Apples! The Myth & Magic of England’s Favourite Fruit
Date: 19th January 2015
Speaker: Tim Healey
The meeting took place at the Clifton Centre, Ashdene Rd, Bicester and was attended by 50 members and 4 visitors.
Tim explained that apples have deep cultural roots, being depicted in renaissance art; being mentioned favourably in the Bible (although not in the story of Adam & Eve) and in Greek Mythology. Similar themes occur in Celtic myths (Avalon – the Isle of Apples), Norse myths (Iduna) and modern storytelling (Snow White).
Apples are represented in Western culture, e.g. John Millais’ painting Spring (Apple Blossoms) 1859; Eden Phillpotts’ poem A Dish of Apples 1921 and the Andrews Sisters’ popular song Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.
When cut laterally, the apple reveals a five-pointed star, an ancient symbol and one favoured by Gypsies.
The earliest apples date from 8000 BC and originated in Almaty, Kazakhstan; all other varieties derive from these.
- 3500 BC - crab apples found in burials at Windmill Hill, Wilts. Possibly as food for the next life.
- 50 BC - Romans were urged to save seeds.
- 400 AD - St Jerome variety.
- 1204 - Pearmain variety widely cultivated. Evidence of cider-making.
- 1475 - William Tell variety.
- 1533 - Henry V111 established first large-scale orchards.
- 1666 - The tree survives at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincs where Newton discovered gravity.
- 1792 - Johnny Appleseed heads west in the USA and scatters apple seeds as he goes.
- 1883 - Apple Congress, Chiswick – named 1500 varieties.
- 1904 - ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’
- 1968 - Apple Corps Ltd (Beatles) founded.
- 1969 - Psychedelic LP ‘An Apple a Day’ released by UK group, Apple.
- 1984 - Apple Mac computer released.
- 2009 - Korea – planned building shaped like half an apple.
Various rites surround apples, including:
- Wassailing – 1682 wassail bowl which would have contained spicy beer & apples.
- Apple-bobbing – Daniel Maclise’s painting Snap-Apple Night (1832) shows this activity.
- Crab apples – references found in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Early Halloween cards sometimes showed apple-bobbing.
Tim outlined a number of examples of apples from the world of work:
- 1381 – the first English recipe for apple pie was published.
- The Boar’s Head (mediaeval period) – apple in mouth.
- 1849 – The Coster Girl Henry Mayhew (1849)
- Toffee apples invented 1908 by William Kolb.
- Reg Wear, cider-maker near Bristol -famous during WW2.
- Cider with Rosie (1959) – Laurie Lee
The part that apples have played in Oxfordshire’s history was outlined:
- Appleton – part of the manor of Abingdon and a centre for orchards.
- Ralph Austen – horticulturist and Puritan, published A Treatise on Fruit Trees (1653). He also set up the first cider-making factory in Oxfordshire (17th century)
Wolvercote Community Orchard encourages the growth of local varieties, including:
- North Aston Nonpareil (1593)
- Blenheim Orange – most famous Oxfordshire apple.
- Hanwell Souring (1820) – eclipsed by Bramley
- Eynsham Dumpling
- Bampton Fairing
- Burford Red
- Deddington Pippin