In my previous two posts on Jacobean revenge drama I explored the way the playwrights use food for nefarious purposes or to symbolise corruption (see here and here). In Paradise Lost (published 1667), John Milton retells in a long epic poem the story of the fall of Adam and Eve, a narrative with food at its heart. As originally narrated in chapter 3 of the Biblical book of Genesis the serpent, the most cunning of all God’s creation, tempts Eve to eat from the one tree in the Garden of Eden that God has forbidden her and Adam from eating from, namely the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve subsequently persuades Adam to eat; cursed by God, Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden and sin is brought into the world.
In his twelve book treatment of this short Biblical myth, Milton indulges the reader with long descriptions of the naturally-occurring fruits in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s pre-lapsarian meals and then the actual consumption of the forbidden fruit. In Book V the archangel Raphael visits Adam and Eve, and Eve – like a model 17th century housewife – prepares a meal.
She gathers, tribute large, and on the board
Heaps with unsparing hand; for drink the grape
She crushes, inoffensive must, and meaths
From many a berry, and from sweet kernels pressed
She tempers dulcet creams. (ll. 343-47)
There is an emphasis on abundance – food grows plentifully in the Garden of Eden, and earlier in Book IV Adam and Eve are described as eating nectarines which the “complaint boughs / yielded them” (ll. 332-333); the food is freely offered up to them. The only food referred to is fruit, and no actual cooking is involved (there is no reference to heat being applied to the fruit). Instead, Eve crushes grapes to make unfermented (non-alcoholic) juice, makes mead from berries and from seeds or nuts produces some type of sweet cream.
Book IX narrates the Fall, and emphasis is placed on Eve’s gluttony and the way the forbidden fruit appeals to a number of her senses. Initially she is captivated by the sight of it:
Fixed on the fruit she gazed, which to behold
Might tempt alone… (ll. 735-36)
Then her “eager appetite” is “raised by the smell / So savory of that fruit” (ll. 740-41). And the taste of the fruit is sublime: Eve is intoxicated – both literally and metaphorically – and overtaken by gluttony:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Back to the thicket slunk
The guilty Serpent, and well might, for Eve
Intent now wholly on her taste, nought else
Regarded; such delight till then, as seemed,
In fruit she never tasted, whether true
Or fancied so, through expectation high
Of knowledge, nor was Godhead from her thought.
Greedily she engorged without restraint,
And knew not eating death. Satiate at length,
And heightened as with wine… (ll. 784 – 93)
After Eve has persuaded Adam to also eat of the fruit, Satan returns to Hell in Book X to boast of what he has done. Not only are he and his audience of devils transformed into hissing snakes, but an illusory Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil springs up in Hell. Unknown by them it is sent by God “to aggravate / their penance” (ll. 549-50), and when the devils bite into the fruit all they taste is “bitter ashes” (l. 566). God has the last laugh.
Although the story of the fall of Adam and Eve is the story of how sin and death entered the world, the early church described the Fall as “Felix culpa”, which can be translated as “happy fault”. The belief was that, however tragic Adam and Eve’s story was, without it there would be no Incarnation and thus no redemption of humanity. And certainly Milton’s poem ends on an optimistic note. Not only does the Archangel Michael comfort the fallen Adam by foretelling the coming of Christ, but Milton also makes clear that the end of Adam and Eve’s time in the Garden of Eden is also the beginning of their time on a new journey. Sin and death may have entered the world, but so too have knowledge and curiosity – without which there would be no great literature (and maybe no great cooking!).
So, to celebrate the happy Fall, I present a celebratory food item: Eve’s Fallen Fruit Cake. There is considerable debate about what the forbidden fruit actually was: the book of Genesis only refers to a fruit and whilst popular European tradition has maintained it was an apple, the climate of the Middle East suggests otherwise. Other suggestions include the apricot, fig, grape or pomegranate, but no-one knows. My cake makes use of the traditionally popular, yet historically unlikely, apple and the historically possible apricot, with the latter ‘falling’ to the bottom of the cake.
EVE’S FALLEN FRUIT CAKE (serves 8-10)
250g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
225g caster sugar
2 large eggs
150g butter, melted
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 eating apples, peeled and grated
8 fresh apricots (halved and lightly poached in a little water, sweetened to taste with vanilla sugar) – or 16 canned apricot halves
25g flaked almonds
Preheat the oven to 160C (140C fan) or Gas mark 3.
Grease and line a deep 20cm cake tin.
Mix together all the ingredients bar the apples and apricots and beat for 1 minute.
Gently mix in the grated apple.
Place the apricot halves outer edge down over the bottom of the cake tin. Aim to cover the whole surface.
Spoon the cake mixture on top, and sprinkle with the flaked almonds.
Bake for 1 – 1 ½ hours until golden on top and a cake tester or skewer inserted comes out clean.