Category Archives: Cider Knowledge

Guest Post: Wassail: An Unexpected Revival by Maria Kennedy

We’ve been following the writings of Maria Kennedy at Cider With Maria for some time, and were very pleasantly surprised to find ourselves seated next to her at Proletariat’s 2013 Cider Week NY tasting event with Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cider.
We share an interest in cider culture, and as part of our ongoing explorations into Wassail history and traditions, Maria kindly agreed to shared her post Wassail: An Unexpected Revival
with us.
Enjoy!

Wassail: An Unexpected Revival

by Maria Kennedy

Image
Flyer for the Foxwhelp Morris Wassail, Preston on Wye 2012

I was sitting it a pub in East Hackney, London one January night a few years ago trying to convince a young man from Portsmouth that English people did in fact practice the custom of wassail.  “Wassail?” he said.  “I’ve never heard of that.  English people don’t do that.  I don’t believe you.”  I parried his aura of certainty with my own indisputable fact: I had just travelled down to a remote corner of Devonshire to participate in a wassail.  I had seen it for myself.  We had traipsed round a village in the Blackdown Hills singing for cider and wishing good health to the farmhouse, the garage, the old vicarage, the pub, and finally the orchard itself. English people DO wassail.

The young man’s incredulity about the existence of this custom is understandable, though.  With a few notable exceptions of wassail celebrations that claim to have survived unbroken into the present, such as the one at Carhampton, Somerset, the custom seems to have died out or disappeared most everywhere else, surviving only as a festive Christmas drink or an obsolete word in a carol.  In the past few years, however, a notable revival has been rising, and as several of my friends in England put it, everyone seems to want to have a wassail now.

So why did wassailing die out in England, and why is it being revived now?  These were some of the questions I set out to answer when I first trekked out to torchlit winter processions on the twelfth night of Christmas in Devon, and later Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, and Worcestershire.

Many people think of Wassail as a remnant pagan custom, and it is easy to see why, when black-faced Morris men lead hordes of otherwise tame urbanites carrying torches through old orchards to sing to the apple trees and scare off witches with gunfire.  It’s an enthusiastic performance of what some might think of as a primitive, superstitious approach to life, which might seem refreshing after the daily grind of rational civility. Being outside after the endless indoor Christmas parties feels like a release, and the bonfires and torches light up the night in a way that wakes your tired soul from the dreary sleep of midwinter. And the cider, well the cider just makes you feel sublime, a bit euphoric.  The torches seem brighter.  The night seems blacker.  And it feels like anything is possible inside the circle of trees that almost seem alive.

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Morris Man from Silurian Morris at the Tenbury Wassail 2013

I think the custom’s visceral tactile appeal stems from the sensory stimulation of frost and fire and the imaginative tunnel of superstition usually silenced in a society based on scientific rationality.  It’s an opportunity to get out and be a little wild for a night, and that’s what rituals and festivals are often good for, shaking up our everyday habits and injecting the mundane world with mystery and significance we don’t usually feel.

Some of the people I came to know who had helped revive wassail over the last twenty years had a much less superstitious orientation to the custom, though, and their perspectives shed light on some of the social realities of rural agricultural life and highlight the enormous social changes it has undergone in the past century.  Wassail, a custom historically based in rural society and food production, has something to teach us about the changing ways we work with each other, as well as the ways we interact with natural and agricultural resources.

For Eric Freeman, a life-long farmer in the rural countryside of Gloucestershire, and his friends Pete Symonds, a former electrician from the Forest of Dean, and Albert Rixen, a plumber and engineer, wassail was a tribute to the work of the agricultural year and an emblem of the social contract between farmers and their agricultural workers. Pete Symonds is a skilled tradesman in a rural community whose livelihood suffered with the outsourcing of industrial work overseas.  He saw in wassail the opportunity to celebrate the social bonds of working men and commemorate the cooperative nature of agricultural labor in an era before industrialization. Albert Rixen, devoted to restoring old steam engines, including antique steam powered cider equipment, also lends his workman’s approach to wassail and cider making, keeping alive the mechanical heritage of agricultural work.  Eric Freeman, a tireless supporter of agriculturally-oriented social networks such as the Young Farmers and groups devoted to saving rare breeds of livestock, has dedicated much of his life to the practice of farming not just as a business or even a personal vocation, but a way of life still full of social and cultural richness.

