Recipes and technologies of cultivating the best apples and making the finest cider in the works of John Beale

Oana Matei

John Beale (c. 1608-1683) was an early fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the Georgical Committee. On the subject of fruit tree cultivation and cider making Beale published Herefordshire Orchards (1657), “General Advertisements Concerning Cider,” as part of the collective volume of Pomona (1670), and also made important contributions to the Philosophical Transactions  in the 1660s and 1670s.

In Herefordshire Orchards Beale took some recipes from William Lawson and how he further tested them and tried to stabilize them in such a manner to ensure predictable results and to make a technology of cultivating the best apples for cider in the most suited soil.

William Lawson (1553/4-1635) was an English clergyman and writer on gardening who published only one book: A New Orchard and Garden, or, The Best Way for Planting, Grafting, and to Make Any Ground Good for a Rich Orchard (London: Richard Jackson, 1618). Apparently it was the first published book on gardening in the North of England, and its section The Countrie Housewifes Garden was the first  horticultural work written for women.

Lawson’s observations (as recorded by Beale):

“1. That the best way to plant a• Orchard were to turn the ground with a spade in February, and to se• from February till May, every month• some kernels of the best and sounde• apples, or peares &c. finger deep, as a foot distance: And by removing the rest (as time and occasion should advise) to leave the likeliest plant to reside in the naturall place unremoved. Ch. 7. pag. 17.

2. That the kernels of every apple would bring forth apples of the like kind. Chap. 7. pag. 18.

3. That by the leaves of each spiring plant you might distinguish each kind of fruit, whether delicate or harsh, &c. Ch. 7. pag. 18.

4. That trees thus raised might be preserved or continue for a thousand years, &c. Chap. 14. pag. 47.

5. That apples either grafted, or any time removed, could never be sound, durable, or otherwise perfect.” (HO, 1657, 14-15)

Although after a first reading Beale refuted all of them, he then “resolved to make exact triall with patience.” (HO, 1657, 16) and noted down, systematically, all the results that he obtained.

  1. “By diligent enquiry the first Spring I found fourteen severall sorts of these naturall apples, the fruit much differing in tast, shape and colour; some only green and sowrish, some red-straked, some party-coloured, and very pleasant…I now find that the kernells of apples grafted on crab-stocks prove not all crabs, nor (as I guesse) altogether of the kind of that apple, whence the kernell was taken. (HO, 1657, 16-17)
  2. Tis sure that kernells of the same apples, in a far differing soyl, do produce a different apple; but (as I said) still with some inclina∣tion to the originall, if it be the kernell of an ungrafted apple. And this may advertise the best season of designing variety; namely, in applica∣tion of choice compost to the very kernel, as Gab. Plat prescribeth Exp. 14. pag. 210. of the Additions to the excellent Legacy. All other stories, of powring liquors into the bark, or bulk of the tree, are effete and idle phansies, for nine dayes wonder. (HO, 1657, 18-19)
  3. I find the truth, & that much more might be added to Lawsons rules, of distinguishing the hopeful∣nesse of the fruit by the first leaves of the yearling plant. (HO, 1657, 19)
  4. For the incredible durance of apple-trees to a thousand years, I have upon much experience … ‘Tis certainly true (as Gabriel Plat in the foresaid place noteth,) that if a man aime at his present profit, then graffing is his way: but if he aime at the profit of his posterity, then it is best not to graft at all.  … Every aspiring Trunk of some of these naturall apples, is much more lasting than any grafted fruit-tree (HO, 1657, 20-21)
  5. In a grafted plant every bow should be lopped, at the very tops, in apples and peares; not in cherries and plums. In a naturall plant, the bowes should not at all be lopped, but some taken off close to the trunk; that the root at first replantation be not engaged to maintain too many suckers. And this must be done with such discretion, that the top-branches be not too close together; for the naturall plant is apt to grow spiry, & thereby failes of fruitfulnesse. Therefore let the reserved branches be divided at a convenient roundnesse. The branches that are cut off, may be set, and will grow, but slowly. If the top prove spiry or the fruit unkind, then the due remedy must be in graffing.

Neither is graffing to be used only as a remedy. For it doth most certainly improve the kind of the fruit: insomuch that a graft of the same fruit doth meliorate the fruit, as is lately much observed by our Welsh neighbours, who do graffe the Gen∣net-moyle upon the same stock, and thereby obtain a larger apple, more juicy, and better for all uses: and some triplicate their graffings (for a curiosity) upon the same account.

And it is noted amongst us, that a pearmain or any other pleasant fruit either for cider, or the table, is much sweeter, if grafted upon the stock of a Gennet-moyle, or Kydoddin, than if grafted on a crab-stock; though much lesse lasting upon the stock of the Gennet-moyle: the Gennet-moyl being also lesse lasting, especially amongst us, where they are generally planted of large setlings, which must needs wound them in their very beginnings, and therefore hinder their duration.

Also graffing doth much precipitate, or at least expedite the reward, especially if the graffe be taken from a branch that hath some yeares constantly born sound fruit plentifully.” (HO, 1657, 23-25)

We can read Beale’s efforts as attempts to enact and test recipes, eliminate what does not work, propose a systematic approach to investigating the different steps in the cider-making procedure, i.e., building a cider-making technology.

Differences in respect to the recipe format:

-the lack of the imperative: “take that, do that….”

-many trials are presented altogether with both their good and bad results

-the stage of generalization is increased

In his trials, Beale was always asking why and how questions, but he has a bottom up oriented approach which starts from experiments that mainly produce fruits and ends up providing experiments of light. The technology of making cider reflects the transition from the knowledge entailed in old treatises as well as modern books of recipes but based essentially on descriptive accounts accompanied by a set of rules and practically-documented instructions, to a procedure stabilized as a result of repeated experimental attempts and that is able to lead to expected, predictable results.


