Cider Musings

Apple Lore. A calendar of apples by Henry Bull

Henry Bull, one half of the Duo Hogg and Bull who gave us the Herefordshire Pomona and also 

The Apple Pear as Vintage Fruits. included much more in the Pomona that the exquisite engraving of apple and pears. 

The are fifteen articles including a biography of Thomas Knight and Lord Scudamore. And one on Apple Lore

Apple lore is common in England. Apples were an important part of rural life. Apples also had a strong religious aspect with Christianity taking over many older pagan traditions. The Roman Goddess Pomona gave her name to apples as well as Eve being tempted by a the serpent over and apple. 


Although we live in a more secular time now echoes of the pasts rich connections with apple bobbing on Guy Fawkes Night or at the fair. 

It was around 1880 Henry Bull  collected a list of dates thought the year associated with apples, although he noted that some traditions were being lost by then, and the same tradition had regional variations and permutations which is not unexpected given the lack if travel previously for most people.  There are common themes but the richest collections are not unsurprisingly from the cider counties like Hereford and Somerset. 


Apples grow in all counties and are an important source of food as well as cider for the poorer members of society. More than 10% of England's population, or at least 500,000 people, may have died during the famine of 1315–1316. The last peacetime  famine recorded in Britain was 1623. Apples could be stored into Spring usually the time with least food, stores having been exhausted and the summer foods not yet ready.  The story of Hansel and Gretel has a gruesome origin in famine 


The importance of a fruitful year ( literally) has given rise too many sayings such as "If Sunshine is seen through the apple tree on Christmas Day, it will be a good year." 

The threat of frost is important at blossom time especially in the East after a warm late Winter causing an early bud burst.  

“ March dust on an Apple Leaf                                                                               Brings all kinds of fruit to grief”  


This is particularly with Cheery and pear that blossom earlier than apple.


“If Apple trees blossom in March                                                                                 For barrels of cider you need not sarch                                                                     But if the apple blossoms in May                                                                           You can eat apple dumplings every day”

On St Valentines Day 14th February  there was a customs of children visiting houses. ( A lot of trick or treating went on in there past throughout the year!) and singing

“Morrow morrow Valentine!                                                                                   First ’tis yours, and then ’tis mine;                                                                           So please to give me a Valentine                                                                           Holly and Ivy tickle my toe,                                                                                     Give me red apples and let me go”

A rhyme about chilblains! 

On Shrove Tuesday, ( 1st March next year ) before Lent, children sang this rhyme

"Let glad Shrove Tuesday bring the pancake thin                                                   Of fritter rich with apples stored within” 

St Jame’s Day July 15th was the traditional day to bless apples and start the eating season. The day was celebrated in many counties with customs aimed at increasing the apple crop.  Prayers or verses were said in the orchards and the trees were sprinkled with holy water.  In Sussex young men performed the ceremony of ‘blowing the trees’. Cows’ horns were blown under the apple trees and each man took hold of a tree and recited verses.

             St James Day feast, Book of days. Note Apples medlars and oysters. 

Apples were used as love indicators.  Pare an apple whole, and take the parings in the right hand and say the following rhyme

"St Simon and St Jude on you I intrude                                                                   By this paring I hold to discover                                                                       Without delay, to tell this day                                                                                 the first letter of my own true lover”

then turn round 3 times and throw the paring over the left shoulder and it will the first letter of your future husbands name. If it breaks you will never marry. Rather like the bride throwing the flower bouquet over her shoulder tradition. 

Further traditions on Halloween 31st October which was a complex festival having both Celtic and Christian origins intertwined. Bobbing for apples and Snap Apple were played. Snap Apple is similar to jousting,  a board with an apple on one end and a lighted candle on the other was swung around and the child had to try and bit the apple but may end up with a sooty face!

!st November was both a Celtic Festival. The day of the Apple Fruit or la mas ubal,  The celebration was pronounced “lamasool,” but was later corrupted to lambs’ wool. Lambswool is a frothy topping made of baked apples placed into the warmed spiced cider 

This is also the date of the Roman festival dedicated to Pomona the Godess of apples. 

On All Souls Day November 2nd, the children are out singing again this time a cheeky song around the town or ”going a Souling”  begging for apples or soul cake.

“ Soul! Soul! For a Soul Cake!                                                                               Pray good mistress, for a soul cake:                                                                   Soul, soul, for an apple or two:                                                                                   It you have no apples, pears will do.                                                                           Up with your kettle, down with your pan,                                                             Give me a good big one and I will be gone

Some rhymes end differently

“we hope you’ll prove kind with your apples and strong .                                      For we will no more come a-souling until another year.”


"If you’ve no apples money will do” !

Christmastide had more apple customs . Wassailing around the town occurred on St Thomas’ Day December 21st begging. This rhyme was recorded in  Worcestershire 

Wissal, wassail, through the town.                                                                            If you’ve got any apples throw them down.

Of course this was also the Winter Solstice so many pagan rituals too with apple connections. 

In Christmas Day a Boar’s Head was often stuffed with an apple for the Christmas feast and at Queens College Oxford this was lead in a procession from the kitchen to Hall. 

New Years Eve was again a time for wassailing in the town, with drink and apples. Wassail being Old English  ( Saxon) for Good Health or wæs (þu) hæl  The Wassail bowl was filled with cider spices and sugar with crab apples floating.

Wassailing in orchards was also performed on the Old Christmas Eve or the eve of the 12th Day in the  Julian calendar, to invoke the spirits to bless a good crop to come. 

"Old apple tree we wassail thee And hoping thou will bear For the Lord doth know where we shall be 'Til apples come another year

For to bear well and to bloom well So merry let us be. Let every man take off his hat And shout to the old apple tree

Old apple tree we wassail thee And hoping thou will bear Hat fulls, cap fulls, three bushel bag fulls And a little heap under the stairs"

And so a whole year has turned to be repeated.