RG 2004 January

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8289401_8cd6453906_s.jpg This page is part of The Cidermaking Year by Rose Grant

January, 2004



People hereabouts insist on wassailing being done on the eve of old twelfth night. A friend of mine is so insistent about this that I've moved my wassail to twelfth Night so that I can go to his on the Eve! We will have the guns. There is so much pheasant shooting around here just now that a few extra bangs will go unnoticed.

Our wassail went very well on Saturday evening. There was a good window in the weather for the orchard ceremony. About 40 people came including two ladies with violins and an old chap with a clarinet. This meant that the song was well supported and everybody sang well. Two shotguns were fired over the tree tops and next morning I found a dead pigeon. A good or ill omen, I know not! Afterwards the mulled cider went down so well by the fireside that the wassail song had to be sung again. A cidery friend of mine brought me a present of a three handled wassail mug, so this was put to good use. I was really pleased with this because I didn't think it was possible to get them any more. If anybody wants one, he got it from New Forest Cider at Burleigh. Wassail, Rose.

Wassailing tends to be a chilly business that requires warm clothing and warm spicy ale or cider to keep body and soul together. It is an old country custom that goes back to our anglo-saxon ancestors, that was carried out in fruit growing parts of the Country. Wassail is a salutation that goes with drinking a toast. Today we might say "Good health' or "Cheers". The Apple has always been an important crop for food and drink and was especially so in ancient times. People were more superstitious then and they felt that by drinking a toast to oldest tree in the orchard and presenting it with gifts, it would look after all the other trees and ensure that they produced a good crop. The gifts are by tradition, toast soaked in some of last Autumn's cider. The toast is placed in the crook of the tree by a young girl who is deemed to be the Apple Maiden. She wears a white dress and has a garland in her hair. Wassailing also implies singing and many songs for the occasion originated in all the fruit growing areas especially the West Country. There are also various rhymes that were used and like the songs the theme of them all was to encourage a good crop in the year ahead. When the singing and or the poetry is over, guns are fired over the treetops to frighten off the evil spirits. It is a bit of fun and nonsense that makes a good excuse for a party as the orchard bit is often followed by a generous supply of mulled cider back at the house. We had a great time this year. It is good to have a bit of fun in the dour old month of January. Rose.


I have thought for several years that I'm probably grafting too late as I do it in early May. My success rate is only around 50%. I will take advice and try it in March this year.I thought that May was the best time because it was in May a few years ago when I went on a grafting course. We students massacred some unfortunate farmer's trees, then top grafted them with a new variety. I was so proud of my work that I went back a year later to see how the grafts had taken. I was some what mortified to see how few of them had! I had been most careful to get the cambion layers in close contact as directed , but perhaps it was really a bit too late in the season. I will let you know how I get on this year. I have some wonderful cider, made from a wild tree, that is already good to drink, so I have just got to propagate it for my orchard. Rose.

It was interesting to hear about the various methods of grafting. I was taught by Les Davies who used to be the Nursery manager for Showerings. He was very much in favour of using the half inch plastic grafting tape instead of raffia and wax. The idea was to tightly bind the tape over the whole length of the graft. this not only provided a strong support for the union, but if done carefully made it fully waterproof as well. If he needed to seal anything he said that he had found ordinary builders water based bitumastic paint worked as well as wax. He used this mostly for sealing the stub ends of branches that had been saddle grafted.