Stories from the Barn

A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands

The Apple Tree

The apple tree

The Importance of the Apple Tree.

As we creep towards the shorter darker days of the year and the festival of Halloween, it is a good time to reflect upon how our ancestors viewed the switch from light to dark and their interpretation of it through the plants and landscape around them.

Samhain is a Gaelic festival and marks the end of harvest October 31st when the light is ushered out and the dark side of the year begins it’s journey.

The apple tree has a very important place in this tradition of light and dark and is considered by many cultures, both ancient and modern to symbolize the light side of the year from May 2nd to October 31st.

The apple tree is considered the tree of immortality and has been observed and written about since ancient times.

The apple tree

Sweet red desert apples bursting with fruit


Apple fruit and honey.

For our ancestors, sweetness was a thing bringing great expectation and linked to all that is potentially good, yet wanton and seductive. Along with honey the natural sugars of fruits made them an especially pleasurable food and the apple in particular has been associated with sensuality, wisdom, temptation, love and fertility. Across the world stories that connect the idea of mans paradise with fruit and fruit trees appears over and over again in myth and legend. The idea of some sort of a test to eat this seductive and sexually arousing fruit (in their eyes) and you must deal with the calamities of doing so. Greeks Mother Earth or Gaia presented Zeus and his bride Hera on their wedding day with a tree filled with golden apples and so the story of the golden apples infiltrated so many of the tales of ancient Greece, tales of bribery, seduction and ultimate ruin.

The apple tree

The spread of the apple tree.

The apple tree spread around the world as the nomadic hunter gatherers become agriculturalists and settle on fertile lands along the Nile and ever outwards, with different species of trees cross pollinating and expanding the gene pool. Apple orchards become things of great value and revered. In 800BC Homer writes in his Odyssey of his fathers apple orchard.

’12 pear trees bowing with their pendant load and ten, that red with blushing apples glowed’

Before the birth of Christ the Romans brought the apple to all parts of their empire including Britain where before only hard, sour crab apples grew now the land is blessed with several species of desert apple and a goddess to boot, Pomona.

Many treatise on apple cultivation are written including Pliny the Elder, who,  in his Natural History describes 20 varieties of apples.

In 1470AD the Flemish artist Hugo Van Der Goes painted ‘The Fall of Man’, in which he depicts an apple tree in the Garden of Eden. It is quite possible that this idea was collected from other creation stories from Greek times but the Van Der Goes painting set the model and all Garden of Eden paintings after that were not complete without the apple tree. Christians in the Western world then took to the apple and wholly embraced it planting orchards in monasteries and royal court gardens.

Art and the apple tree.

It seems as if every artist has at some time painted or drawn an image of an apple tree or an apple. The Renaissance period saw the apple being used in a symbolic way, the suggestiveness of the apple, its associations with sexuality all made it great subject to add meaning to images. The Victorian painting by Frederick HendrikKaemmerer, of a young woman climbing a ladder supported by her young beau or maybe a servant is full of suggestion and frission. In fact the apple picking paintings are so numerous they deserve their own post. So many favourites that include Claude Monet’s beautiful light filled painting of apple trees in bloom where the boughs of the trees are supported on props and the light literally splashes through the branches to the completely uplifting painting that is Klimts 1912 ‘Apple Tree’. Certainly the subject for much more discussion.

Apple Trees in Bloom by Claude Monet

‘I am the ancient Apple Queen,
As once I was so am I now.
For evermore a hope unseen,
Betwixt the blossom and the bough.
Ah, where’s the river’s hidden Gold!
And where the windy grave of Troy?
Yet come I as I came of old,
From out the heart of summer’s joy.’

William Morris  –  Pomona


The apple tree

Pomona William Morris and Edward Burne Jones

Apples in science as well.

In 1666 Sir Isaac Newton abandoned Cambridge and the plague for Woolsthorpe Manor, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, the house where he was born. Here he pondered on the problems he was grappling with regarding the movement of the Moon around the Earth when he observed an apple falling to the ground and this gave him the idea that gravity must operate over large distances and allowed him to formulate the mathematics showing that the force of gravity decreased as the inverse square of the distance. The famous story was retold by Newton at various times to various people and no doubt was altered and embellished to satisfy the audience but how poignant it is that it is this simple fruit that gave way to such an incredible and important piece of science.

So many apple sayings.

Again it seems as if every age and every culture have littered their language and literature with apple sayings. So here are just a few for fun.

‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’

‘You are the apple of my eye’

‘Apples be good for a hot stomach’

‘It only takes one rotten apple to spoil the barrel’

And if you can spare a thought for next years apple harvest then visit an orchard and raise a cup of hot mulled cider, join in with the incantations and pour a little of the cider onto the ground around the apple trees to encourage a bountiful harvest in the coming year.