All posts tagged: folklore

On a winter’s evening in January, usually Old Christmas Eve (January 5), Twelfth night (January 6) or Old Twelfth night (January 17), about 200 townsfolk gather to play witness to a wassail ceremony, which resembles something out of a medieval Shakespearean play from what I’ve seen on the Internet.

“Wassail ceremony is a wonderful assault on winter dulled senses”, explains Norman Stanier, Vice-Chairman of The Big Apple and owner of Dragon Orchard. “It has noise, music, drums, procession, torchlight, fires, cider, roasted pig, songs, acting, and loud noises often of shotguns being fired.”

A wassail King and Queen lead a torch-held procession in song, from orchard to orchard. The wassail was important in the past when part of a labourer’s wage on a farm was paid in cider. Today, farmers who are motivated by superstition and tradition carry on the pagan ceremony.

All gathered around the tree before the fires are lit

After much dancing and singing, noise making and merriment, the evening culminates in gunshots to scare the evil spirits away, and the wassailers head back to the local pub for dancing, cider, and entertainment.

Here’s our pick of the UK’s best Wassail events in 2011:

All will usually provide hot food and drink available and a well stocked cider bar.

Wassail!

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.