Where have all the apples gone?

Summer Apple Tree

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

were everywhere!

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!

apples OrchardOrigins 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!


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.”

or …

“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

apple orchards!

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2 Replies to “Where have all the apples gone?”

  1. The wassail? How have I never heard of that before???? Sounds like fun, must find somewhere that is celebrating 🙂

  2. o wow, i had assumed that bramleys had been here for ever!

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