which is
bitter, and may therefore supply the place of
aromatics ; but it should only be used when
young.

Brookes states, that the cucumber is unfit
for nourishment, and is generally offensive to
the stomach, especially if not corrected with
a good deal of pepper as well as vinegar.
The seeds, he states, are reckoned among the
four greater cold seeds, therefore emulsions
of them have been prescribed in burning
fevers, &c.

K 2



132

Cowper has beautifully described the
method

To raise the prickly and green coated gourd,
So grateful to the palate ; and when rare,
So coveted ; else base and disesteem'd,
Food for the vulgar merely.

The Rev. Griffith Hughes, in his Natural
History of Barbadoes, mentions the wild cu-
cumber-vine as indigenous to that part of the
world. It is called by Father Plumier, an-
guria fructu echinato eduli: he describes the
fruit as a small cucumber, whose surface is
covered with many soft pointed prickles :
it is sometimes eaten ; but is esteemed to be
of too cold a nature to be wholesome.

Lunan, in his Hortus Jamaicensis men-
tions the small wild cucumber as being a
native of Jamaica, where it grows very plen-
tifully, and is often used with other herbs
in soups, and is a very agreeable ingredient :
the rind is thickly beset with blunt prickles.
Sloane mentions it as a pale green oval fruit,
as big as a walnut, and says it is eaten very
greedily by sheep and cattle.

The ancients used the wild cucumber as

a sovereign remedy in various complaints.

" The best kind," says Pliny, " was found in

Arabia, and the next about Cyrene and

Arcadia/'



133

It was from the juice of these cucumbers
that they procured the medicine called elate-
rium, .which, Theophrastus states, could be
kept good two hundred years ; and for fifty
years it would be so strong and full of virtue,
that it would put out the light of a candle or
lamp. Pliny says, " to try good elaterium, it
is set near to a lighted candle, which it causes
to sparkle upwards and downwards."

Elaterium was used not only as a pur-
gative, but against the sting of scorpions,
and for the dropsy : with honey and oil, it
was used for the quinsy and diseases of the
windpipe: it was said to cure dimness and
other imperfections of the eyes, the ring-
worm, tetter, &c. as well as the swelling
kernels behind the ears.

The juice of wild cucumber leaves dropped
with vinegar into the ears, was thought a good
remedy for deafness. A decoction of the
fruit being sprinkled in any place, will drive
away mice; it was also said to cure the
gout, &c.; indeed, so many virtues were
attributed to it by the ancients, that if we
were inclined to give credit to them, it would
cause our wonder to find they had any com-
plaint uncured.

The Romans had also many superstitious
opinions respecting these wild cucumbers.



134

Wives who wished for children wore them
tied round their bodies; and they were
brought into houses by the midwife, but
carried out, in the greatest haste, after child-
birth.

Columella has recorded a variety of
wonderful stories respecting the garden-
cucumber; and some English authors, of
great celebrity, have stated, that when a
cucumber vine is growing, if you set a
pot of water, about five or six inches distance
from it, it will shoot so much in twenty-
four hours as to touch it: but that it will
shrink from oil, and turn fairly away from
it.



The gourd



And thirsty cucumber, when they perceive
Th' approaching olive, with resentment fly
Her fatty fibres, and with tendrils creep
Diverse, detesting contact.

Phillips.



CURRANT-TREE. RIBES.



In Botany, a Genus of the Pentandria
Monogynia Class.



THIS agreeable and wholesome fruit is un-
doubtedly a native of our country : it was
formerly found growing in the wild state, in
woods and hedges in Yorkshire, Durham,
and Westmorland, as well as on the banks of
the Tay and other parts of Scotland. As
a further proof of its being a northern fruit,
we have no account of its having been at all
known to the ancient Greeks or Romans,
who have been very accurate in describing
all the fruits known in their time. It seems
not to have grown so far south as France ; for
the old French name of groseilles d'outremer
evidently bespeaks it not 'to have been a
native of that country, and even at the pre-
sent time their language has no appropriate



136

name for it distinct from the gooseberry. The
Dutch also acknowledge it not to have been
indigenous to Holland, where it was called
besskins over zee. Whether the Dutch first
procured this fruit from Britain, or from any
other northern countries, we must acknow-
ledge ourselves indebted to the gardeners of
that country for so improving the size, if not
the flavour of this fruit.

