For Europeans, one of humanity’s oldest tales, the Old Testament story of the Garden of Eden, is closely associated with the apple. Originally, the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, which Eve handed to Adam on the advice of the serpent, was most likely a pomegranate – or perhaps even a fig. But since those didn’t grow in northern Europe, the translators substituted the apple. One reason this transfer into the European world of the imagination worked so well was the Latin word for apple: malum.
Because in Latin, "malum" also refers to anything evil or bad.
Of course, it might simply refer to the fact that early apples during that period probably didn't taste very nice. Wild apple species, or crab-apples were – and are – small, hard and extremely tart.
All depictions: © Gemeinde Fricklingen
Remnants of crab-apples and wild pears have been found in the sediment of Neolithic pile dwellings. The oldest exhibit on display here, at the Lake Constance Museum of Fruit, is half a charred crab-apple from a Neolithic moorland settlement near Alleshausen-Ödenahlen on Lake Federsee, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The first tasty, sweet apples only came about due to the plant breeding efforts of growers in the ancient world. The Greeks even regarded apples as an extremely effective aphrodisiac.
The Romans introduced fruit growing to the Lake Constance region around the beginning of the Christian era. Throughout Europe, grafted fruit varieties were cultivated. This was when cherries, plums, peaches, apricots and quinces were also grafted and transformed from wild fruit into dessert fruit. The Romans also built the long-distance highways that led around Lake Constance to the south and north. They were crucial for the exchange of goods and the transfer of knowledge.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire and following the migration of peoples, the next to strongly promote fruit growing was Charlemagne.
The great monasteries, such as Reichenau, now took on an important role. They grew their own fruit and vegetables and were self-sufficient economically. One of the most important botanical works of the Middle Ages was written by a famous Benedictine abbot, Walafrid Strabo of Reichenau back in 840. It was called the "liber de cultura hortorum", the book of horticulture. Unfortunately, he didn’t think to mention apples.
Then, in the 12th century, the powerful Cistercian monastery of Salem played an important part in refining the methods of fruit tree grafting. It also supported its farmers and vassals in fruit cultivation. The Cistercians had adopted the well-known Benedictine rule "ora et labora", Latin for "pray and work", and brought it to perfection.
In later centuries, fruit growing made an important contribution to the population’s diet. Which is why the local rulers – in Frickingen’s case, the Princes of Fürstenberg – promoted fruit growing and imposed heavy penalties on anyone vandalising trees.
The multimedia presentation in the hayloft (which unfortunately is only available in German) documents one historical case. The huntsman Fideli Obermüller was fined the sum of seventeen and a half kreutzer for cutting down two communal fruit trees, plus another 15 kreutzer for the timber – another hefty penalty!
In order to support fruit growing, tree-planting was made compulsory in particular circumstances. Anyone wanting to get married had to plant a certain number of fruit trees. Every resident citizen, and anyone who moved here, had the same obligation. That led to orchards and avenues of fruit trees along roads and paths on common land. The first tree nurseries ensured an ample supply of young fruit trees.
Fruit was eaten fresh. Any that couldn’t be consumed was preserved by drying or made into fruit juice. Any surplus was fed to the livestock. Storage and transport options were limited, since the fruit spoiled very quickly.
These days, we’re really in a much better situation: thanks to modern transport and storage methods, fresh fruit is available all year round. For centuries, fresh fruit could only be enjoyed during the few weeks when it was being harvested.