Blog: Celebrating Apple Day...from the Jurassic Larder
APPLE Day is 21st October, a national day of celebration of orchards and apples.
Nowadays many people believe it is an ancient tradition and if you ask the average visit to an Apple Day event, they will probably have no idea when or why this event started.
But living here in Dorset we have the people who founded it – and it’s worth retelling the origins of an event that now has a place in the calendar, not only of apple-growing areas but in towns and cities the length of the country.
That it has become a treasured event celebrating a fruit that has a unique place in western civilisation – and in the Abrahamic faiths – is a tribute to the vision of its creators, Sue Clifford and Angela King, who founded Common Ground, the arts and environment charity.
Common Ground was instrumental in establishing the campaign that has helped to save and revive England’s orchards. Through the seminal book, The Common Ground Book of Orchards*, they created a manifesto for orchards and apples.
In the subsequent publication, The Apple Source Book: Particular Uses for Diverse Apples*, in which they were helped by the food writer Philippa Davenport, they have provided not only a guide to the 3,000 or so varieties of apples that can grow in the British Isles, but also compiled a mouth-watering selection of recipes contributed by food writers, chefs and apple experts.
If you care about apples and want to make more of our seasonal varieties, try to get a copy of either or both of these books! (Details below.)
An apple a day ...
How many native British apple varieties can you count? You may think you are doing well if you get to ten. And some of those may not actually be native or traditional.
In fact there are so many different English apple varieties that you could eat one every day for six years and still not have tried every one.
Of course there are many that are just different county names for a similar variety – Pippin, for example. Yet, the soil and the climate in that area will make a difference, the Whiting Pippin from Worcester will not taste the same as the Plymouth Pippin from Devon.
The aim of Apple Day was to celebrate the rich heritage of British apples – and also to demonstrate the variety that were threatened with extinction as more and more orchards were grubbed out. That was, as Sue Clifford and Angela King write in the orchards book, not only a loss of apples “but richness and diversity of landscape, place and culture.”
The first Apple Day took place on 21st October 1990. It was held in the old Apple Market in Covent Garden and brought fruit back to the market after 16 years absence. There were 40 stalls, with fruit growers and nurseries showing and selling a wide variety of apples. There were WI ladies with chutneys, jellies and pies, a demonstration of an orchard classroom, a wildlife trust talking about managing an orchard for wildlife, bee-keepers, a cider bar and experts from Brogdale identifying apples and offering advice. There were even apple jugglers and magicians to entertain the thousands of visitors.
And this first event set the pattern for what you can expect at an Apple Day event. You won’t get all of those - but you may well get jugglers and apple-bobbing, competitions for the longest peel from a single apple, a slice of apple cake or apple pie and an apple expert who will look at your fruit and give you an informed identification.
You may just find you have a rarity lurking in the old tree at the bottom of the garden. It’s like striking gold – a thrill beyond words if you care about our heritage of trees and fruit.
Everywhere is somewhere
It was Common Ground who defined the concept of “Local Distinctiveness,” created the idea of Parish Maps, helped to save the traditional field names of rural England and compiled and wrote England In Particular*, the unique encyclopaedia of local distinctiveness, which was reissued last week.
Sue Clifford and Angela King are life-long conservationists and environmentalists, dedicated and innovative campaigners for the things that so many take for granted, for a sense of place and an appreciation of landscape, culture, shared memories and traditions. They are elegant writers and rigorous thinkers, passionate but unsentimental – and in England In Particular they summed up their work, their thinking and their sense of what makes our place special, wherever it is.
Everywhere is somewhere, say Sue Clifford and Angela King. “What makes each place unique is the conspiracy of nature and culture; the accumulation of story upon history upon natural history.”
Local distinctiveness is complicated, “detail, variegation, patina, authenticity, identity, meaning – but you know it in a place when and where you see it. You want to be there. ... Making links, complexity and change are at its heart. Good cheese carefully made by cattle, sheep and people in that place feeds back into the grasses, the insects, the birds, the work, the tourism, the wellbeing of that place."
Writer Fay Weldon, herself a Dorset resident for many years, reviewed England in Particular when it was first published. She described it as “a living portrait of England here and now, with all the narrative and mystery of the past attached ... gracefully written, phenomenally knowledgeable, and simply exhilarating, speaking as it does of the extraordinary things that are all around us, if we are only prepared to open our eyes to them.”
Apple Day at Bridport
For some unfathomable reason, many Dorset Apple Day events take place weeks before Apple Day, but the community orchard at Bridport sticks to the tradition, so this weekend, when most of the country’s Apple Day events will happen, head for Bridport Community Orchard and join in the celebrations on Saturday 19th October from 11am in the orchard behind St Mary’s Church in South Street.
It is a combined event with Treewise (the Symondsbury Apple project) and supported by Bridport Town Council. There will be apple games and activities for children and young people, apple products to buy, a cake stall, apple juicing to watch and drink and buy to take home, cider, to taste and enjoy, rural craft demonstrations, music, storytelling, dancing and singing, and ploughman’s lunches and cakes in the orchard.
* England in Particular: a celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive. Saltyard, 2013.
* The Apple Source Book: Particular Uses for Diverse Apples, Hodder & Stoughton 2007
* The Common Ground Book of Orchards, Common Ground, 2000.