Image
Eric Freeman holding the Wassail Cup at his annual Wassail in Huntley, Gloucestershire

For these men, the resurrection of the custom of wassail was not about superstition at all.  The considerable labor involved in preparing the bonfires and torches and orchestrating the festival mirrored the kind of labor they wanted to celebrate – shared labor, social labor, the kind of labor that was necessary to keep a pre-industrial farm going.  This is the kind of labor that makes work worthwhile, and which seems to be slipping away in a world of global markets, where labor is outsourced, rural communities are left slowly crumbling, and agriculture produces commodities instead of food.

It’s also important to remember that the social contract didn’t always work, that standards of living for agricultural workers in the pre-industrial era were generally dire.  But wassail was a moment when the contract was tested, when the workers held the orchard and the farm hostage for a night, demanding food and drink from their employers in return for performing the wassail and ensuring a fertile crop in the year to come.  Superstition becomes bare social reality here, because without a satisfied workforce, the farm could not be productive.  Without workers, there would be no harvest, no fertility.  Wassail was a kind of symbolic labor negotiation, with the potential harvest hanging in the balance.  And the next Monday after twelfth night, known as Plough Monday, work started again.  The fields were ploughed for the coming year.

Image
Leominster Morris Wassail in Eardisley, Herefordshire 2013

It all seems a bit serious for a rowdy evening of cider drinking, morris dancing, and bonfire lighting.  And don’t get me wrong, sometimes of the most obvious reasons to join in a wassail is simply for a good prank, a good drink, and an excuse to dress up in funny costumes and indulge in a little pyromania.  But the interplay of superstition, social history, and a walloping good time is what makes wassail a tradition with depth and complexity that can appeal to people on many levels, even as they face adapting to economic, social, and environmental change in their communities.

Can wassail take hold in North America?  A real, strong tradition here will depend on our own social needs and reasons for adopting a custom.  It will be exciting to see how it takes shape as we begin to re-invest attention in our agriculture, our orchards, and our cider.  In a way, the social contract we are now re-exploring with our food system, our environment, and our economies makes wassail all the more relevant, and the tables have turned.  Wassail, in all its irreverent topsy-turvy midwinter glory, reminds us that agriculture and food production, even in our industrialized, exploitative, globalized era is still a social, and an environmental contract.  In an old-fashioned way, it poses the question “Are we in it together folks?”  And its pretty exciting to hear folks replying: “Here’s to thee old apple tree.”

ImageOrchard near Preston on Wye, Herefordshire, Foxwhelp Morris Wassail 2012
Wassail: An Unexpected Revival all content and photographs copyright Maria Kennedy.
We encourage you to read more from Maria Kennedy at her blog: ciderwithmaria.wordpress.com
and
Take a listen to these interviews with Maria on Earth Eats:
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It’s The Annual Call To Wassail. January 5th -17th, 2015.

The Wassail (Charles Rennie Mackintosh)

A Call To Wassail. January 5th – 17th, 2015.

Hello Friends of Cider!

We ask YOU the cider community to join us in embracing Wassail in 2015.

What is Wassail?

Wikipedia:

“The Orchard-Visiting wassail refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards in cider-producing regions of England, reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year.”

Herefordshire Times:

“Steeped in history, wassailing is traditionally held on the Twelfth Night after Christmas and performed in orchards to awaken the apple trees from their winter slumber and ward off bad spirits.”

When is Wassail?

