Where have all the apples gone?
It used to be the case that ever corner you turned there would be an apple
tree of some description. Whether the apples being grown were Bramleys for
cooking, Pippins for eating, or crab apples for jelly, traditional apple orchards
In the news this week has been the sad story about the Bramley apple tree
known as the ‘mother of the modern Bramley’ that is dying from a fungal
infection. This apple tree in Southwell, Nottinghamshire was sown as a pip in
1809 by Mary Ann Brailsford and is now in the middle of an overgrown
garden. With over 83000 tonnes of Bramley apples being grown every year in
the UK, that original pip started quite a lineage!
Origins of the apple orchard
There are around 3000 varieties of apple that are growing in traditional apple
orchards in the UK. Current DNA research is suggesting that they are all
descended (un-hybridised) from the wild sweet apple Malus pumila which
originated from the Tian Shan region of Central and Inner Asia, and not
actually descended from the native European crab apple Malus sylvestris. As
with many great traditions in the UK, the Romans have long been given the
credit for bringing sweet apples with them, Malus pumila., although there is no
written proof of this. The traditional apple orchards that many of us have
grown up knowing are probably a reasonably new set-up following on from the
agricultural boom following the second world war. There are many festivals to
celebrate the apple. One of the oldest seems to have existed as long as the
history books can remember; the wassail!
• Celebrated on Twelfth-night, (either the new one on the 5th January or the
old one on the 17th January)
• A thick slice of bread is toasted and placed in a communal bowl.
• The bowl is taken to the apple trees. People carry fire torches, make as
much noise as they can by beating pots and pans, shouting “wassail!
Wassail!” – the ritual words to drive off the unwanted spirits from the old year
• The trunks of the trees are beaten with sticks the trunks are splashed
• Everyone then takes a drink from the communal wassail bowl. The
remaining drink is poured onto the ground, and the roots of the tree and the
toast is dipped and placed into the branches of the apple trees as a token to
the new spirits of the new year, and a nod to the old ways of doing things.
“Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee, Bear this year and next
year to bloom and to blow, Hat fulls, cap fulls, three-cornered sack fills, Hip,
Hip, Hip, hurrah, Holler biys, holler hurrah.”
“Here stands a good apple tree, stand fast root, Every little twig bear an apple
big, Hats full, caps full, and three score sacks full, Hip! Hip! Hurrah!”
Changes in UK farming
In the 1980s, there was a significant push to reduce the nation’s dependence
on food imports. This push was brought on by the advent of the Common
Agricultural Policy. Traditional orchards were given funding to convert them
into more productive farmland. This change brought on widespread
destruction of older orchards. Unfortunately, this pattern continues today.
Apple orchards have been part of the UK landscape for as long as anyone
can remember, and there is significant worry about the effect that the
destruction of orchards will have on biodiversity. Traditional apple orchards
have an immense ecological value that has long been underestimated.
An orchard is defined by Charingworth Orchard Trust as having 5 or more fruit
trees. Do you and your neighbours have the collective space for five trees?
Imagine what a difference you could make by planting your own traditional