I’ve chosen apples and brambles for today’s blog as they always seem to go together. I noticed the blackberries on the brambles ripening during my jolly around the Valley Lines last week. I’ve not been blackberrying in years and years, most probably not since I was a child. I remember the abundance of blackberry pies, blackberry and apple crumbles, blackberry jam, apple jelly and frozen blackberries in our home. With six children, there were plenty of us to gather them! There were also the trips to collect whinberries (blueberries), as well as visits to ‘pick your own’ farms to harvest strawberries, raspberries and loganberries.
In later years, it would be my father who collected crab apples and blackberries to make his wines – along with sloes and young nettle leaves, young oak shoots, rosehips, rose petals, dandelions, and anything else he could brew. I never appreciated his brews – all except the raspberry wine he made one year which was sweet and still tasted of the fruit – though others thought they were wonderful. I do remember spending long hours writing out labels for his wine; I’ve always had nice handwriting and dabbled with calligraphy in the past too. Now that’s something I’d forgotten about.
A few years ago a friend suggested, quite strongly, that I should collect sloes and make sloe gin, as well as to harvest the fruits of nature. Well, I’ve not done so yet…
There are many recipes on tinternet and in books for blackberries, apples and so on, so I’ll not repost them. Mind you, I could say the same about superstitions, myths, herbalism and the like, but I’m pulling together information for myself from many diverse sources, perhaps for future reference or just because I’m interested in it in the here and now, I don’t know.
Crab Apple (Pyrus malus)
The crab apple tree is native to Britain and is the wild ancestor of all the cultivated varieties of apple trees. Apples of some sort were abundant before the Norman Conquest and were probably introduced into Britain by the Romans. Twenty-two varieties of apples were mentioned by Pliny; there are now around two thousand cultivars. In the Old Saxon manuscripts there are many mentions of apples and cider.
The Encyclopedia of Bartholomeus Anglicus, printed in Cologne around 1470, has a chapter on the apple:
Malus Appyll tree is a tree yt bereth apples and is a grete tree in itself…it is more short than other trees of the wood wyth knottes and rinelyd Rynde. And makyth shadowe wythe thicke bowes and branches; and fayr with dyurs blossomes, and floures of swetnesse and lykynge,; with goode fruyte and noble. And is gracious in syght and in taste and vertuous in medecyne…some beryth frute and harde, and some ryght soure and some ryght swete, with a good savoure and mery. .
The apple has been used as a symbol for sin, sexual seduction, beauty, love, sensuality, love between two men. In art, Venus is often shown holding an apple as a symbol of love. Apples also feature in many fairy tales, Snow White perhaps being the best known example where a poisoned apple puts Snow White into a deep sleep.
In the Old Testament of the Bible, it represents man’s fall; in the New Testament it represents man’s redemption from that fall. The phrases ‘the apple of one’s eye’ and ‘a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver’ both come from the Bible.
The larynx in the human male is called the ‘Adam’s Apple’ because of the folk-tale about the Forbidden Fruit sticking in Adam’s throat and causing a bulge.
Heracles, the Greek hero, as part of his Twelve Labours had to travel to the Garden of the Hesperides. His task there was to pick the golden apples growing on the Tree of Life that could be found at the centre of the garden.
Eris, the Greek goddess of discord, was disgruntled after she was excluded from the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. To retaliate, she tossed a golden apple that was inscribed with ‘Kallisti’ – for the most beautiful one – into the wedding party. Hera, Athene and Aphrodite, three of the goddesses attending the party, claimed the apple. Paris of Troy was chosen to select the recipient of the apple. After being bribed by both Hera and Athena, Aphrodite tempted him with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Sparta. He awarded the apple to Aphrodite and in doing so indirectly caused the Trojan War.
Another Greek myth concerns Atlanta who raced all her suitors in an attempt to avoid marriage. She outran all but Hippomenes (also known as Melanion) who defeated her not by cunning but by speed. Hippomenes knew he could not win in a fair race, so he used three golden apples, which were gifts from Aphrodite, the goddess of love, to distract Atlanta. It took all three apples and all of his speed, but Hippomenes was successful, winning the race and Atlanta’s hand.
In Norse mythology, Iduna, the goddess of Spring and youth, nurtures an apple orchard in Asgard. Every evening she would feed an apple to the gods and goddess in order to keep their youthfulness.
In Celtic mythology, Conle receives an apple which feeds him for a year, but alsogives him an irresistible desire for fairyland.