The English name of currant seems to
have been taken from the similitude of the
fruit to that of the small Zante grapes, which
we call currants, or Corinths, from Corinth,
where this fruit formerly grew in great abund-
ance, and which are so much used in this
country for cakes, puddings, &c.

The Italians seem to have no other name
for the currants than uvette, little grapes.
At Geneva they are called raisins de Mars.
The currant does not appear in the list of
fruits published by Thomas Tusser in 1557,
which I have transcribed to shew what fruits
were cultivated in the latter part of Queen
Mary's reign.

Apples of all sorts, apricots, barberries ;
boollesse, black and white ; cherries, red and
black ; chesnuts ; cornet plums ; damisens,
white and black; filberts, red and white;
gooseberries ; grapes, white and red ; green



137

or grass plums ; hurtil berries ; rnedlers, or
ineles ; mulberries ; peaches, white and red ;
peeres of all sorts ; peer plums, black and
yellow; quince-trees; raspis; reisons; small
nuts ; strawberries, red and white ; service
trees ; wardens, white and red ; walnuts ;
wheat plums.

Currants were not distinguished from
gooseberries by any particular name at that
period ; and even in Gerard's time, they were
considered as a species of the gooseberry. He
says, in his account of the latter fruit, " We
have also in our London gardens another
sort altogether without prickes, whose fruit
is verie small, lesser by much than the com-
mon kinde, but of a perfect red colour, where-
in it differeth from the rest of his kinde/'

Lord Bacon, who wrote about fifty years
after Tusser, has noticed them : he says,
" The earliest fruits are strawberries, cherries,
gooseberries, corrans, and after them early
apples, early pears, apricots, rasps, and after
them damisons, and most kinds of plums,
peaches, &c. ; and the latest are apples, war-
dens, grapes, nuts, quinces, almonds, sloes,
brierberries, hops, medlers, services, corne-
lians, &c/'

Currants are a fruit of great importance
in this country : they are so easily propa-



1S8

gated, that every cottage gardener can rear
them ; and they are likewise so regular in
bearing, that it is seldom they are injured by
the weather. At the dessert, they are greatly
esteemed, being fo.und cooling and grateful
to the stomach ; and they are as much ad-
mired for their transparent beauty, as for
their medicinal qualities, being moderately
refrigerant, antiseptic, attenuant, and ape-
rient. They may be used with advantage
to allay thirst in most febrile complaints, to
lessen an increased secretion of bile, and to
correct a putrid and scorbutic state of the
fluids, especially in sanguine temperaments:
but in constitutions of a contrary kind, they
are apt to occasion flatulency and indiges-
tion. Brookes says, they strengthen the sto-
mach, excite appetite, and are good against
vomiting.

Besides the red and the white currant,
the salmon colour, or champaigne, is culti-
vated for variety. The currant is a fruit that
will ripen early, when planted in a warm
situation, and may be retarded so as to
be gathered in good condition in the month
of November, when they are planted in a
northern aspect : thus, with care, a skilful gar-
dener will furnish a dessert of this fruit for
-six months, without the aid of artificial heat.



139

Currants will keep for years in bottles, re-
taining all their qualities for tarts, &c. if
they are gathered perfectly dry, and not too
ripe. They only require to b^ kept from the
air, and in a dry situation. I have found it
an advantage to pack them in a chest, with
the corks downwards ; and if the vacua be
filled up with dry sand, it would insure their
preservation.

The red currant gives the finest flavour for
jelly.

The wine made from the white currants,
if .rich of the fruit, so as to require little
sugar, is, when kept to a proper age, of a
similar flavour to the Grave and Rhenish
wines ; and I have known it preferred as a
summer table wine. Even in London this
agreeable beverage may be made at less ex-
pence than moderate cider can be bought for.
Diluted in water, this wine is an excellent
drink in the hot season, particularly to those
of feverish habits. It makes an excellent
shrub; and the juice is a pleasant acid in
punch, which, about thirty years back, was
a favourite beverage in the coffee-houses in
Paris.

