Posted by: brigid benson | October 18, 2010

Adam ate the apple and still our teeth ache

So goes the Hungarian proverb.

This is the time of the apple harvest throughout Britain and many rural communities celebrate the fruit of their orchards at apple fairs.  At a time when we’re concerned about  the ethics of food miles and intense farming methods, it is sobering to realise that most of Britain’s ancient orchards are long gone and many varieties are lost.

The few small scale producers that remain struggle to find outlets for old varieties of unusual shape and colour with wonderful names like Sheep’s Snout and Pig’s Nose. Even premium priced organic apples are imported – around 97% of them come from outside Britain.

As people become aware of the loss, there are moves to protect the remaining fragile apple stock, if you’re lucky, you may have a community orchard nearby. Look out for Apple Fairs at this time of year; people are invited to bring along home grown fruit for identification by apple experts, to taste traditionally made cider and to enter the national Longest Apple Peel Competition, an event which involves simply an apple, a peeler and a very steady hand.

Apples and orchards are an important part of our cultural identity. In deepest winter, on Twelfth Night – January 17 –  it was traditional to ‘wassail’ fruit trees to secure a bumper harvest in the year ahead. At a simple pagan ceremony, jolly wassail songs sung by merry locals in frosty orchards were special to each region of the country.

Wassail the trees, that they may bear
You many a plum, and many a pear:
For more or less fruits they will bring,
As you do give them wassailing.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

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