Knobby Russet. Duck’s Bill. Dr Hogg. Not a string of insults but rather three varieties of apple out of some 30 or so to be found in Sussex.
The smallest variety, the Golden Pippin, is also the oldest and has been cultivated in the county since the 17th century. One of the largest, the ruddy cheeked Coronation, was named in 1902 to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII.
Take a walk through the two orchards in Stanmer Park managed by Brighton Permaculture Trust to see how rare apples like Bossom are being propagated. Or head to Killerton House in Devon on the first weekend in October to help the rangers with the harvest and use the old press to make cider.
This summer’s balmy temperatures mean that Asda’s apple growers in Kent are expecting a 12% increase in the year’s early crop. Most apples aren’t usually read to pick until October but apparently we can expect a glut of sweet crunchiness because the long days of endless sunshine have increased sugar levels.
The World Apple and Pear Association believes that this year will see a bumper apple crop across Europe, maybe even as much as a third up on last year. Absolutely no excuse then not to be cooking up a crumble storm or, better still, try these roast apple stacks with honey, prunes and calvados.
The jury is still out on whether it was in fact an apple that Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil but the fruit makes a guest appearance in various mythologies. Wounded during the battle of Camlann, King Arthur was taken to the isle of apples, Avalon where his sword Excalibur was forged, to recover. The Greek prince Paris sparked the Trojan War, when he presented a golden apple to Aphrodite after she promised to give him the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta.
To Druids, the apple tree is revered because it acts as a host to mistletoe. In Norse legend, the beautiful and bravest of the gods Baldur is killed by a spearhead made from a tiny mistletoe plant growing high above the branches of an apple tree.
The sport of apple bobbing may have been popular at the Celtic festival Samhain, the halfway point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, and used in the art of divination to predict affairs of the heart. Very carefully peel the apple you have caught, pass the long strip of peel three times round your head “sunwise”, then throw it over your shoulder and it will fall on the ground in the shape of the initial letter of your true love’s name. Allegedly!
A wassailing we will go
In the 16th century, the apple wassail, also known as howling in Sussex, was celebrated in the cider orchards southern England during the winter months. On the twelth night after midwinter, people would gather in the orchards to drive away evil spirits, drink and sing for good crops, leaving food in the apple tree boughs for the birds, and watering the tree roots with cider.
Originally, the wassail was a drink made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. Sounds like one hell of a hangover cure….
Our wassail jolly wassail!
Joy come to our jolly wassail!
How well they may bloom, how well they may bear
So we may have apples and cider next year.*
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