Although the Book of Genesis does not say so, the fruit of the tree of knowledge is generally assumed to have been an apple. Eating it, our first parents were able to distinguish good and evil for themselves, without the benefit of God’s instruction.
In this, as Satan said to them, they would “become as gods”, and so (though this he didn’t say) they would be cast out from Paradise, as threats to the Sovereign who holds sway there.
Many are the meanings which that sublime story contains; and many have been the commentaries in art and literature that have tried to capture them. But why the apple? What is it about apples that makes them natural vehicles of both knowledge and sin?
Is it their way of registering the sound of human teeth?
Is it the red cheeks, with their sexual connotations, or the way in which that pure white flesh, once broached, goes dirty brown, like an emblem of corruption?
One way or another, the apple has been a symbol of the fall, and of the discord that comes when human beings take charge of
God’s world. There are few drinks that so effectively connect temptation with sin, and sin with punishment, as Calvados, the best product of the apple.
In the old Normandy of my youth, Calvados was a daily sustainer, and a small flask was sometimes given to children to warm them as they trudged to school through the winter snows. Its sweet-and-sour aroma filled farmhouse kitchens, and it was drunk both before dinner as an aperitif and after dinner as a nightcap.
There was vintage Calvados, matured for many years in wood, as well as the rough, everyday variety that would end up in simple jugs or bottles on the table. And its pale brown colour, recalling the flesh of a half-eaten apple, was a warning against its later revenge.
For Calvados is a uniquely tempting drink, especially to a troubled person with an empty stomach. It flows more quickly than any other spirit to the parts that are wilting and fatigued.
It begs for food, and also blesses it. But one dose is never enough: temptation stares from the bottom of each empty glass, asking to be quenched with another portion. And the subsequent punishment is without compare for the acuteness of the headache and the dried-out and leathery nature of the man left trembling within.
My advice to Calvados lovers is to drink the vintage stuff from the Vallée d’Auge. This is kept for six to ten years in the cask before bottling, and single vintages of note are often kept for twenty or thirty years – a practice that eliminates the after-effects, so severing the connection between sin and punishment and bringing hope to us all.
Vintage Calvados can be found at the French Delicatessen in Streatham, London SW16