Apple Day

October 21st

by Christine Sine

by Carol Dixon

An apple a day . . . . . . keeps the doctor away is a common saying that comes from an old English adage, ‘to eat an apple before going to bed, will make the doctor beg his bread’. 

The apple dates from Biblical times and, depending on the Bible translation, it is referred to several times. It is often thought to have been the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve picked from the Tree of Life, although most Biblical scholars will tell you that the fig is a more likely candidate, especially as they covered their nakedness with fig leaves. According to ‘There is currently no clear evidence that apples grew in Israel in ancient times (possibly due to the heat). But they were certainly not unknown in Israel, and the land does have cooler hill country. They grew north of Israel in Lebanon and the ancient Romans cultivated apple trees extensively. It is also possible that climatic conditions may have been more favourable in ancient times in Israel. Today, more than 40 types of fruit are commercially grown there in the northern hills of Israel and in Gaza. The apple is thought to have been domesticated 4,000–10,000 years ago in the Tian Shan mountains between western China, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It then travelled along the Silk Road to Europe, with hybridization and the transfer of generic material between species of wild crab apple from Siberia, the Caucasus and Europe. The earliest known named English apple variety is the pearmain which was first mentioned in 1204, having been introduced into Britain by the Normans. 

In 1990, Common Ground, a Dorset charity, decided it was time to boost the social standing of the humble British apple by giving it a special celebration day, aptly called ‘Apple Day’ to be held on 21 October each year.  Apple Day was intended to raise the awareness of the danger of not only losing the traditional British apple but to also highlight the richness and diversity of our landscape, ecology, and culture. It has, says Common Ground, also played a part in raising awareness in the provenance and traceability of food. 

Common Ground describes themselves as ‘a small, grass roots organisation that collaborate openly to reconnect people with nature and inspire communities to become responsible for their local environment.’ They believe that enjoying where you live and celebrating the connections people have with the wildlife and landscape on their doorstep, is at the root of meaningful conservation. 

Raising awareness of the British apple is an excellent example of their ambitions. Did you know, for example, there are about 2,500 varieties of apples in the UK alone — worldwide the number is about 7,000. It has been calculated that you could eat a different variety of English apple every day for six years, so why not start by trying some different varieties on Apple Day this month. 

The success of Apple Day has shown what the apple means to us and how much we need local celebrations in which, year after year, everyone can be involved. In city, town and country, Apple Day events have fostered local pride, celebrated and deepened interest in local distinctiveness. We would still like Apple Day to become the autumn holiday in Britain. Apple Day is now an integral part of the calendar of many villages, local authorities and city markets. It is a focus for activities organised by the Women’s Institute, National Trust properties, Wildlife Trusts, museums and galleries, horticultural societies, shops and restaurants as well as for schools, colleges and environmental study centres. The first Apple Day celebrations, in the old Apple Market in London’s Covent Garden, brought fruit to the market after 16 years’ absence. Forty stalls were taken. Fruit growers and nurseries producing and selling a wide variety of apples and trees rubbed shoulders with juice-and cider-makers, as well as writers and illustrators with their apple books.

We will never know just how many people came to that first celebration – it was certainly thousands and even now we meet people who effuse about it as a memorable event. Many wanted it to be repeated, but our intention was to spread the idea far and wide, encouraging people to celebrate Apple Day for themselves in their own city, village, parish, allotment or garden orchard.

And so the tradition of Apple Day began. Over the next few years, the number of events being organised around the country grew from more than 60 in 1991 to 300 by 1997 and over 600 in 1999, some attracting thousands of people. Apple Day has played a part in raising awareness not only of the importance of orchards to our landscape and culture, but also in the provenance and traceability of food. It has been one impetus behind the developing network of farmers’ markets and is helping people everywhere to discover they are not alone in valuing the links between food and the land, between natural resource use and the impact we have on nature.

We have used the apple as a symbol of what is being lost in many aspects of our lives and shown that anyone can take positive action towards change. Over the years, Apple Day has been celebrated in a wonderful variety of ways by a diverse range of people. Doctors’ surgeries, coronary support groups, and the Cancer Research Campaign have taken Apple Day as a novel way of encouraging healthy eating. Each year, alongside tasting, juicing, baking, pruning and grafting, an imaginative array of games and creative activities have flourished – ranging from simple apple printing to mummers’ apple plays, new songs and poetry evenings. But invariably, year after year, the most popular event is the display, tasting and buying of numerous varieties of apples and the presence of an expert to aid identification.

The 18th century English mystical poem ‘Jesus Christ the apple tree’ by an unknown writer uses the analogy of Jesus as the tree of life that is even more wonderful than the wonder of apple trees.

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit, and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree

I’m weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree

Based on an article in St James’s URC, Alnwick church magazine (used with permission)
To learn more about Common Ground see    

Leave a Comment