Wassail Cup © National Trust Images - John Hammond, NT Cotehele
In the seventeenth century, Ralph Austen wrote about the value of orchards and the use of fruit. He references Roman physician Galen to list the apple’s health-giving properties in his book ‘A Treatise of Fruit-trees’.
Ralph Austen - A Treatise of Fruit Trees, 1653
Mendip Morris Wassail © Thatchers Cider and Neil Phillips Photo and Film
At about the same time, the vicar of Dilwyn in Herefordshire reported upon the longevity of his villagers who drank nothing but cider, and a popular story was told of a morris dance performed in Hereford by twelve men with an average age of one hundred years, their long lives attributed to cider drinking.
Wassail © Big Apple Association
Recent medical studies corroborate that as well as nutritional benefits, eating apples may reduce the risk of many health conditions including cancer and lung damage.
An old Welsh proverb acknowledged this.
This was first published in Notes and Queries journal on 24th February 1866, and appears in its current form in 1887 in a speech at the third annual show of the North Wales and Border Counties Pomological Society
Wassailing - © Thatchers Cider and Neil Phillips Photo and Film
This slogan went on to be popularised by apple marketeers in prohibition America.
Green Man © Thatchers Cider and Neil Phillips Photo and Film
In old English winters, wassailers went door-to-door singing, offering a drink from the wassail bowl in exchange for gifts. In counties like Herefordshire and Somerset, where cider orchards abound, merriment focused on drinking to the health of the apple trees in the hope that they would provide a bountiful harvest of health-giving apples.
Jiri Borsky’s Apple Gatherers is part of the Edinburgh Lothian Health Foundation art collection which hangs across all NHS Lothian sites. The work is currently displayed at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital which provides acute psychiatric and mental health services, including support for people with learning disabilities and dementia.
Jiri Borsky was born in the Czech Republic and fled to England in 1968 after the Soviet invasion. His works are in many public collections across the UK.