Britain has an extraordinarily rich heritage of traditional varieties of fruit and vegetables, but how many of us know the fascinating and sometimes eccentric stories behind them?
Who was the Mr Cox, for example, who gave his name to Cox's Orange Pippins, now the most popular apple in the world? Which conference were Conference pears named after? Where do Victoria plums really come from? What is so mysterious about the apple called the Bascombe Mystery? What role did beetroot play in ending the slave trade, and how did gooseberries help Charles Darwin arrive at his theory of evolution? Who started the uniquely British love-affair with rhubarb and runner beans? When and where was growing potatoes illegal? And how was the Spanish Inquisition responsible for our carrots being orange?
Forgotten Fruits is the first book to answer all these questions, bringing together the history of Britain's fruit and vegetables, from their origins - some of them ancient, but others surprisingly new - to their influence, over the years, on British society, the changing attitudes towards the food we eat and, more recently, the reasons for their disappearance from our supermarket shelves.
Informative, entertaining and packed with intriguing insights into the past, Forgotten Fruits offers an entirely new way of looking at the history of British cooking, gardening and society. In it you will find onions named after islands, a tomato named after a yacht, an unknown variety of redcurrant discovered growing under a gooseberry bush, new kinds of apples found in gutters and on rubbish tips, even a parsnip named after a popular song.
"This is my favourite book of the year. Written with passion and real knowledge of his subject, Stocks celebrates the story behind our favourite fruit and veg... you will be inspired." Monty Don, Daily Mail Weekend
the guardian Fri 05 June 2009
In his delightful celebration of Britain's forgotten fruit and veg, Christopher Stocks reveals that our food heritage is under threat. In the past 50 years, 75% of our apple orchards have been dug up, and we now import three-quarters of our apples. A seed company that boasts 12 varieties of peas stocked 53 in 1852. Once, every small town had a nursery selling local varieties, a "euphonious litany" of plants such as the Warwickshire Drooper (plum), the Orange Jelly (turnip) and Hero of the Nile (gooseberry). Many of these nurseries have gone and the old varieties are disappearing too, thanks in part to the EU's national list of saleable seeds. There are some wonderful anecdotes, from the malicious rumour (started by Pepys) that eating too many cucumbers could kill you, to why carrots are orange (they were developed as an "underground resistance symbol" in honour of William I of Orange). It is an intriguing hybrid of narrative history and encyclopaedia. Maps and a gazetteer also raise the possibility of vegetable tourism: eccentric perhaps, but, as Stocks says, that "seems an excellent reason to start doing it".
About this author
In 2002 he moved to the Isle of Portland off the Dorset coast, where he works and gardens from a fisherman's cottage overlooking Chesil Beach. He collects unusual perfumes and old Shell Guides, won a 2007 Bridport Prize for his poetry, and shares a birthday with John Malkovich and Dame Hermione Gingold. His ideal job would be Cake Correspondent for French Vogue.