The mystical Isle of Avalon, the famed placed of eternal rest for Celtic heroes, including King Arthur, literally means ‘apple land’ or ‘apple island’.
Isaac Newton, according to popular legend, came up with the theory of universal gravitation after observing an apple falling from a tree.
Wassailing the orchard trees on Christmas Eve, or the Eve of the Epiphany, is still practiced in Britain. Herrick mentioned it among his ‘Ceremonies of Christmas Eve’:
Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring,
As you do give them Wassailing
The Wassailing ceremony consisted of the farmer, his family and labourers going out into the orchard after supper, bearing with them a jug of cider and hot cakes. The latter were placed in the boughs of the oldest of best bearing trees in the orchard, while the cider was flung over the trees after the farmer had drunk their health in some such fashion as the following:
Here’s to thee, old apple-tree!
Whence thou may’st bud, and whence thou may’st blow.
Hats full! Cap full!
Bushel – bushel bags full!
And my pockets full too! Huzzah!
The toast was repeated three times, the men and boys often firing off guns and pistols, the women and children shouting loudly.
Roasted apples were usually placed in the pitcher of cider and were thrown at the trees with the liquid.
A mixture of hot spiced ale, wine or cider with apples and bits of toast floating in it was known as ‘lamb’s wool’. The name is derived from the Irish ‘la mas nbhal‘ meaning ‘the feast of the apple gathering’ (All Hallow’s Eve), which is pronounced something like ‘lammas-ool’ and this became corrupted into ‘lamb’s wool’. Each person who drank the spicy beverage would also take out an apple, wish good luck to the company, and eat it.
It was believed that if an apple tree blossomed out of season then misfortune or death was foretold.
If the Sun shone through the branches of apple trees on Christmas Day, or Old Christmas Day, then there would be an abundant crop of apples.
Peel an apple so that the peel remains in one long strip. Throw the strip over the shoulder to form the initial of a potential husband on the ground. This is an activity that is performed particularly at Hallowe’en.
To indicate the direction of a lover’s home, flick an apple pip into the air while reciting ‘North, south, east, west, tell me where my love does rest‘.
Children were warned that Awd Goggie and Lazy Lawrence were nursery bogies that protected orchards and unripe fruit.
The proverb ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’ seems to have been first recorded in the form ‘Eat an apple on going to bed and you’ll keep the doctor from earning his bread’.
Bramble or blackberry (Rubus fruticosus)
The shoots of bramble have the ability to root where they touch the ground thus forming an arch. Sufferers from boils, rheumatism and hernia were passed through the arch formed in this way. Sometimes, a child suffering from whooping cough was passed under the arch seven times. The cough was then thought to leave the child and stay within the bramble.
In the Highlands of Scotland, people used a length of bramble shoot entwined with ivy and rowan to ward off evil spirits.
Eating blackberries after the first frost was considered unlucky. In the UK, superstition says that blackberries should not be picked after Michaelmas (29 September), or the 10 October (Michaelmas by the old calendar). It is said the devil has claimed them by urinating over them, spitting on them, stamping on them or wagged his tail over them and so leaving his mark on the leaves. The link with Michaelmas is because this feast celebrates the battle when Archangel Michael drove Satan out of Heaven and hurled him down to Earth; perhaps the joke is that he landed in a bramble bush, but this is not clear.
Note to self…and other reflections
More art to do! Yay! Got some ideas … maybe … need to work on my more stylised, black-line and colour work …using acrylic inks or paints for the vibrancy of colour …
I’m so glad I started a blog, regardless of whether anyone reads it or not. It’s given me a focus to both research, write and be inspired to create art.
If I’m honest I’ve been seriously lacking that focus and impetus for a long while thanks to my emotional state … I do tend towards depression, though I do my best to ameliorate it by engaging in activities that give me pleasure, but lately nothing much has done that … I’ve felt like I’ve been going through the motions, with no real purpose to them. Not that everything needs a purpose, and doing something for the sake of the joy or contentment it brings is purpose enough. However, I’ve been struggling with allowing myself to do pleasurable things, to feel the joy they bring … and perhaps the recognition of this this morning will help me move forward with my therapy, and in allowing myself to feel joy and pleasure.
As I look back at earlier entries, I can see how my approach is slowly evolving in terms of how I present information. I’ll eventually work out a consistent ‘format’ that suits me in terms of colours of ‘quotes’, illustrations, references, hyperlinks.
- Apple symbolism on Wikipedia
- Roy Vickery – Plant-lore
- Bramble on HubPages
- Steve Roud – The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland.
- Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud – A Dictionary of English Folklore.