The wassailing may be a little later than early January this year, but since spring arrives about a month later here in the NC mountains than it did back in Arkansas, Valentine’s might be just right. At the new farm, we will have the delight of toasting and cheering the five old apples trees our farm is named for, in addition to the tiny new trees I’ve planted our first year. One change since this post: Since we are in an amazing hard-cider making region, the libations this year will be the real thing. Woo hoo! This is a great tradition. Do try this at home.
A Howling Good Time [Encore post from January 16, 2010—We’ll be doing this again at Larrapin every year!]
- The highlight of early January was wassailing the orchard. It was our first experience (and slightly adapted version) of a very, very old custom that hails from the apple growing regions of England. I ran across a reference to the custom years ago while writing an essay on apples and have been fascinated with it every since.
In order to ensure a good harvest, it was believed, you must wassail the orchard. Apparently the men of the village went out to cheer the apple trees and shout shout away the bad spirits and shared toasts of drink as well as pieces of toast with the tree. All to bring a good harvest and a way to ‘wake up Spring.’ This rollicking good time, the sources said, happened on or around “twelfth night.” Suggested wassailing dates seem to vary by which calendar you are using, with January 5, 6 and 17th apparently all being options.
Now that Larrapin has the beginnings of a tiny orchard, seemed like we were in need of a wassailing! After a little study on the traditional components of an orchard wassail, we were ready. We ventured out on the frigid night of January 6th, sang cheers to the fruit trees, banged pots gleefully to scare away spirits unfriendly to fruit and rang bells to welcome and express gratitude for future fruit. Then we toasted the trees with our version of wassail. And finally, we tied pieces of bread in the branches of the young trees around Larrapin Garden to complete our first wassailing-the-orchard experience. The toast is to attract robins, the story goes, those heralds of spring and blooms and the fruits of summer. But since our robins don’t arrive till February, many other birds have enjoyed the toast!
We used this version of the tradition song, just so we could have the delight of yelling “holla boys, holla!” No wonder it’s also called a “howling.” So we went a’howling with:
Stand fast root, bear well top
Pray God send us a good howling crop
Every twig, apples big
Every bough, apples enow.
Hats full, caps full, full quarter sacks full
Holla boys holla!
The process is traditionally reserved for the oldest apple tree in an orchard, but since our orchard is just at the toddler stage, we toasted all the little apple trees, then the tiny pear and peach trees as well. And the persimmon & fig for good measure. (After the temps we’ve had last week, the fig needs all the cheers—and prayers—it can get.)
Pictured above, our wassailing supplies: Sparkling apple/pear juice (stand-in for hard cider), pieces of toast with yarn to tie them in the branches, special pitcher for toasting and sharing the drink with the tree. Not shown: the red bell we used for ringing and the saucepan and wooden spoon used for noisemaking. Now that was fun!
So this new twist on an old tradition is going to have a yearly spot in my gardening calendar!
To read more about it:
Post on Wassailing Orchards with the cheers
A BBC article on Wassailing preparations in a village:
Wiki’s Article on Wassailing the Orchard
Thanks for dropping by A Larrapin Garden