Sunday, 17 January 2016
We are rather delighted that loads of people are joining in with our passion and taking part in #thenaturetable on their own blogs, twitter and Instagram by sharing pictures of their nature tables.
This week we have explored a local orchard as it's the week of our village wassail which traditionally took place on old twelfth night (a little later in January than the date on which we mark twelfth night nowadays).
In the orchard the hedgerow had old mans' beard or wild clematis woven through it that catches the low winter light, there were also rosehips not yet eaten by the birds. An old medlar tree still stands proud, its fruit less fashionable nowadays and sadly not picked for jams and jellies, instead left on the branches and scattered under the tree. It has a lovely flavour but needs to be bletted before use and picked after the first frost, it's also known as the 'cat's arse' fruit as that's what it resembles!
Finally a sprig of mistletoe, a lover of old orchard trees on which it is a parasite, it is common around here in the Cotswolds' but scarce in other parts of the country. Birds love it and eat the plump berries spreading the plant around in their droppings which contain its seed.
In Gloucestershire traditional orchards have declined by 67%* which is a significant loss for the species that live in them things like mistletoe, stag beetles and woodpeckers, and this week at our wassail we'll be walking to the orchard to bless the trees by banging saucepan lids and blowing horns to scare off evil spirits. We'll then hang toast on the branches of the biggest tree (the King tree) for the robin, the guardian of the orchard as this is where the tradition of toasting ones health comes from!
Finally we'll sprinkle the tree with cider and pass around the wassail cup to drink and toast to the health of the orchard and recite local wassail rhymes. Years ago villagers would blacken their faces too so that the village squire wouldn't recognise them as it was quite a bawdy affair, drinking and firing guns into the air. Nowadays it's lovely to both take part in a tradition but appreciate too the beauty of the orchard and the wildlife found in them.
*Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust State of the Natural Environment Report 2011