Here's to thee: wassailing the microbial ecology of cider-making

Currently in production

August 2019 - January 2020

  • Workshops: Nov 3rd & 17th 2019
  • Wassail: 18th Jan 2020
Header image: Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells, Methylene blue stain, magnification 400 x [source: wikimedia commons]


"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?

Orchards at North Halstow. Photo: Alex Murdin

In this project, a multi-disciplinary group of participants take part in making a batch of traditionally-fermented cider at Halstow in Devon, England. They will tend to the orchards, pick and press the apples. Their conversations lend to the writing of a new wassail song, which is sung, not only to the apple trees, but to all those things that constitute the microbial ecology of cider-making. This song will be presented to a wider public at a wassail at Halstow in January 2020.

Barn at Grays Farm Cider. Photo: Alex Murdin

This project will bring 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 wassail bowl – a vessel for communal drinking – will be produced, in collaboration with ceramic artist Abigail North and in consultation with artist & curator Kaye Winwood, and with the support of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, Devon.

A new body of photographic work, documenting the project. will be 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 and Arts Council England.

Meeting of participants at Halstow, April 2018. Photo: Alex Murdin


Thanks to all who took part in the first workshop – apples, microbes, and all.

Photo courtesy of : Ellie @ Halstow