We propose to observe North American celebrations from January 5th to  January 17th, 2015. (‘New’ 12th Night Eve to ‘Old’ 12th Night – more about that later).

Goals for the 2015 Wassail:

Explore Old & New World Wassail Traditions

Salute The Orchard

Honor The Apple

Celebrate With Cider

How Can You Wassail?

Enjoy cider and a wassail bowl with friends.

Visit an orchard, cidermaker or local cider-serving establishment and toast the orchard & the apple.

Host a Wassail Event.

Or just raise a glass to Cider.

Let us know if you’ve planned an event – we’ll post it on our Wassail 2015 page.

If you tweet about your cider activities – consider using the hashtag #Wassail2015.

The 2015 Wassail Theme: Explore Wassail.

We hope this will be an informal collaborative effort and an annual event for the growing cider community in North America.

The Wassail (Charles Rennie Mackintosh)

Take a look at our Wassail 2015 page for more information, links, and recipes.

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Wassail Traditions: The 5 Key Elements.

The Wassailing

Wassail In 5 Easy Steps.

The 5 Key Elements of Orchard Wassail As Outlined by NACM:

“The rite involves five main elements: gathering around an apple tree, singing the Wassailing song, pouring cider over the tree’s roots, loud noises and a toast.”

Rackham-Winter Trees

1 – Gather Around The Apple Tree.

2 – Sing Wassail Song(s) (There are several traditional songs & many variations).

3 – Pour Cider Over The Tree’s Roots (and place cider-toast in branches).

4 – Make Loud Noises (suggested implements: pots, pans, rattles, musicians, fireworks).

5 – TOAST! Salute the orchard, the apple, and the past & future harvest. (With cider, a Wassail bowl, or punch of your own devising).

Whether in the orchard, city, town, or on the farm, we encourage you to take these elements and discover/explore and create a Wassail event of your own.

Mark your calendars now, and start making plans for Wassail 2015.

NACM Wassail information  at cideruk.com

Rackham Lady's Apple

– Not near an orchard? Seek out local parks, or friendly neighbors with pome fruit trees, sites of trees & orchards of yesteryear, or devise a suitable stand-in, an elegant bowl of apples – or a spray crabapple branches, etc.

– As North American Wassailers we will continue to explore local & regional wassail culture and hope to uncover indigenous tunes & rituals, and share our discoveries for 2015.

Note: Repurposing New Year’s Eve noise-makers is a handy & thrifty way to get your Wassail noise-making kit started.

Images from A Dish of Apples by Eden Phillpotts, illustrated by Arthur Rackham, 1921. View or download at Internet Archive archive.org.

It Begins. 13 Days of Wassailing 2014.

Ansel Adams Yosemite

Join Us In Wassailing.

We’re observing North American celebrations from January 5th to January 17th, 2014 – ‘New’ 12th Night Eve to ‘Old’ 12th Night – and posting daily about our Wassail adventures. Stay tuned.

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A Bit About Wassailing.

The Wassail (Charles Rennie Mackintosh)About Wassailing From the National Association of Cider Makers:

“Wassailing is the chief custom associated with cider apple trees. The word wassail is derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘wes hal’ meaning ‘good health’ or ‘be whole’. The earliest written records of wassailing date from the late 17th century.

This custom is performed to protect the trees from evil spirits and to make them bear a plentiful crop and is still carried out in the West of England. The rite involves five main elements: gathering around an apple tree, singing the Wassailing song, pouring cider over the tree’s roots, loud noises and a toast.

The pouring of cider over the roots symbolised the carrying forward of the life juice of the tree from one year to the next. It was also the custom to place a cider-soaked piece of toasted bread in the fork of the tree to attract good spirits while guns were fired into the trees so as to frighten away the evil spirits. The health of the tree would then be drunk as often as was felt necessary. Nowadays, it is traditional to hold the rite on Twelfth Night.