The main goal of our project is to show that the road from recipes to experiments was long, complex and fascinating; with stops and turns that needs investigating. The starting point of the road was the recipe format and the books of secrets. At the end we can find “experimental reports.” But what is really fascinating is what lies in between. Our investigation focus on the intermediate forms of recordings but also inquires into the process of disambiguation through which tacit knowledge embodied in the recipes was gradually spelled out, tried, tested, reformulated and transformed. We call this process “enactment”.


Enactment is a process of progressive disambiguation of tacit knowledge encoded in a recipe. It is a complex process which includes a number of components. There is, first, the reading and the understanding of a recipe, a gradual process, extremely context-dependent. Then, enactment presupposes imagining experimental set-ups, imagining ways to spell out the tacit knowledge embodied in the recipes, imagining ways of “improving” the recipe, devising the trial and assessing the result, changing and adapting the material conditions, introducing new elements, devising material and conceptual instruments to tackle the phenomenon under investigation. Thus, enacting a recipe has a creative component, it exercises both the imagination and the judgment of the reader (and of the experimenter), it tests the expertise of the actor performing it and it is, therefore, highly context-dependent.

In order to enact a recipe, the reader has to recover some of the tacit knowledge embodied in it. In fact, recipes contain several layers of secrets. In some cases the secret unfolds only to those with a special training; in other cases, the secret is revealed in the process of enactment; finally, in other cases it lies in the result. Furthermore, enacting recipes is something which depends on and varies according to the skills, the knowledge and the training of the reader. Nonetheless, it will take the  reader/enactor/experimenter to execute the instructions of the recipe again and again in order to establish causal correlations, eliminate, as much as possible, the sources of error, stabilize the entire process, and ensure the repeatability and predictability of the results.

Our claim is that through enactment, early modern investigators of nature transformed received recipes into two different kinds of products, with different functions in the structures of knowledge. One of these products is what we call “technology.”

We take “technology” to be descriptive for a particular kind of enacting and recording recipes in view of producing new (and sometimes miraculous) objects. This led to experimentation of a particular kind: experimentation directed towards spelling out the tacit knowledge embodied in the recipe, clarifying the desired result, stabilize the procedure of enactment so that the result would be obtained at each trial and – most importantly – find ways of recording that would make the technology transparent to the reader. We intend to investigate several such early modern technologies (of cider making, of distillation, of sounds, etc.). We will show that they are not scientific experiments; in fact, technologies are the very opposite of scientific experiments. By contrast to scientific experimentation, which also began with recipes and enactment, but in the process of enactment several open-ended questions directed the inquiry away from the envisaged result of the recipe (such as “why” and “how”), technologies encapsulate and codify practical knowledge; and sometimes they also produce theoretical knowledge; but it is a particular kind of applied knowledge, knowledge with expected results.

Goals and activities

A key goal of our project is to define and exemplify forms and strategies of enacting recipes in early modern philosophy and the sciences. We intend to investigate a large corpus of texts belonging to different early modern disciplines in an attempt to unveil and clarify the successive steps of enacting recipes in particular experimental contexts (the corpus contains works by Francis Bacon, William Gilbert, Hugh Platt, Thomas Browne, John Barlow, Henry Power, John Evelyn, Kenelm Digby and Robert Boyle). We aim to clarify and classify  forms and strategies of enactment and introduce this subject into the current discussions in both history and philosophy of science and we will do that by bridging the gaps between textual analysis of records, material practices, and reconstructions.


Some talks we have given and some talks we are planning


Dana Jalobeanu, “Whose practice? Francis Bacon’s rules of experientia literata in context”, at the Thomas Harriot in Global and Local Contexts: A Quatercentenary Conference, The Thomas Harriot Seminar and The Warburg Institute, 16 September 2021, online. More info here;

Dana Jalobeanu, ”Emblems as Epistemic Tools and Heuristic Devices: An Exercise on Perspectival Contextualism”, at the Histories of Science and the Humanities conference, European Society for the History of Science and The Research Centre of the Humanities, the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, 23 September 2021, online. More info here;

Dana Jalobeanu, “Francis Bacon on instruments of detection and instruments of measure”, at the Promises of Precision – Questioning ‘Precision’ in Precision Instruments workshop, Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, 29-30 September 2021, online.

We will be organizing our first colloquium on the 18th-19th of November. More info here.

Past talks

Dana Jalobeanu, Bubbles, bladders and the “folds of matter”: on the interplay between experimentation and metaphysics in Baconian natural and experimental histories, The research seminar of CELFIS & Department of Theoretical Philosophy, University of Bucharest, 17 May 2021 (session organizd on zoom):

Oana Matei, “Particles and Spirits: Fundamental Processes of Nature in Mid-Seventeenth Century Studies of Plants,” Plants in Early Modern Knowledge: History, Philosophy, and Medicine, Center for Renaissance and Early Modern Thought, Ca’Foscari University, Venice, 28.04.2021, 17:30-19:30. Session organized on Zoom.

Oana Matei, Fabrizio Baldassarri, “Plants in Early Modern Natural Philosophy: Mechanico/Chymical Investigations,” Princeton Bucharest Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, 04.05.2021, 20:00-22:00. Session organized on Zoom.

Oana Matei, “ Plants as Instruments of Knowledge in Early Modern Natural Philosophy,” University of Lisbon, 26.02.2021, 2:30-4:30. Session organized on Zoom.

Dana Jalobeanu, Baconianism and Newtonianism: a history (and philosophy) of shifting historiographic categories, plenary talk at the Panhellenic Conference in Philosophy of Science, December 2020. You can listen to a version of this talk here (given at the Annual Workshop of Philosophy of Science, University of Bergen, November 2019). Online.