All posts tagged: apple traditions

The rose tinted image of fruit laden boughs and confetti like blossom is rooted in centuries of traditions. Throughout ancient cultures, the apple, be it tree, fruit or blossom – is universally seen as a symbol of fertility, goodness, a protection from evil and a potent symbol of magic.

Harvesting cider apples in the orchard - Photo Credit: NACM

Harvesting cider apples in the orchard - Photo Credit: NACM

Orchard ‘wassailing’ is one legacy of the many myths and legends associated with apple trees. Wassailing is a ceremony often involving song and dance, where people drink to the health of apple trees in the hope that they will bear well. Drums, bells, whistles, and the beating of branches with sticks are used to wake the sleeping powers of fertility and to ward off evil influences. Cider is poured over the tree roots, or bread, soaked in the ‘wassailing bowl’, placed in the tree branches as an offering back to the tree.

Stand fast root, bear well top
Pray the god send us a howling good crop,
every twig, apples big
Every bough, apples now.

Hail to thee, old apple tree!
From every bough
Give us apples now;
Hatsful, capsful,
Bushel, bushel, sacksful
And our arms full, too. Traditional wassailing song from 19th century Sussex and Surrey

Thanks to a natural hybridisation between two fruits, thousand of years ago edible apples developed, and the discovery of a refreshing glass of cider began.

Travelling through the Middle East, to Turkey, and then across to what would become Britain, neolithic people were familiar with planting and working with the wild apple Malus syvelstris.

1204 AD is the first written record in this country we have of cider as a form of payment by a manor in Runham, Norfolk.

The Celts made a crab apple cider before this, and continued to be improved by the Romans, who developed cider making equipment for crushing and extraction of the apple juice they produced from their newly planted orchards.

When the Romans left it was the Christians turn to keep the orchards thriving in small pockets of land. The Normans introduced a number of new cider apples.

During the dark ages, monks preserved the knowledge of cider making, assisted by the Bishop of Bath who bought cider presses for his monastery in 1230.

Henry VIII sent fruiterer Richard Harris to France who bought back new varieties, including the Pippin, and created orchards in Kent, now the fruit basket of England.

Throughout the 17th Century the number of orchards increased, and the preference of Cider compared to fine wines grew more popular amongst gentry and royalty.

In the 18th Century, Cider became the drink for all classes to enjoy. More farms produced cider to give as payment to their workers, a second pressing of the apple pomace resulted in a cider that was around 2-3% ABV. Half a gallon for breakfast, same for lunch and more which they carried in the fields.

Cider Drinker - Photo Credit: NACM

Cider Drinker - Photo Credit: NACM

Into the latter part of the 19th Century, and cider was approached more scientifically, by fruit growing societies and clubs to improve and experiment with grafts of cider trees, look at the best varieties and efficient production processes.

A campaign to stop payment in the form of alcoholic beverages brought about the addition of a clause to the Truck Act of 1887 which prohibited the payment of wages in this way.

Today, modern cider making still relies on the same basic principles as have applied for centuries. The taste for cider has been rediscovered and a quiet revolution has begun.

Sales of cider are increasing strongly, with this success has come a greater demand for good quality cider fruit. Farmers and land-owners throughout the west country have planted over 8,000 acres of new orchards in the last decade.

It’s a success for farms, the conservation of our ancient cider apple varieties and for cider drinker’s who demand real cider.