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Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2004 12:54:15 -0600
From: "Terry Decker" <t.d.decker@...
Subject: Re: [Sca-cooks] Earthapples
> > Did we ever decide if "earthapples" were potatoes or squash?
> I'm initially inclined to say that 'earthapples' were potatoes, if
>only because of the similarity
> between the Dutch 'aardappel', the German 'Erdapfel' or
>'Kartoffel', and the French 'Pommes de
> Terre'...all of which refer to the potato, and all of which mean
>'earth apple' or 'apple of the
> earth' (except perhaps 'kartoffel')
> Whether they are referring to the common white potato, or the sweet
>potato is a matter for the
> more scholarly in the group, though I believe it may have been
>mentioned in an earlier thread that
> the 'potato' mentioned in period texts may well have been referring
>to the sweet potato. The
> French, however, call the sweet potato 'patates', I believe.
> Unfortunately, the sweet potato tastes just as good as the white
>potato when prepared in the
> manner of this recipe, so I can't really say one way or the other
The inference that Erdapfel is a potato based on modern usage may be
completely wrong. Thomas Gloning was kind enough to point Gwen-Cat and I to
some work done by German linguists which suggest that in the 16th Century
Erdapfel was equivalent to the Italian pepomeloni which was a squash by the
The Rumpolt text Gwen-Cat is translating is from 1581. England received its
first white potatoes in 1586 (although these may have been Apios americana
rather that Solanum tuberosum). Carolus Clusius, who is responsible for
spreading specimens across northern Europe, received his first specimen in
1587. Spain and Italy had specimens earlier, but there is no evidence of
widespread use. They were apparently botanical curiosities. They do not
appear in Leonard Fuch's Herbal of 1543 and there is no mention of them in
Europe prior to 1573. The timing is such that the probability of Rumpolt's
Erdapfel being a white potato is low.
The first recipes for Kartoffel appear in the last decade of the 16th
Century and the beginning of the 17th Century. It is worth noting that the
white potato which came into common use isn't the High Andean white potato
which originally came to Europe, but a Chilean variety better suited to
planting in temperate climates apparently first imported to Europe in the
late 18th Century.
The idea of the sweet potato being the Erdapfel is interesting, but I don't
think it fits. The original sweet potatoes were brought back by Columbus on
the first voyage. They were adopted by the Spanish and the Portuguese early
on and the sweet potato became known in Europe as the common or Spanish
potato. The Portuguese introduced them into Africa as food for the slave
trade and may have introduced them into Asia. The probably made their way
into England between 1509 and 1533 while Henry VIII was married to Catherine
of Aragon, although some authorities credit the introduction to John Hawkins
raids on the Portuguese in 1562.
The spread of the sweet potato into France and Italy is probably due to
various parts of those countries being directly controlled by the Hapsburgs
and their relationship with other ruling families (thinking of HRE Charles
V). It may be that the sweet potato was introduced into Austria and the
Germanic States by the same route. Linguistically, the German for sweet
potato is "die Batate" and as some form of batata or patata is common for
referencing sweet potatoes, it is unlikely they would be referred to as
Erdapfel. Also there is not much evidence of sweet potatoes being used in
One should also consider that while neither white potatoes nor sweet
potatoes appear in Fuchs, maize, capsicum peppers and New World squash do,
which suggests that the latter may have been introduced into the German
States (probably through the Turkish incursion into Hungary) before mid-16th
Century. If so, the window of introduction for sweet potatoes for Rumpolt
is reduced to less than forty years. Not impossible, but questionable.
Unfortunately, Fuchs doesn't provide us with an Erdapfel either.