Over time, the custom was adapted and added to, so that each area had its own variation. The date for instance varied, and old tea kettles and tin trays might be clattered together to scare away the spirits instead of firing guns. In Herefordshire it was traditional for Morris Men to take part by dancing around the trees.”

Source: National Association of Cider Makers.

Link: www.cideruk.com

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A Call To Wassail. January 5th -17th, 2014.

The Wassail (Charles Rennie Mackintosh)

A Call To Wassail. January 5th – 17th, 2014.

Hello Friends of Cider!

We ask YOU the cider community to join us in embracing Wassail in 2014.

What is Wassail?

Wikipedia:

“The Orchard-Visiting wassail refers to the ancient custom of visiting orchards in cider-producing regions of England, reciting incantations and singing to the trees to promote a good harvest for the coming year.”

Herefordshire Times:

“Steeped in history, wassailing is traditionally held on the Twelfth Night after Christmas and performed in orchards to awaken the apple trees from their winter slumber and ward off bad spirits.”

When is Wassail?

We propose to observe North American celebrations from January 5th to  January 17th, 2014. (‘New’ 12th Night Eve to ‘Old’ 12th Night – more about that later).

Goals for the 2014 Wassail:

Explore Old & New World Wassail Traditions

Salute The Orchard

Honor The Apple

Celebrate With Cider

How Can You Wassail?

Enjoy cider and a wassail bowl with friends.

Visit an orchard, cidermaker or local cider-serving establishment and toast the orchard & the apple.

Host a Wassail Event.

Let us know if you plan an event – we’ll post it on our Wassail 2014 page.

The 2014 Wassail Theme: Discover Wassail.

We hope this will be an informal collaborative effort and an annual event for the growing cider community in North America.

The Wassail (Charles Rennie Mackintosh)

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Smith, Jones, Plumb and Penn.

Smith, Jones, Plumb and Penn. Cider Apples of Yesteryear.

The National Agricultural Library’s collection of pomological watercolor illustrations includes images of cider apples of renown such as the Harrison, Virginia or Hewe’s Crab, Ablemarle and Newtown Pippins.

Also documented by the artists working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Division of Pomology are less well-known American cider apples such as the Smith Cider,  Jones Cider, Plumb Cider and the Penn Cider.

Image credit: “U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705”

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Malus domestica: Smith Cider, Rosslyn, Arlington County, Virginia, 1932

Malus domestica: Smith Cider

Malus domestica: Smith Cider

Malus domestica: Smith Cider

Artist:
Arnold, Mary Daisy, ca. 1873-1955
Scientific name:
Malus domestica
Common name:
apples
Variety:
Smith Cider
Geographic origin:
Rosslyn, Arlington County, Virginia, United States
Physical description:
1 art original : col. ; 17 x 25 cm.
Specimen:
112350
Year:
1932
Notes on original:
Section J, Row 17, Tree 3
Date created:
1932-01-30
Rights:
Use of the images in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection is not restricted, but a statement of attribution is required. Please use the following attribution statement: “U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection. Rare and Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD 20705”
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Celebrate Repeal Day®: Drink a Cider.

Repeal Day® Is December 5.

The motto:

The Freedom To Celebrate. Celebrate The Freedom.

Read more about Repeal Day®  and suggested activities at www.repealday.org

We Suggest A Fine Way To Celebrate Repeal Day®: Drink a Cider.

Read the fascinating Analysis of the U. S. Liquor Industry during Prohibition originally published in Fortune Magazine: U.S. Liquor Industry (Fortune 1931)

Suggested Accompaniment: A Glass of Cider.

alcohol_classic

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What We’re Reading: Scott Laboratories 2013 -2014 Cider Handbook.

Scott 2013-14

What We’re Reading: The 2013 -2014 Cider Handbook from Scott Laboratories.

September 7, 2013 Scott Laboratories announced its first ever Cider Handbook.

