During the 1800’s, apples represented the Island’s largest export with up to a quarter of agricultural land in the Island given over to orchards.
As cider started to wane in popularity and other beverages became available, the amount of apples grown dropped. However, recent years have seen somewhat of a resurgence in demand for local cider as well the traditional Jersey preserve Black Butter. Apples are also being used for new products including apple brandy and schnapps.
The name, Black Butter, is somewhat misleading as this delicacy has no connection with the Island’s famous breed of cows. Its ingredients, apart from apples and cider, are principally sugar, lemons and spices including liquorice and cinnamon. It is delicious spread on toast, paired with meats, added to dishes such as curry and also a tasty ingredient in desserts such as ice cream, biscuits and confectionary such as fudge and chocolate.
In present times, Black Butter is made commercially by Jersey’s La Mare estate and at communal gatherings. These take advantage of voluntary help as a vital part of preparation is non-stop stirring with a long handled wooden utensil called a rabot to prevent the Black Butter sticking to the sides of the large cauldron, known as a bâchin, while the mixture simmers for 24 hours.
One of these annual gatherings is organised by the National Trust for Jersey at its headquarters at The Elms with the event including music and entertainment. Islanders of all ages come together to help including peeling apples harvested from the Trust orchard and other locations. The meeting place is appropriately a cider making barn which is still complete with its old wooden press and its circular apple crusher which would have had its large granite wheel pulled by a horse. Part of the decor for the last few years, has been a stunning and very colourful display of locally grown produce provided by the Jersey Association of the National Vegetable Society.
Another apple tradition celebrated in Jersey is wassailing. This takes place in January with Morris dancers touring orchards to encourage a healthy harvest. The ritual, which goes back to Pagan times, sees everyone making a circle around a selected tree and making as much noise as possible to ward off evil spirits and waken the trees. This cacophony of sound is achieved by beating metal objects with sticks as well as music from a tin whistle, drums and horns. Cider is then poured over the roots of the tree and toast soaked in cider is placed in the branches as a gift to robins which are reputedly the good spirits of apple trees.
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