Tuesday October 21st is British Apple Day, a day when throughout Britain we celebrate our wonderful native apples.
The Romans first brought the apple to the Britain and how hard it is to imagine our landscape without the orchard or gardens without the apple tree. Nevertheless, if we let things continue the way they have in recent times, this, sadly, will be the reality. The arrival of cheap imported supermarket fruits – polished impostors with their EU imposed shape and size – has led to a rapid decline of many orchards with the loss of many old apple varieties.
There are over 1200 native British apples for eating, cooking, as well as for cider making and crab apples for pickling. They have enchanting names: Acklam Russets, Barnack Beauty, Nutmeg Pippin, Knobby Russet…and many more. Apple Day is a celebration of these wonderful fruits, so in support I shall be cooking with them and eating them…yum!
Here are some of the many wonderful varieties of English apples, many of which are unavailable in our supermarkets. So be adventurous and seek out these juicy gems. all of these varieties can be seen at Brogdale, the national collection.
The History of Apple Tree Wassailing
In Southern England a…set of customs…was grouped under the name of wassailing. They consisted, in essence, of wishing health to crops and animals much as people passing the wassail bowl wished it to each other. Most are well recorded in the early modern period, and they may quite easily have descended directly from pagan practices, although it is also possible that they developed outwards from the domestic wassail. The most widespread, famous, and enduring concerned fruit trees. It is first mentioned at Fordwich, Kent, in 1585, by which time it was already in part the preserve of groups of young men who went between orchards performing the rite for a reward. Robert Herrick, almost certainly writing about Devon and in the 1630s, spoke of ‘wassailing’ the fruit-bearing trees in order to assure good yields, and in the 1660s and 1670s a Sussex clergyman gave money to boys who came to ‘howl’ his orchard (being the enduring local term). John Aubrey, describing West Country customs in the same period, said that on Twelfth Eve men ‘go with their wassel-bowl into the orchard and go about the trees to bless them, and put a piece of toast upon the roots, in order to it.’
The History of the Word “Wassail”
Apple tree wassailing is a ceremony which involves drinking to the health of the apple trees.
The Anglo-Saxons used the phrase Wæs hal! as an everyday greeting. Wæs is a form of the verb “to be” related to modern English was. Hal is the ancestor of the modern English words whole and hale. Thus, wæs hal literally meant “Be healthy!”. The Vikings who later settled in Northern England used a dialectal varient of the same phrase: Ves heill!. Since the Anglo-Saxons and Norse shared a custom of welcoming guests by presenting them with a horn of ale (or cup of mead, or goblet of wine), the greeting evolved into a toast.
The phrase was eventually contracted into one word,wassail, and came to refer to the act of toasting to someones health, wassailing, and to a type of alcoholic beverage (spiced ale or punch) used to toast people’s health on special occasions. The use of wassailing to mean “caroling” (as in “Here we go a-wassailing…”) stems from the habit of singing songs whilst drinking from the “wassail-bowl” during Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Source: The Stations of the Sun by Ronald Hutton
Apple Tree Wassailing Chants and Rhymes
From Cornworthy, Devon, recorded 1805
Huzza, Huzza, in our good town
The bread shall be white, and the liquor be brown
So here my old fellow I drink to thee
And the very health of each other tree.
Well may ye blow, well may ye bear
Blossom and fruit both apple and pear.
So that every bough and every twig
May bend with a burden both fair and big
May ye bear us and yield us fruit such a stors
That the bags and chambers and house run o’er.
From 19th century Sussex and Surrey
Stand fast root, bear well top
Pray the Gods send us a howling good crop.
Every twig, apples big.
Every bough, apples now.
Source: Skvala, Internet
Samhain Apple Recipes
Samhain Mulled Cider : Serves 8
2 litres of sweet apple cider
½ litre fresh orange juice
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger
Cinnamon sticks and orange slices to float in the pot
Method : In a large pan or cauldron if you have one available for cooking, combine the apple cider, orange juice nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger. Simmer slowly on low heat for about 15 minutes. Take care that the cider does not boil. Add the cinnamon sticks and orange slices and served whilst still warm. You can refrigerate any leftover mulled cider, it’s nice cold as well.
Irish Apple Fritters
5 ounces Flour
5 fluid ounces Water
1/4 teaspoon Salt
2 each Eggs (separated)
1 tablespoon Melted butter
2 each Large cooking apples
4 ounces Sugar
Oil for deep frying
Method: Make batter at least an hour before required, using following method. Sift together flour and salt. Make a well in the center. Add the cooled melted butter and some of the water and egg yolks. Work in the flour and beat until smooth. Add remaining water. Leave to stand. Just before using, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter mix. Peel, core and slice apples (slices about 1/4-1/2 inch thick). Dip into batter and deep fry in very hot oil (175-180C) until golden. Drain and serve dredged with sugar and sprinkled with lemon juice.
Dorset Apple Tray Bake
450g cooking apples (such as Bramley)
juice of ½ lemon
225g butter , softened
280g golden caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
350g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
demerara sugar , to sprinkle
Method: Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter and line a rectangular baking tin (approx 27cm x 20cm) with parchment paper. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples then squeeze the lemon juice over. Set to one side.
Place the butter, caster sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder into a large bowl and mix well until smooth. Spread half the mixture into the prepared tin. Arrange half the apples over the top of the mixture, then repeat the layers. Sprinkle over the demerara sugar. 3 Bake for 45-50 mins until golden and springy to the touch. Leave to cool for 10 mins, then turn out of tin and remove paper. Cut into bars or squares.