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Open Features: English Apples - Just What The Doctor Ordered!

Jupiter and Joybells, Jester and Jolly….

The names of fine old English apples. And no better place to see and sample them, along with a host of other varieties, than at the annual Apple Day in the city of Ely, as Mary Basham reveals in this tasty column.

Ely, an ancient island of high ground in a former watery wasteland, has just held its annual Apple Day and nothing could have been more English. Watched over by the City’s soaring Norman Cathedral, known locally as the ‘Battleship of the Fens’, brightly decorated stalls sprawled out over the Green, rather like a collection of sunbathing ladies in billowing summer frocks.

The scene certainly had as much appeal as any French market. Each stall offered something connected with apples, from demonstrating how adaptable the apple is in art for art’s sake, to an array of jams, jellies and other preserves for adding that touch of exquisite tartness to any culinary creation. The best bit was, you got to taste a good many!

But by far the most impressive display centred on trays and trays of different kinds of apple, some with origins dating back to Elizabethan times. So many varieties were on display in fact that it would be impossible to sample every type, even if you ate one a day between now and Christmas. There were the most commonly known ones like Russet, Cox’s, Gala and Bramley, but alongside came varieties that spanned the alphabet, from the charmingly titled Annie Elizabeth to the more robust sounding, Winston. In between was a riot of names, for example in the ‘J’s were Jupiter and Joybells, Jester and Jolly Beggar, while further on, Tun, Tom Putt and Ten Commandments helped to add their heavyweight presence to the tail-enders, perhaps the latter including ‘eat an apple a day to keep the doctor at bay’. What fun, what flavour…why would anyone want to buy those sawdust fruits flown in from the other side of the world when we have so much quality on our own doorstep?

The bee man had his place on the Green too. After all, there would be no apples without the humble bee to pollinate the blossom in the spring. Small children stood fascinated at his stall watching the glass fronted hive as the layers of bees built up the honeycomb. Nature stocking up her larder in readiness for the coming winter could have had no better example of industry and stockpiling.

But of course no such event with a true country core could be complete without the Morris Men, or more accurately, Morris Dancers, for on this occasion they were women. Each dancer draped with traditional bells and country regalia, a jolly group of mostly middle-aged ladies out to enjoy themselves and provide wholesome entertainment at the same time. Now it’s a well-known fact that we all tend to cling to the trends of our youth and there was more than a little of the 1970s about the dancers. Not so much Boho as Flower Power, with the odd streak of rebellious mauve in the hair for good measure. As for their accompaniment, what a wonderful collection of musicians who obviously play for the love of it. Nothing fancy, just country tunes that got everyone’s feet tapping, dancers and spectators alike.

Using the old adage, ‘way back in the mists of time’, when I was still a schoolgirl and easily embarrassed, I had to take the platform at Speech Day and read John Keats famous poem, ‘Autumn’. I remember looking out into the school hall at a sea of faces and going through the motion of saying the words without a thought to their meaning. I couldn’t wait to get it over with and get off the stage. Now those words have real emotion, a power to bring tears to my eyes as Keats words translate into pictures. The scene on Ely Cathedral Green was made to encompass it all; “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, close bosom friend of the maturing sun………..To bend with apples the moss’d cottage trees, and fill all fruit with ripeness to the core.”

Now for my daily apple…


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