HERE'S TO THEE: WASSAILING THE MICROBIAL ECOLOGY OF CIDER-MAKING
"Here's to thee Old Apple Tree," you declaim to the apple tree, every year on Old Twelfth Night, as part of a traditional wassail celebration.
But who or what else takes part in bringing us our cider each year? What of all those things that go unnoticed but whose effects are felt nonetheless? What of the yeasts, living "wild" on the apple skins, that we co-opt into the fermentation process? And what, indeed, of the other microbes that make their home on the cider-press and on the walls of the barn? And the rules and regulations of food production that also shape the cider that we drink? What of the microbiomes of the people that pick and prune, press and drink the "scrumpy" each year? How do all these participants relate to each other? What kinds of dependencies do they form? What kind of cooperations or antagonisms? What kinds of collective action? And what kinds of politics do they negotiate among themselves?
In this project, a multi-disciplinary group of participants took part in making a batch of traditionally-fermented cider at Halstow in Devon, England. As they picked and pressed the apples, their conversations led to the writing of The Halstow Wassail, a new wassail song which was sung, not only to the apple trees, but to all those things that constitute the microbial ecology of cider-making. This song was presented to a wider public at a wassail at Halstow in January 2020, who joined in a genuine, heart-felt celebration of microbial life – "the Great Good Unseen" that Jim Causley sings of.
This project brings together renowned singer-songwriter Jim Causley, and Dartmoor folksinger Bill Murray – a reprise of the collaboration that produced the song Pride of the Moor in 2014 – part of my project A Song, A Dance, and a New Stannary Parliament.
A new body of photographic work, documenting the project, in the context of the life of the farm, is being produced by Rob Darch.
This project is a partnership with Ben and Ruth Gray of Grays Farm Cider at Halstow, Dr. Sue Ruddick at the University of Toronto, and funding support of Social Science & Humanities Research Council in Canada, Arts Council England, and Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter.
THE HALSTOW WASSAIL
Guests gathered for our first wassail for the microbial ecology of cider-making at Gray's Farm Cider on 18th January 2020. The new song was presented by Jim Causley, accompanied by Bill Murray and the shanty singers Mariners Away.
Listen to audio-recordings of the Halstow Wassail here:
MORE PHOTOS OF THE HALSTOW WASSAIL
Photographer Rob Darch is producing a larger body of work at the farm (to be published at a later date) and also took these incidental photos at the wassail to help us record the proceedings.
SONG LYRICS & INCANTATION
These are the lyrics of the new song, written by Jim Causley; Incantation written by Simon Pope.
Thanks to all who took part in the workshops – apples, microbes, and all.
The Wassail Bowl
Cermamic artist Abigail North made a large wassail bowl for communal drinking, using clay from Halstow's oldest orchard (c. 1795). These images show the results of experiments with differing levels of porosity and texture, with the aim to encourage microbial life to inhabit the bowl's surface.
We drank from a shallow unglazed bisque-fired bowl during our song-writing session at Greenaways.
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