What Is It Anyway? is a series that examines the histories behind obscure foods or foods with peculiar names. Today, we're explaining earth apples.
So, what are they, anyway?
Earth apples are, very simply, potatoes. We realize that calling a food item with its very own name something entirely different is confusing. It sort of sounds like the humorous musings of a toddler with fledgling language skills -- potatoes are edible, like apples, but are grown in the earth, thus, earth apples! Why would anyone feel inclined to call potatoes by this peculiar name? Allow us to explain.
The word "apple" dates back to the Beowulf days, and first appeared in Old English as "æppel," meaning "apple; any kind of fruit; fruit in general." In Old English, "fingeræppla," or "finger apple," referred to a date. "Eorþæppla," or "earth apple," referred to a cucumber. In Middle English, during the 1400s, "appel of paradis" referred to a banana. You get the picture.
The French "pomme de terre" referes to a potato but translates directly as "earth apple." Same goes for the Dutch, Hebrew, Persian and Swiss German translation for "potatoes."
Because "apple" referred to any kind of fruit, and even non-fruit food items, its debated whether or not the forbidden fruit that Eve munched on was a modern-day apple at all, or some other food item. According to The Online Etymology Dictionary, a scholarly book on Islam writes, "As far as the forbidden fruit is concerned, again, the Quran does not mention it explicitly, but according to traditional commentaries it was not an apple, as believed by Christians and Jews, but wheat." Who knew!
The first ever recipe for "earth apples," or potatoes, is from a German cookbook dating back to 1581. It reads:
Earth apples. Peel and cut them small, simmer them in water and press it well out (strain it?) through a fine cloth; chop them small and fry them in bacon that is cut small; take a little milk thereunder and let it simmer therewith so it is good and welltasting.
In Popular Culture
"Earth Apples" is the name of the only poetry collection to be published by Edward Abbey. The poems were written in his journals between 1952 and 1989, and was published posthumously.