Monday, 1 August 2016

August: Royal Wilding to Redstreak, and Somerset harvests


The Haymakers (La Recolte du Foins)  Julien Dupre  1881

"Back in 1851, the census listed more than seventy farms in the parish, most of them less than fifty acres in area.  These were, as you might expect from this lush, wet area, mainly dairy farms producing milk, butter and cheese; although sheep, pigs and poultry were also kept in good numbers.  These animals - and the meat they produced -  were fuelled by the main crop of the parish: hay.  Even in the 1950s haymaking was still a common sight, and one villager recalls that any ricks left untouched the following spring  would be colonised by nesting birds.  Today, it's almost all silage.

The other major crop was, of course, apples; still used to make Somerset's traditional drink, cider.  Cider-making dates back at least to the thirteenth century (and probably far longer).  The boom time for planting orchards was the second half of the seventeenth century and the early years of the eighteenth. In those days, cider was mainly for drinking at home rather than for commercial sale, using long-forgotten varieties of apple with wonderfully evocative names:  Royal Wilding, Flood-Hatch, Woodcock, Red-Hedge Pip, Old Jeffrey and Redstreak.  Odd clumps of cider-apple trees still grow in gardens all over the parish, including my own.  Their fruit is pale, bitter and, unfortunately, completely inedible."

Wild Hares and Hummingbirds  Stephen Moss

And here are some rather more genteel Haymakers by George Stubbs (1785)  on view at Tate Britain.

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