Past Talks

Apples! The Myth & Magic of England’s Favourite Fruit

Date: 19th January 2015
Speaker: Tim Healey

The meeting took place at the Clifton Centre, Ashdene Rd, Bicester and was attended by 50 members and 4 visitors.

Tim explained that apples have deep cultural roots, being depicted in renaissance art; being mentioned favourably in the Bible (although not in the story of Adam & Eve) and in Greek Mythology. Similar themes occur in Celtic myths (Avalon – the Isle of Apples), Norse myths (Iduna) and modern storytelling (Snow White).

Apples are represented in Western culture, e.g. John Millais’ painting Spring (Apple Blossoms) 1859; Eden Phillpotts’ poem A Dish of Apples 1921 and the Andrews Sisters’ popular song Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.

When cut laterally, the apple reveals a five-pointed star, an ancient symbol and one favoured by Gypsies.

The earliest apples date from 8000 BC and originated in Almaty, Kazakhstan; all other varieties derive from these.

  • 3500 BC - crab apples found in burials at Windmill Hill, Wilts. Possibly as food for the next life.
  • 50 BC - Romans were urged to save seeds.
  • 400 AD - St Jerome variety.
  • 1204 - Pearmain variety widely cultivated. Evidence of cider-making.
  • 1475 - William Tell variety.
  • 1533 - Henry V111 established first large-scale orchards.
  • 1666 - The tree survives at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincs where Newton discovered gravity.
  • 1792 - Johnny Appleseed heads west in the USA and scatters apple seeds as he goes.
  • 1883 - Apple Congress, Chiswick – named 1500 varieties.
  • 1904 - ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’
  • 1968 - Apple Corps Ltd (Beatles) founded.
  • 1969 - Psychedelic LP ‘An Apple a Day’ released by UK group, Apple.
  • 1984 - Apple Mac computer released.
  • 2009 - Korea – planned building shaped like half an apple.

Various rites surround apples, including:

  • Wassailing – 1682 wassail bowl which would have contained spicy beer & apples.
  • Apple-bobbing – Daniel Maclise’s painting Snap-Apple Night (1832) shows this activity.
  • Crab apples – references found in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Early Halloween cards sometimes showed apple-bobbing.

Tim outlined a number of examples of apples from the world of work:

  • 1381 – the first English recipe for apple pie was published.
  • The Boar’s Head (mediaeval period) – apple in mouth.
  • 1849 – The Coster Girl Henry Mayhew (1849)
  • Toffee apples invented 1908 by William Kolb.
  • Reg Wear, cider-maker near Bristol -famous during WW2.
  • Cider with Rosie (1959) – Laurie Lee

The part that apples have played in Oxfordshire’s history was outlined:

  • Appleton – part of the manor of Abingdon and a centre for orchards.
  • Ralph Austen – horticulturist and Puritan, published A Treatise on Fruit Trees (1653). He also set up the first cider-making factory in Oxfordshire (17th century)

Wolvercote Community Orchard encourages the growth of local varieties, including:

  • North Aston Nonpareil (1593)
  • Blenheim Orange – most famous Oxfordshire apple.
  • Hanwell Souring (1820) – eclipsed by Bramley
  • Eynsham Dumpling
  • Bampton Fairing
  • Burford Red
  • Deddington Pippin