You would think that apples and cider are quintessentially British…. ‘The Ribbston Pippin’, ‘The Flower of Kent’, ‘The Knobby Russet’, – all evocative of long hot summers of the past. In my mind, sturdy peasants would have cooled off under orchard trees after a hard day’s work with a flagon of strong English cider and indeed, they did do that for centuries. However, it’s been an absolute pleasure to take away a more international story about apples after this joint commission from the National Trust, the Cider Museum in Hereford and the Brightspace Foundation – ‘The Apple World’, a map of the history of the apple and how science, culture, colonisation, travel and trade are inextricably linked with it.
The first wild apple forests were actually found high in the Tian Shan mountains, sometimes known as the Heavenly Mountains, of Kazakhstan. Weary travellers took those apples for food and to trade along the Silk Routes as far as the Middle East and Europe. Here, ancient Sumerians, Romans, Greeks and Persians began to cultivate them – building orchards, tending saplings and spreading the practice of grafting.
The ages of European colonisation and exploration took the apple further – to the African, Australian and American continents. Russia, China and Japan developed their own apple varieties; the ‘Antonovka’ apple, much beloved of dacha owners in Russia and the ‘Fuji’, developed by Japanese high-tech lab-horticulturalists in the 1930s for example… As the world industrialised and travel became easier, different apple varieties were spread around the world and trading apples became big business. Now, many of these countries export globally, some to their original colonisers.
The age of enlightenment, centuries before, had brought the study of apples – pomology – into focus and seeded the industrialisation of orchards and cider making that we see today. Eventually the apple genome was sequenced in 2010 by an Italian-led team.
For centuries, apples have also been culturally significant worldwide. They grow on the Isle of Avalon and in the Gardens of Eden and the Hesperides. They are picked and stolen in the Norselands of the Viking gods and are poisoned and eaten in the Middle Europe of ‘Snow White.’ Even now we still call New York, ‘The Big Apple’ and I’m writing this post on my Apple ipad, courtesy of one of the most successful technology companies for decades.
And so I picked all these fruits of knowledge and laid their stories out on a world map annotated with illustration and tales. .
Many varieties of apples fill the border – there are cookers and eaters, cider apples and the small wild ones.
The show will eventually be shared between three National Trust properties and The Cider Museum in Hereford with displays of historical artefacts, paintings and contemporary pieces specially commissioned. The curator, Antonia Harrison, believes it’s the first time an exhibition of the history of the apple has ever been held.
My map will be key in terms of the online presence and also be used as part of the physical exhibition, logo and signage. It might even make it onto some apple-themed merchandise. Personally, I’m secretly hoping for some custom-made cider with fancy map labels. Of course, the first ciders probably came from the Mediterranean and Middle East as I now know, but not much can beat a pint of cold cloudy English cider – a fitting reward for my long days of work through this hot and difficult summer.
You can follow the Apple World and the ‘art, science and history of humanity’s fruit’ on social media with the hashtag, #peopleholdingapples.