Kingbury May Day

Celebrating local distinctiveness

Laid out along a table for comparison on Apple Day, apples take your breath away with their variety, col our, aroma and presence. Tasting and identifying them requires all the skills of a connoisseur. In north Devon, the organisation Orchards Live has compiled a list of nearly two hundred apples with a close Devon association (and great names!) such as Devonshire Quarrenden, Fair Maid of Devon, Kilerton Sharp and Whimple Queen.

Recipes for cider cake vary from village to village in the West Country, where there are cider gravies, peas cooked in cider and squab pie which pairs pigeon with apple. In Devon apple cake is made with apple puree, cinnamon and raisins, in Dorset with chopped cooking apples and currants and, in Somerset apples are combined with cinnamon and mixed spice.

The hundreds of games and customs we have created around the apple echo the importance it once had in our lives. Almost every farm, from Northumberland to Cornwall, has had its orchards: labourers were part paid in cider. City folk travelled to pick fruit from Kent, the garden of England, and the orchards of Herefordshire. Costermongers’ (apple sellers) cries rang out in the street markets and green grocers put out tubs of water full of apples for games at Halloween, which was known as Dookie Apple Night in Newcastle and Duck Apple Night in Liverpool. In Moberley, Cheshire and other places, Crabbing the Parson involved pelting the incumbent with crab apples on the local saints day. Griggling, a-scraggling, souling, pothering and ponking, a cattin, oinga-gooding, clemening, worsting, howling and youling and taking round the calenning are just a few of the local traditions once celebrated across our fair Isles!

On Twelfth Night, men ‘go with their wassail bowl into the orchard and go about the trees to bless them and put a piece of toast upon the roots, in order to encourage it.’ John Aubrey, 17th Century Antiquarian.

It takes time for customs to differentiate themselves, just as an intricate landscape demonstrates the deep relationship that we and nature have developed over hundreds of years. The rich repertoire of apple games and customs link season, produce and locality, yet we are in danger of forgetting what they mean because we have ceased to value our apples, fruit and orchards. They are all the more vulnerable since some are peculiar to just one local place.

To find out more about the local distinctiveness, read The Apple Source Book by Sue Clifford and Angela King (Hodder and Stoughton, 2007). Recipes from 52 chefs, food writers and gardeners are complemented by a wealth of information about apple identification, orchards, wildlife, specialist nurseries, suppliers of fruit, blossom routes, Community Orchards as well as ideas for Apple Day, wassailing, juice pressing, cider making and a 40 page country gazetteer of where varieties originated.

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