Friday, 13 February 2015

What a peach! BBC's Wolf Hall Tudor fruit of course..

We have a few expressions in the English language that rather suggest we were, and to some extent still are, in awe of peaches. We talk of something being a peach "What a peach of a day!" or peachy "That's just peachy!" when its pretty much perfect.

Shakespeare never mentioned peaches in his plays, but used the phrase “peach-coloured” twice. Once when describing the colour of stockings (hose) in Henry IV, and again in Measure for Measure describing the colour of satin.

The peach certainly is a luxurious, summer fruit. At the peak of ripeness, lasting maybe a day but probably just hours, it will have soft flavoursome flesh and be wonderfully juicy on biting. The Romans loved to cultivate peach orchards for their fruit, flowers, scent and shade - they called peaches Persian apples and grew them in most provinces of their empire, as far north as the Loire in France.
1:12 scale dollshouse miniature food Tudor platter of luxurious sliced "white" peaches and apricots
But it is sliced apricots, not peaches, that are mentioned in Hilary Mantel's Booker prize winning novel "Wolf Hall". The first of a trilogy about the rise to power of low-born Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII 's favourite adviser during and after his divorce from Katherine of Aragon, his break with the Church of Rome and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. 

The BBC is currently airing a 6 part historical drama of Mantel's novel and it successor "Bring up the Bodies" her unprecedented second Booker prize winner. Wolf Hall is causing an "all things Tudor" frenzy in the UK at the time of writing - January 2015. We can expect the mini-series it syndicate worldwide. But when?

In Episode 3 of the BBC dramatisation Wolf Hall, a large platter of sliced and whole apricots and white peaches is presented for Thomas Cromwell to examine, before it is placed on the banquet (sweet course) tables at Calais where Henry VIII's court has removed to win France’s King Francois over on the subject of Henry’s divorce. MedievalMorsels has created a one inch scale Wolf Hall dollhouse miniature featuring sliced white peaches and apricots.
MedievalMorsels one inch scale Tudor dollhouse fruit

12th scale Tudor dolls house food, a silver server of Wolf Hall banquet fruit 

Tudor feast luxury fruit plate as seem in BBC TV's Wolf Hall drama

Alexander the Great brought apricots (Prunus armeniaca) and peaches (Prunus persica) to southern Europe, they had already arrived in Armenia and Persia via Middle eastern traders using the earliest trading route - the Silk Road from China. Apricots were prized by the Romans and Greeks who called them the "golden eggs of the sun". The Romans erroneously thought the apricot was a species of plum, an easy mistake to make and in fact they are distantly related. They called peaches Persian apples. 

Later, in Medieval times the Portuguese explorer Marco Polo wrote of yellow and "white" peaches “great delicacies” in China in 1290's. But it took until the 1500's for apricots and the 1700’s for peaches to be successfully cultivated in northern Europe. Reputedly Henry VIII was the first to grow apricots in a garden in England. Before these centuries and definitely in Tudor times - fictional or not - apricots and peaches were a rare, luxury imported item unless you were a pioneer nobleman horticulturalist! So a dainty dish truly befitting a king and to be rationed by individual slices then! Some sticky fingers but no doubt finger bowls or servants carrying towels were in attendance.

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