The best English brandy I have tasted,
was distilled from weak currant wine, by a
gentleman at Windsor ; and I have no doubt



140

but it could be made superior to the common
brandies, imported from France, were it en-
couraged, and certain restrictions taken from
the distiller.

The black currants, which were formerly
called squinancy berries, on account of their
great use in quinsies, are natives of Sweden
and the northern parts of Russia, as well as
the northern counties of England, where
they have been found in their natural state,
growing in alder swamps, and in wet hedges
by the banks of rivers. In some parts of
Siberia, the black currants are said to grow
to the size of hazel-nuts. The inhabitants
of that country make a drink of the leaves :
in Russia a wine is made of the black cur-
rants; and it is also made in some parts of
England.

The jelly made from these currants is
recommended in most complaints of the
throat : they are also esteemed cleansing, pel-
lent, and diuretic : an infusion of the roots is
useful in fevers of the eruptive kind.

The inner bark of all the species of the
currant tree, boiled in water, is a popular
remedy in jaundice ; and some medical
men have recommended it in dropsical com-
plaints.

The currant-tree that was brought from



141

the isle of Zante, by our Levant traders, and
first planted in England in the year 1533,
I conclude was the vine that produces the
small grapes which we call currants, and of
which the English use more than all the rest
of the world together. This fruit grows in
great abundance in several places in the Ar-
chipelago. We have a factory at Zante,
from whence we import them so closely
pressed by treading, that they are often
obliged to be dug out with an iron instru-
ment, the natives thinking we use them as a
dye.

Currant trees produce their fruit on small
snags, that come out of the former year's
wood : in pruning, care should be taken not
to injure that part; but the shoots may be
shortened or thinned as soon as the leaves
are off. They require least room, and have
a neat appearance, in private gardens, when
planted as espaliers; and the fruit is thought
to ripen better.



DATE.-DACTYLUS.



A Species of the Palma, or Palm Tree.
Date Tree, Phamix Dactylifera. In Bo-
tany, of the Dicecia Triandria Class.



THE palm-tree is a native of the eastern
countries, and has been known to grow in
the deserts of Arabia and Syria from the
earliest ages. Dates appear to have been
the first food which the Israelites found
in the wilderness of Shur. " And they
came to Elim, where were twelve wells of
water, and threescore and ten palm-trees;
and they encamped there by the waters/'
(Exodus, chap. xv. verse 27-) The ancients
esteemed dates next to the vine and olive.

The palm-trees are very lucrative to the
Arabs and other inhabitants of the desert,
where the fruit forms a principal part of
their food, particularly in all that part of the
Zaara which is near Mount Atlas, where
they grow but little corn, and chiefly depend



143

on this fruit for subsistence. In this part
of the world, forests of date-trees may be
seen, some of which are several leagues iri
circumference. The Grecian and Roman
authors have given full accounts of this
fruit. It is related that Alexander's army
having met with dates of such a delicious
quality, many, who could riot forbear eat-
ing too plentifully, died. There is one
kind of date described by the ancient
authors, that would inebriate and overturn
the brain.

The Babylonian, or Royal Dates, were
most esteemed : these, in ancient times,
were reserved for the kings of Persia, and are
said to have grown only in one hortyard or
park at Babylon, which was annexed to the
Persian crown. The dates at Jericho, in
Jewry, were also in high estimation with
the ancients, who made both bread and
wine of them. Pliny, who has written at
great length upon this fruit, mentions forty-
nine kinds of dates, varying according to the
country where they grew; some of which
were white, black, or brown, some were
round, others in the shape of a finger, some
very small, and others he describes as being
as large as the pomegranate. One species
of the date, the Lotus, was much cultivated
2



144

in Italy, and is by some supposed to be the
fruit by which the companions of Ulysses
were enchanted, and forgot their native
country.

Italy, and the coast of Spain, have been
renowned for palm-trees more than two thou-
sand years : " but the dates/' says Plinj',
" never come to maturity or ripeness, nor
were they ever known to grow without being
planted :" this caused him to state that they
were foreign trees.

