In chapter X of Thomas Deloney's novel Jack of Newbury, a few characters want to take revenge on a "Mistresse Franke" (italics from the original, bold by me):

Now certaine of the maidens of the house, and some of the yongue men, who had long before determined to bee revenged of this pratling huswife: came into the Cellar one after another, one of them bringing a great peece of a gammon of Bacon in his hand: and every one bad mistriss Franke welcome: and first one drunke to her, and then another, and so the third, the fourth, and the fift: so that mistresse Frankes braines waxt as mellow as a Pippin at Michaelmas, and so light, that sitting in the Cellar, she thought the world ran round.

Which Pippin or pippin is intended here? And what is Pippin's condition at Michaelmas?

2 Answers 2


This seems to be one of those punning comparisons, that still exist in English today, but were more common in earlier centuries.

For example,

He lies like a rug,
It's as cold as a banker's heart.

Here, the man is lying (telling untruths) in a different way than the rug is lying (being in a horizontal position on the floor).

Looking in the OED for two possible definitions that would fit this punning comparison, we find:

1a. Of fruit: ripe; soft, sweet, and juicy with ripeness. (first citation, 1440)
6a. Drunk. (first citation, 1611)

A Pippin is an apple. A Michaelmas Pippin was presumably harvested at the peak of ripeness. So if mistresse Frankes braine was as mellow (drunk) as a Michaelmas Pippin is mellow (ripe and juicy), she must have been very drunk indeed.

For apples, it seems that mellow meant ripe but not soft, since apples only get soft when they are overripe. The OED has

Thynke howe god may make of that grene apple, a swete frute full melowe. (1526 W. Bonde Pylgrimage of Perfection)

Today, mellow means mildly drunk, and good-naturedly so, but the citations in the OED seem to show that it just meant drunk in the 18th century and earlier. The most convincing example:

The hateful fellow, That's crabbed when he's mellow. (1775 R. B. Sheridan Songs Duenna).

  • 1
    Is there also a pun in that last quotation? Crabs also being a type of apple and one that had more frequent culinary use then than now. Crab apples were used in making verjuice, a sour juice used in many of the ways we use vinegar or citrus juice now. So that line pulls together two apple/ripeness references.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 10:16
  • 1
    @Spagirl: That's a clever observation. Since it's from a song about drinking, and (alcoholic) apple cider was a common drink in England back then, quite possibly.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 10:27

Pippin here refers to a several varieties of eating apples. Wikipedia lists several varieties of pippin apples, but all of them date from the late seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century. The variety in Thomas Deloney's novel must be older.

Michaelmas is celebrated on 29 September. The ideal harvest time for apples varies a lot and depends both on the specific variety and the temperature, especially summer temperatures. Deloney is presumably referring to a variety that needs to be harvested early; if apples are harvest too late, they will be soft (see Tips For Harvesting Apples And Post Harvest Apple Storing by Amy Grant).

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