Love Apples

Step away from the mandrake.

“So – how are your love apples?”

If you’re a bloke and your doctor (or your solicitous partner) is asking you this question, they could be referring to tomatoes but, more probably, your testicles. Testicular cancer is something men should check for, maybe not every day, but probably once a month. And the great thing is that you can do it yourself. And it’s more fun than not. You don’t even have to take a crash course from an expert, such as one of those ball-searching, Speedo-wearing Italian hunks you encounter on the lido, whose hands dive into their budgie-smugglers and check their two veg every couple of minutes while they’re talking to you, like it’s the most normal thing in the world to do. You can do it in the privacy of your own bedroom or bathroom, and here, at Baggy Trousers UK, they will tell you how.

So where did ‘love apples’ even come from? I dove into Goldenson & Anderson’s dictionary, Sex A-Z, which told me that ‘according to an interpretation of the bible story, (these were) the ‘apples’ that Rachel received from Leah, whereupon she became pregnant with Joseph. The love apples were said to be the fruit of the mandrake plant. Leah traded them for a night in the bed of Jacob, the husband of Rachel. Rachel ate the love apples and became pregnant after having been barren. Currently, love apples is a euphemism for testicles.’ 

Are you confused as I was by this? God, certainly I hope so.

So the Leah-Rachel-Jacob story rang a very faint bell issuing from the childhood section of my memory. Class III Scripture, taken by Miss McSween who, given that she exuded both primness and propriety, almost certainly handed us the bowdlerised version. If you have a spare rainy weekend to immerse yourself in The Book of Genesis and work out the relationships these early pre-Israelites inflicted upon one another, be my guest, however it’s not as boring as you might think and, at times, quite racy. Verily, there’s a helluva lot more ‘going in unto’ and more begetting than you could  shake a mandrake root at.

If not, here are some interesting facts, but by no means the whole sorry saga. Leah and the younger Rachel were sisters, daughters of Laban, Jacob and Esau’s uncle. Leah was meant to marry Esau, and his younger twin, Jacob, to pair with Leah’s younger sister, Rachel. I’ve always been told it’s never exactly a brilliant idea to marry your first cousin, but then I’m not a geneticist, so what do I know?

Anyway, it doesn’t work out that way for the (potentially) happy couples. Eventually Jacob ends up bedding both Leah and Rachel as his concurrent wives. Jacob (an smooth man) deceives his brother Esau (an hairy man), and cheats him out of both his paternal blessing and his inheritance (how thick is Esau?). Esau vows to kill Jacob, but doesn’t and in the end forgives him. Sort of. Jacob then gets his just desserts, because Uncle Laban tricks him into marrying Leah who’s been weeping a lot because she thinks she’ll have to marry Esau. In the meantime, of course, Jacob has met Rachel at a well and has fallen head over heels in love with her. Even so, Leah produces six sons and a daughter for Jacob, so their married life can’t have been all that uneventful. Plus he gets a couple more sons via nights of passion with her handmaiden, Zilpah, not doubt to the vast relief of the long-suffering Leah.

And what about poor Rachel, who was meant to marry Jacob in the first place? Turns out she can’t have children at all. But after seven years’ hard labour, working for Uncle Labe, Jacob is allowed to marry her, too. Which he does, because they are so in lurve. But since Rachel is barren, she keeps her husband sweet by ushering her handmaiden, one Bilhah, into the marital tent for fun and games – and let’s not forget – begetting.

One day Leah’s firstborn son Reuben finds some mandrake apples in a field and gives them to his mum. Leah has not conceived for a while, and this plant, whose roots can sometimes rather spookily resemble a human foetus, is meant to be a fertility enhancer. Obviously not much of a botanist nor  much of an outdoors gal, and still not a Mumsnet member, Rachel desperately offers to trade her night with their husband (they take it in turns??) in return for Leah’s love apples. Leah agrees, so that night she sleeps with Jacob and instantly conceives baby Issachar. Which is rather rubbing poor Rachel’s nose in it. And as if that wasn’t enough, this prolific mum then goes and gives birth to baby Zebulun and to a daughter, baby Dinah. Finally, Rachel gets a chance to use those love apples, conceives and begets two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. But not before handmaiden Bilhah has produced two more bouncing babies, Dan and Naphtali.

I’m sorry, but I just can’t go on with this: it’s all too early-Mormon and Margaret Atwood for me. And the galling part? Jacob lives to be 147. I’m off to check my love apples.



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