The Arabs eat dates without seasoning,
for they have a very agreeable taste when they
are fresh, and afford wholesome nourishment.
These people dry and harden them in the
sun, to reduce them to a kind of meal, which
they preserve for food when they undertake
long journeys across the deserts; and they
will subsist a considerable time on this simple
nourishment : pieces of the date-bread di-
luted in water afford a refreshing beverage.
The Arabs likewise strip the bark and fi-
brous parts from the young date-trees, and
eat the substance that is in the centre. It
is very nourishing, and has a sweet taste,
and they call it the marrow of the date-
tree : they also eat the leaves when they
are young and tender, mixed with lemon-
juice, as a salad. The male flowers are also



145

eaten, when tender, in the same manner.
The fruit before it is ripe is somewhat as-
tringent, but when thoroughly mature, is of
the nature of the fig. A white liquor,
known by the name of date-milk, is drawn
from the palm-tree. To obtain it, all the
branches are cut from the summit of one of
these trees ; and after several incisions have
been made in it, they are covered with leaves,
in order that the heat of the sun may not
dry it: the sap then drops into a vessel
placed to receive the liquor. The milk of
the date-tree has an agreeable sweet taste
when new : it is very refreshing, and is
given even to sick people. Thus has
Providence reared a blessing in the sanely
desert for the wanderer.

Even the stones of dates, though very
hard, are not thrown away : they are bruised
and laid in water to soften, when they
become good food for sheep and camels.

The Egyptians make an agreeable con-
serve of the fresh dates and sugar. The
Arabs weave mats and other things of the
same kind from the old leaves; and from
the filaments which arise from the stumps
of the branches, they fabricate both ropes
and sails.

Among the trees of Egypt, there is none

L



14(5

more common than the date-tree, both onffle
sands as well as on the cultivated districts.
It requires no attention, and is very pro-
fitable, the fruit being in great demand, par-
ticularly that in the neighbourhood of Ro-
setta, which is delicious. The branches
are cut off with the dates upon them before
they are thoroughly ripe, and thrust into
baskets made for the purpose, which have
no other aperture than a hole, through which
the branches project. The dates thus packed
up, ripen in succession, and boats are laden
with them, and sent to Cairo. Could they
not be brought to England in this state ?

The timber is so durable, that it is thought
incorruptible by the natives. It is used for
making beams and implements of husbandry,
as also for javelins, and the trees often grow
to a hundred feet in height. There are
but few trees which are used for so many
valuable purposes, and I know of none where
the sexual distinctions are so evident. It
is the female tree which produces the fruit,
and on which account it is cultivated in
greater numbers ; but in order to obtain the
fruit, the orientalists, who live upon it,
plant male trees also ; and it is no uncommon
practice for their enemies, in time of war,
to cut down the male trees, which prevents



147

the others from producing dates, and causes
famine* The number of female trees cul-
tivated in Asia, is much greater than that
of the males, the former being more profit-
able.

The sexual organs of the date-tree grow
upon different stalks; and when they are in
flower, the Arabs cut the male branches to
impregnate the female blossoms : for this
purpose, they make incisions in the trunk of
each branch which they wish to produce
fruit, and place in it a stalk of male flowers:
without this precaution, the date-tree would
produce only abortive fruit. In some parts
the male branches are only shaken over the
female blossoms. This practice was known
to the ancients, and is accurately described
by Pliny, who says, " if the male tree be cut
down, his wives will afterwards become bar-
ren, and bear no more dates, as if they
were widows. So evident is the copulation
of the sexes in the date-trees/' says he, "that
men have devised to make the females
fruitful, by casting upon them the blooms
and down that the male tree bears, and
sometimes by strewing the powder which he
yields upon them/'

Linnaeus, in his Dissertation on the Sexes
of Plants, speaking of the date-tree, says,

L 2'



148

" A female date-bearing palm, flowered many
years at Berlin, without producing any seeds ;
but the Berlin people, taking care to have
some of the blossoms of the male tree, which
was then flowering at Leipsic, sent them
by the post; they obtained fruit by these
means ; and some dates, the offspring of this
impregnation, being planted in my garden,
sprung up, and to this day continue to grow
vigorously/'

Pfere Labat, in his Account of America,
mentions a tree which grew near a convent in
Martinique, that produced a great quantity
of fruit, which came to maturity enough for
eating : but as there was no other tree of
the kind in the island, it was desirable to
propagate it, but none of the seeds would
grow. He conjectures that the tree might
probably be so far impregnated by some
neighbouring palm-tree, as to render it ca-
pable of bearing fruit, but not sufficient to
make the seeds prolific.

