Skull Gang Foraging Club: Wassailing?
I have always been interested in mythology and folk traditions.
Here is what I know about them:
- There was a senior at my school who claimed to be a pagan. He had long curly hair, and wore trousers a lot. He had diabetes. He used to boot speed instead of checking his blood sugar.
- I read some books about Norse mythology once. Loki was rad. Then I found out Vince Vaughn played him in a movie. An ex-girlfriend had this weird sexual fantasy about Vince Vaughn. Now Loki creeps me out a bit.
- My Granddad is a bit mental. He left when my mum was a kid to follow the natural earth energy lines, and investigate crop circles. He ended up in Glastonbury. It’s the Isle of Avalon. His friends are druids, and on pagan celebration days they dance around trees naked. They have been banned from every coffee shop in town.
Wassailing seemed like a good opportunity to find out more.
Wassailing is an ancient tradition in the southern cider producing counties. It involves mulled cider, fire (pagans love to burn shit), and heaps of noise to wake the tree spirits. This all helps to ensure a bumper crop of cider apples for the coming season.
Also, I know this column is meant to be about foraging. It was free entry, and I stole some apples. So fuck off.
I was worried that, due to the traditional nature of the thing, maybe the drinking would be subdued, at least until we had woken some fairies. I had filled a flask with port to be safe. I shouldn’t have bothered.
There is something special about cider drinkers. They look different. They talk and dress different. They still dig sideburns. They are all huge, or tiny. They are almost an exact mixture of Hagrid and that Cornish dude from Time Team. In fact, the best thing about cider is probably the people who drink it. And when they are gathered in a sweaty, wild-eyed mass of feathered caps, red hair and mumbling, around yet more cider-people wearing top hats decorated with skulls, horns and fairy lights, their faces painted black as they bang on drums and howl, it’s enough to bring us ordinary folk to our knees.
There was a barn full of rotten apple juice to fuel this frenzy.
The king cider-man, incense burning in his hat alongside the horns of dead baby deer and pictures of the Beatles, held his soot-stained hands high and the throng grew quiet. His wife/consort/hell wench held a flaming brand by his side. The flames threw more shadow than light, but his eyes shone with crazy.
We all followed him.
The trees glowed red, the thin finger-like branches dancing in the firelight. The drums were slow and muted, and the cider-people gathered around the blaze clutching mugs of steaming cider and chunks of cake. The bonfire climbed high into the sky, the crackle blending with the slow thud of drums. The cake was for the trees, after it had been soaked in the warm cider. This was supposed to bring them out of their winter slumber. It seemed a bit early, but I guess the pagans knew their shit.
They threw fireworks on the fire, everyone made some noise, and it was done. The trees were awake.
Now it was time to make a dent in the cider barn.
I’m not going to lie. I can’t remember much of the rest of the night. There was a hog roast. I’m pretty sure there were barn dances. I assume they were amazing. They definitely had mead, and for a while I was talking cider-speak.
There is nothing quite like a cider hangover.
Oh, I stole a bunch of apples. Skull Gang Foraging Club strikes again. Granny Bean used to put them in her knickers. I just put them in a bag.
I made some apple sauce. It was super easy. This is how:
Fill a medium size pan with peeled, cored and quartered apples.
Add 4 strips of lemon peel
Juice of 1 lemon
Quarter to half of a cinnamon stick
¼ cup of dark brown sugar
1 cup of water
Pinch of salt
Bring it all to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for half an hour.
Remove cinnamon and lemon peel/seeds. Add extra sugar if you’re into that.
Simmer further 5-10 minutes.
Put in sterilised jars.
Eat with dead pig.