Known for an annual fermentation handbook, with information and resources geared to the needs of wineries, breweries, and distilleries in North America, the people at Scott Labs felt it was time to create a handbook focused on cider:

“The 60-page Handbook contains products, articles, and protocols specific to the cider industry. With cider sales in the U.S. tripling since 2007, Scott recognized that this growing market needed attention.”

The 2013-2014 Cider Handbook, is available in the U.S. and Canada. To request a free copy email info@scottlab.com. Or visit www.scottlab.com.

The end papers of the handbook features images courtesy of Albemarle CiderWorks, depicting 32 apple varieties including Golden Pearmain, Razor Russet, Black Twig, Crow Egg, and Redfield.

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The juice of the apple is naturally affected by the condition of the fruit itself. Sound words from the Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

cropped-observations.jpg

Fruit-growers who look to cider-making “as a means of utilizing windfalls and small and inferior apples of cooking and dessert varieties not worth sending to market” should be warned that it is as important to the cider industry that good cider only should be on sale as it is to the fruit-growing industry that good fruit only should be sent to market. The juice of the apple is naturally affected by the condition of the fruit itself, and if this be unripe, unsound or worm-eaten the cider made from it will be inferior to that made from full-grown, ripe and sound fruit. If such fruit be not good enough to send to market, neither will the cider made from it be good enough to place before the public. Nevertheless, it may furnish a sufficiently palatable drink for home consumption, and may therefore be so utilized. But when, as happens from time to time in fruit-growing districts, there is a glut, and even the best table fruit is not saleable at a profit, then, indeed, cider-making is a means of storing in a liquid form what would otherwise be left to rot on the ground; whilst if a proportion of vintage fruit were mixed therewith, a drink would be produced which would not discredit the cider trade, and would bring a fair return to the maker. (C. W. R. C.)

source: http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Cider

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Cider Review: Breezy Hill Orchard Barrel Tasting. Cider Salon: Six Samples and Ciders. Cider 52

Trained&PrunedAppleTree

Cider: (6) Various ciders and barrel samples.

Maker: Breezy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill

Origin: Staatsburg, New York

website: www.hudsonvalleycider.com

Fruit: Apple. Various orchards.

Cider Maker: Elizabeth Ryan


Cider: Hudson Valley Farmhouse Stone Ridge Scrumpy

Maker’s Style Notes: It’s alive! Fresh apple flavors and the aromas of yeast, some residual sugar, and natural carbonation in the bottle bring you a drink for all seasons. No sulfur, very unfiltered.

Our Impressions: A full round mouthfeel, yeast and honey aromas, apple syrup sweetness, effervescent.


Cider: Hudson Valley Farmhouse Farmhouse Cider

Maker’s Style Notes: American apple varieties grown in the Hudson Valley and a bit of sweetness make a refreshing beverage that can be sipped by itself or with a meal. No sulfur, not filtered.

Our Impressions: A favorite old friend that we always enjoy visiting. Zesty and alive, a refreshing anytime cider. Provokes rustic 18th century thoughts.

Cider: Hudson Valley Farmhouse Apple Seed Cider

Maker’s Style Notes: A blend of American and European cider apples creates rich, more complex aromas. Strong acidly like crisp white wine means you can pair this cider with any meal. Barrel samples, unfiltered.

Our Impressions:  Winey. Reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. Crisp and silky.

Cider: Hudson Valley Farmhouse Lady Apple Cider

Maker’s Style Notes: A single varietal. Unfiltered. Made by the ancient Pomme d’api. Brought by the Romans to England.

Our Impressions: Easy drinking. Mellow apple flavor. More sweet than tart but balanced. A fine lady indeed.

Cider: Dabinett Blend -Barrel Samples

Maker’s Style Notes: A beloved French variety. Complex flavors and more tannins. Unfiltered.

Our Impressions:  Pleasing subtle structure with soft tannins and a smooth light sweetness.

