Posts Tagged ‘acorn’

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Tree Grows in the Courtyard

The courtyard, as seen from the portcullis gate entrance in 1938 The courtyard, as seen from the portcullis gate entrance in 2012

The courtyard, as seen from the portcullis gate entrance in 1938, at left, and in 2012, at right. Photograph on right by Andrew Winslow

Visitors to The Cloisters may have spied the top of a large oak tree just above the wall at the postern gate entrance. This white oak grows in a courtyard enclosed by the ramparts, which also include maintenance passages, storage, an education workshop area, and garden workspaces.

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Garden in Heraldry: The Great Oak of the Forest

Oak Trees at The Cloisters

An Eastern black oak (Quercus velutina) outside The Cloisters.  Photograph by Theo Margelony

Its wood is strong and hard and durable. Its beams supported high roofs over castles and churches. Its boards closed off doorways and gateways, denying passage to all but the most obstinate or determined, and were used to create interior floors from small chambers to large halls. Panels of it were shaped and carved into chests and choir stalls. Its planks were worked into ships and bridges, wagons and carts. Read more »

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cornelian Cherry

Conus mas Cornus mas fruit Cornus mas fruit (detail)

Above, from left to right: A mature cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) established against the east wall of Bonnefont garden; the foliage of Cornus mas is typical of the dogwood family to which it belongs; the tart red fruits, known as cornels, don’t ripen fully until after they fall from the tree in late July and early August. Photographs by Corey Eilhardt.

A native of dry, deciduous forests in central and southern Europe and western Asia, the cornelian cherry is a relative of our own flowering dogwood, Cornus florida. The fruit of the cornelian cherry is classified botanically as a drupe, as is the fruit of the true cherry, Prunus cerasus, but the two plants are in no way related. Although the fruits are unfamiliar to Americans, Cornus mas is very widely grown in this country as a small ornamental tree or as a multi-stemmed shrub, prized for the host of little yellow blossoms that veil the naked stems and branches in early March. Read more »

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pigs and Pannage

November calendar page from the Belles Heures thumbnail November activity thumbnail The Zodiacal Sign of Sagittarius thumbnail

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for November from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Sagittarius. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

“September’s Husbandrie” from Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie, 1580.

The term “mast” was applied to any autumnal fodder on which pigs might forage, including beechnuts, haws (the fruit of the hawthorn), and acorns, as well as fungi and roots. Acorns were the principal fodder in fattening up swine to be slaughtered and salted for winter food. While green acorns contain toxins that are poisonous to cattle and to people, they are not harmful to pigs. (Pigs were not reared in winter. Once the boar had sired a litter, he was sacrificed. Bacon and hams were cured after the November slaughter. Bacon grease replaced butter as the principal fat in the winter diet.)

“November’s Husbandrie” from Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie, 1580.

A swineherd carrying a pole or stick to knock down acorns for his pigs frequently appears in the calendar tradition as the activity proper to November, as in the detail from the Belles Heures shown above. A very similar scene is depicted on the November page of the Très Riches Heures.

The same subject is drawn in ink on the lower left margin of the November calendar page of the Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux, currently on display in the Treasury at The Cloisters. Jeanne, queen of France, retained the right to the income from the harvest of acorns in the forest of Nogent for her lifetime.

jeanne november calendar_detail

Jean Pucelle (French, active in Paris, ca. 1320–1334). Detail from the November calendar page from The Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux, ca. 1324–1328. Grisaille and tempera on vellum; 3 1/2 x 2 5/8 in. (8.9 x 6.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.2). See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

In medieval forest law, certain rights and privileges were afforded the tenants on the lord’s woodlands; the term “pannage” was used to designate both the practice of bringing pigs to the wood to forage for mast, and the right or privilege to do so. The term could also be applied to payment made to the owner of the woodland in exchange for this privilege, or to the owner’s right to collect payment, or to the income accruing from the privilege.

In England, where the tradition of foraging swine in oak forests was an important part of the agricultural cycle, the Saxon rights of pannage were much reduced by the Norman enclosure of game preserves, and the Saxon diet was greatly reduced when their pigs were deprived of acorns.

Acorns contain fat, carbohydrates and protein. The acorns of the common oak of Britain and northwestern Europe (Quercus robur) have a high tannin content and are too bitter to be palatable, but have been eaten in times of famine. They were ground into a meal that afforded a coarse bread. Alan Davidson notes that both acorns and bread or cakes made from them have remarkable keeping powers.

The Mediterranean holm oak (Quercus ilex var. rotundifolia) bear acorns that are much sweeter, and these are still enjoyed in Spain and Portugal, much as chestnuts are. It is probably the acorns of this species, when roasted and eaten with sugar, that are recommended as a health-giving food in the Tacuinum Sanitatis, a late medieval health handbook based on an eleventh-century Arabic source.

—Deirdre Larkin

Sources:
Arano, Luisa Cogliati. The Medieval Health Handbook: Tacuinum Sanitatis. New York: George Braziller, 1976.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Hartley, Dorothy. Lost Country Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979.

Husband, Timothy B. The Art of Illumination. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

Pérez-Higuera, Teresa. Medieval Calendars. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997.