Ni bu oraens, neu beren,
Fruits and vegetables
The availability of vegetables and fruits in the Middle Ages was highly seasonal. But the attitude towards different vegetables in particular varies in the poetry as many of them were associated with the lower social classes. In addition, some vegetables were associated with unseemly habits, and mention of these vegetables (such as leek, cabbage and peas) while making fun of some individual in satirical poems became very popular with the poets.
The variety of fruits provided at a patron’s feast is mentioned occasionally by Guto'r Glyn. At a feast provided by Joan Burgh at Wattlesborough he tasted all kinds of fruits:
Ni bu oraens, neu beren,
Na ffrwyth, llysieuyn na phren,
Ni bu irllwyth ar berllan,
Na chnau ar wŷdd na chawn ran.
there was neither orange nor pear,
nor the fruit of any plant or tree,
no fresh load from an orchard,
or nuts on trees of which I did not have my share.
It is further stated that the names of two of these fruits were oranges oraens and peren (pears). Oranges were imported into England from the fourteenth century at least and pears and apples were grown in considerable quantities in Wales by this period. Guto’r Glyn received mil ancwyn afalau (‘a thousand apple feasts’, poem 113.24) at Valle Crucis abbey from Abbot Dafydd, and since he also refers to vines, gardens and orchards (see poem 113.25-6), it may be supposed that these apples came from the land of the abbey itself.
Cooked apples and pears were very popular served for the last course of the feast, sometimes roasted or boiled in wine or spices. There were different varieties of apples and pears during this period, some less popular today, such as the crab apple (a kind of small, sour apple) and warden (an old variety of baking pear).
Interestingly enough, the two examples above are used metaphorically by Guto’r Glyn to praise his patrons. In his eulogy to Dafydd Llwyd ap Gruffudd of Abertanad the poet makes use of apple metaphors, extending them in order to emphasize his patron’s excellence:
Fal crab wrth afal croywber
Fydd rhai o’r gwledydd i’r glêr;
Afal pêr Gweurful heb ball
(Afal sur oedd flas arall),
Afal Gruffudd fal griffwn
O goed da, ef a gad hwn.
Like a crab-apple in comparison with a clear, sweet apple
will some of the lands be towards the minstrels;
Gweurful’s sweet, unfailing apple
(sour was the taste of another apple),
Gruffudd’s apple like a griffin
from good trees, he allows this one.
And whilst beseeching God to ensure that Dafydd ap Meurig Fychan has descendants to continue his line at Nannau he says:
A gad, Duw, hil o goed hwn
Yn wyrda fal pren wardwn.
and allow, God, the descendants of his tree
to flourish as noblemen like pear trees.
It is common enough to praise the strength of a lineage in terms of plants or trees in the poetry. Similar comparisons could also be used to stress that the patron is distinguished above others, as when Guto’r Glyn refers to Dafydd Llwyd of Abertanad as a pwmpa, a kind of large apple:
Pwmpa ar wyrda yw’r un,
Pwngarned, penaig arnun’.
The same man is a large apple and a pomegranate
amongst noblemen, a leader over them.
The pwmpa was a very hard fruit inside but soft on the outside and therefore an excellent metaphor to praise a man who was genial but also strong and hard at the same time. Mention is made too of another fruit called a pwngarned in the above quotation, borrowed from English ‘pomegranate’, a fruit similar to an orange externally and possessing a hard skin containing a red pulp full of seed. This too was an appropriate metaphor as the seeds inside symbolized fertility.
Many vegetables, herbs and spices were used in medicine and for different purposes to heal the body and there are explanations of their qualities in Welsh manuscripts from the fourteenth century onwards, see further Welsh Prose 1350-1425.
Bibliography: See further A.M. Edwards, ‘‘Food and wine for all the world’: Food and Drink in Fifteenth-century Poetry’, in D.F. Evans, B.J. Lewis and A. Parry Owen (eds), Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013).
: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, s.v. pêr².
: ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’, s.v. crab, n².
: ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’, s.v. warden, n².
: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, s.v. pwmpa.
: ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’, s.v. pomegranate.
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