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Life has been very pleasant this week at Towfi Towers. The weather has been fine enough lately for us to indulge in our passion for picnics so, when a guest suggested a trip to the wine country, we were off like a prom dress. Later that day, as we sat in the shade of a live-oak, digesting our epicurean delights, we fell to discussing the oak-apples which littered the ground.  The fruit of the oak is, of course, the acorn so what is an oak-apple?  It is the size of an apple but it is the oak's reaction to having wasp eggs laid in its twigs and not a fruit at all.  

There are many more "apples" which don't grow on apple trees. Logically, a pineapple should be a fruit of the pine tree so it should be no surprise to discover that this is, originally, what pine apple meant - a pine cone.  This explains why the architectural ornament known as a pineapple bears no resemblance to the juicy edible fruit of Ananassa sativa which we know by that name (and which is no more an apple than it is a pine).

The botanical name for the tomato plant is Lycopersicum esculentum which means "edible wolf-peach" but the tomato fruit was once called the love-apple, translating either the French pomme d’amour or German liebesapfel.  This name may well have contributed to this vegetable's initial unpopularity.  The apple of love or love-apple was a common term for the fruit of Genesis which, according to Milton, "brought death into the world, and all our woe" (Paradise Lost).  Legend has it that one bite of this fruit lodged in Adam's throat. This may not be the true origin of the larger male larynx but that's why its called an Adam's apple.  The other body part associated with apples is the "apple of the eye".  While this usually occurs in a metaphorical context such as "she is the apple of his eye" it literally refers to the pupil of the eye.  It is so called because it was once supposed to be a solid, spherical body.

Eggplant.  Click to grow!At least one 16th century text referred to the use of love-apples  as a love potion.  Presumably, the writer was misled by the name. Also, anyone foolish enough to try to concoct this philter would be left trying to guess which love-apple was meant, for the egg-plant was also called a love-apple.  This, however, was but one of its many names which included egg-apple, Jews’ apple and mad-apple.  We can't fathom Jews’ apple but mad-apple is a translation of the Italian mela insana, "insane apple".  So why did the Italians attribute mental frailty to this vegetable?  It was just their mispronunciation of a Spanish corruption of the Arabic version of the Persian translation of the original Sanskrit word.  Want the whole mess?  OK... The Sanskrit vatin gana ("collection of winds" and, no, we are not going there) became Persian badin-gan, which gave the word badinjan to Arabic.  When used in an Arabic sentence, badinjan was often preceded  by the article al, so it entered Spanish as alberengena.  To the French, alberengena sounded like à le berengena which would be grammatically incorrect as the French words à le ("at the") always combine to make au.  So the French word became aubergine.  But wait, it gets worse. The Italians took the Spanish alberengena, sensibly dropped the al-, but then mispronounced the b as an m, the r as an l, and the g as a z.  This gave them melanzana which was interpreted by some as mela insana.  Presented with this evidence, we have to admit that there does seem to be a trace of insanity in the etymology of this vegetable's name.  Consider, for instance, the branch which took it from Arabic badinjan, through Portuguese bringella, back to India to become the Anglo-Indian brinjalle.  As brinjal this word is still used in India.  From there the British took brinjalle halfway around the world to the West Indies where it became brown-jolly.

In our research this week, we read of a Polynesian fruit called the Otaheite apple (Spondias dulcis), named after Otaheite, which we usually refer to as Tahiti.  This is what the book said: " is of a golden yellow colour, the rind having a taste like turpentine, and the pulp the flavor of pine-apple".  In that case, if you ever come across one we suggest you eat the pulp, not the rind.

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Last Updated 05/02/02 10:04 PM