M. Geoffrey cites a story from Jovicus
Pontanus, who relates, " that, in his time,
there were two palm-trees, the one a male,
the other a female, in the wood Otranto,
fifteen leagues apart; that this latter was
several years without bearing any fruit; till
at length, rising above the other trees of



149

the forest, so as it might see/' says the
poet, " the male palm-tree at Brindisi, it
then began to bear fruit in abundance/'
M. Geoffrey makes no doubt but that the tree
then only began to bear fruit, because it was
in a condition to catch on it's branches the
farina of the male brought thither by the
wind.

It may appear to many persons almost
incredible, that the pollen of the male flower
should be conveyed to so great a distance ;
but that it should be attracted by a tree of
it's own species, will not create so much our
wonder, when, with the least reflection, we
must be satisfied that the glutinous moisture
on the stigmata of flowers, has an attraction
for the pollen of the anthera of it's kind only;
else, when a variety of flowers were blossoming
at the same time, we should have the rose
impregnating the lily, and the wheat giving
it's generating powder to the poppy. All
animals and insects, when left to nature,
couple with their kinds. Vegetables do the
same, although it is now clearly ascertained
that it is possible to make the stigma of one
blossom receive the pollen of another, if it is
prevented from taking that of it's own spe-
cies ; and thus we have within these last few



150

years so great a variety of new flowers and
fruits.

The date-tree grows very rapidly, and
will produce fruit in some countries in the
third year, while in others it is from four to
six years before it begins to bear : when ar-
rived at maturity, it makes no change, but
remains in the same state for three genera-
tions, according to the account of the Arabs.
Like most other fruits, the date requires
cultivation to have it good, as the fruit which
is produced from trees which have been
raised from seed is poor and ill-tasted,
while those trees which are reared from the
shoots, give dates of a good quality.

The flowers of both sexes come out in
very long bunches from the trunk between
the leaves, and are covered with a spatha
which opens and withers : those of the male
have six short stamina, with narrow four-
cornered anthers filled with farina. The
female flowers have no stamina.

Dates are imported into this country
in a dried state, similar to dried figs:
when in good condition, they are much
esteemed, and fetch a high price. At the
present time, they are sold for five shillings
the pound, although interior kinds may be



151

bought much cheaper for medicinal purposes,
for which they are principally used in
England, being considered hard of diges-
tion, and often causing the head-ache to those
who eat them in quantities, and they create
scorbutic complaints as well as the loss of
teeth. In medicine, the qualities of dates
are to soften the asperities of the throat, to
assuage all immoderate fluxes of the stomach,
and to ease disorders of the reins, &c.
The oil and phlegm render them moistening
and good to assuage coughs. They stop
vomitings and fluxes, and are good for the
piles when taken in red wine. (Barham.)

They are principally brought from Africa,
Egypt, and Syria, but the finest come from
Tunis.

Near Elete, in Spain, there is a wood
consisting of two hundred thousand palm-
trees, bearing dates. These trees furnish a
curious traffic : the branches of them are
bound up in mats to bleach the leaves,
which in time become white ; they are then
cut off, and sent in ship-loads to Genoa and
other parts of Italy, for the grand procession
of Palm Sunday. There is a great trade
in them with Madrid also, where every
house has it's blessed palm-branch. The



152

dates seldom ripen so thoroughly as to keep
well.

Hughes, in his Natural History of Bar-
badoes, speaking of the date-tree, says, " The
straightest and youngest branches, which
grow near the summit of the tree, are much
used here by the Jews, upon their Feast of
Tabernacles: these they usually gild, and
adorn with various flowers, and then carry


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Online LibraryHenry PhillipsPomarium Britannicum : an historical and botanical account of fruits known in Great Britain → online text (page 7 of 18)