Cider: Ellis Bitter Blend – Barrel Samples

Maker’s Style Notes: A unique blend of bitter and acidic apples. Unfiltered.

Our Impressions: Complex and intense. A diverse array of bitter flavor elements are present more so than we have ever experienced as most commercially available ciders tend to have one or two bitter notes if any at all. Symphonic with lots of tannins and acid that support and supply structure. Delectably illustrates the concept of blending for structure and balance and unique fruit expression. Makes us curious to find out more about the old English cider apple, Ellis Bitter, used in this blend.

Note: All of these ciders and barrel samples were tasted May 10, 2013 at the Cider Salon hosted by Jimmy’s No. 43 to benefit Breezy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill and their campaign to raise funds to Rebuild Historic Cider House at Greenmarket Farm Breezy Hill. Find more about funding and rewards via Kickstarter.

Cider Knowledge: This type of tasting is a terrific way to get a glimpse into the growers and cidermakers process and learn a bit about how they approach fruit choices and utilize blending in the development of their fruit and cider portfolio.

Note on fruit sources: Elizabeth Ryan is the primary grower and principle cidermaker. Multiple orchards supply the fruit for these ciders.

 

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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica: Entry: Cider

cropped-3b51100rappleprint3.jpeg

CIDER, or Cyder (from the Fr. cidre, derived from the Lat. sicera or cisera, Gr. veicepa, Heb. shekar, strong drink), an alcoholic beverage made from apples.

Cider and perry (the corresponding beverage made from pears) are liquors containing from as little as 2% of alcohol to 7 or 8%, seldom more, and rarely as much, produced by the vinous fermentation of the expressed juice of apples and pears; but cider and perry of prime quality can only be obtained from vintage fruit, that is, apples and pears grown for the purpose and unsuited for the most part for table use. A few table apples make good cider, but the best perry is only to be procured from pears too harsh and astringent for consumption in any other form. The making of perry is in England confined, in the main, to the counties of Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester. These three counties, together with Somerset and Devon, constitute, too, the principal cider-making district of the country; but the industry, which was once more widely spread, still survives in Norfolk, and has lately been revived in Kent, though, in both these counties, much of the fruit used in cider-making is imported from the west country and some from the continent. Speaking generally, the cider of Herefordshire is distinguished for its lightness and briskness, that of Somerset for its strength, and that of Devonshire for its lusciousness.

Cider used to be made in the south of Ireland, but the industry had almost become extinct until revived by the Department of Agriculture, which in 1904 erected a cider-making plant at Drogheda, Co. Louth, gave assistance to private firms at Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, and Fermoy, Co. Cork, and provided a travelling mill and press to work in the South Riding of Co. Tipperary. The results have been highly satisfactory, a large quantity of good cider having been produced.

Inasmuch as English orchards are crowded with innumerable varieties of cider apples, many of them worthless, a committee composed of members of the Herefordshire Fruit-Growers’ Association and of the Fruit and Chrysanthemum Society was appointed in 1899 to make a selection of vintage apples and pears best suited to Herefordshire and the districts adjoining. The following is the list drawn up by the committee: Apples. – Old Foxwhelp, Cherry Pearmain, Cowarne Red, Dymock Red, Eggleton Styre, Kingston Black or Black Taunton, Skyrme’s Kernel, Spreading Redstreak, Carrion apple, Cherry Norman, Cummy Norman, Royal Wilding, Handsome Norman, Strawberry Norman, White Bache or Norman, Broad-leaved Norman, Argile Grise, Bramtot, De Boutville, Frequin Audievre, Medaille d’Or, the last five being French sorts introduced from Normandy about 1880, and now established in the orchards of Herefordshire.

Source: Online version of the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittannica

Entry: Cider

Link: http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Cider

“This free online 1911 Classic Encyclopedia is based on what many consider to be the best encyclopedia ever written: the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, first published in 1911.”

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