Apple Day at Borough Market

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This Sunday was Apple Day at Borough Market. Those who know in "real life" know that I grew up on a farm that is well-known for its apple orchard, and I spent a lot of time picking and selling apples at the farm market and farmers' markets around the area when I was younger. When I heard about this, I decided to pop up to London to Borough Market to see it. 

Apple Day apples - with juice and pears

Apple Day is celebrated in England in October, and the first Apple Day was held in 1990 in Covent Garden. Apple Day celebrates the apples and those that grow and harvest them. The day is celebrated in various locations in the UK, and a typical day may involve apple-related games, cooking demonstrations, apple varieties, apple juice and (alcoholic) cider.

Apple Day

Apple Day at Borough Market promised a service from Southwark Cathedral choir, Morris dancing, The Lions Part theatre group performance, apple-peeling competition, apple tasting of different varieties, apple demonstration and pressing, and the execution of John Barleycorn (a symbol of the harvest).

Apple variety tea towel

Many old traditions surround the apple. For example, the "apple wassail" was recorded as taking place in southern England. The "apple wassail" was a form of blessing for the trees for a good apple crop in the next year, and it was held on the Twelfth Night (twelve days after Christmas and the end of the Christmas festivities). Men would go out and howl (wassail) amongst the apple trees and tie bread to the trunk and branches of the apple trees and pour cider underneath the tree. In Somerset, they celebrated the "Apple Tree Man", which is the name given to the spirit of the oldest tree in the orchard. (For more information about the "apple wassail", see

Borough Market bell

I arrived before noon on the Sunday. Borough Market is not usually open on Sundays, but it was in order to celebrate Apple Day. However, not all of the vendors were open for business, and it was already busy. I noticed that many tourists were wandering around, and a lot of families were visiting the market. I watched a man ring the bell, signaling the start of the trading.


In addition to apples and the normal fruit and vegetables, Borough Market's fruit and vegetable vendors were selling pumpkins and large squash.


Apples were decorating the stalls of some of the vendors as well, such as a cheese vendor and a chocolate vendor.


Halloween-themed snacks also seemed to be popular. Cinnamon Tree Bakery was selling cinnamon and sugar biscuits and skull-shaped shortbread. Soul cakes (a cake made with spices and dried fruit) were meant to be on sale, but I did not see any. Their tradition goes back to Halloween.

Cider and mulled apple juice

Of course, hot mulled apple cider and ice cold apple cider was for sale. For those who do not enjoy the alcoholic variety, mulled apple juice was also for sale. I had this, and it hit the spot on a chilly day in late October.

Southwark Cathedral service

An area of Borough Market was sectioned off, and Southwark Cathedral had their service for Apple Day at the market. There was singing and gifts for the church and a service, but I could not really hear much of it. The area sectioned off was right underneath the railway bridge with trains crossing on the metal bridge over our heads every couple of minutes.

A bell-ringer rings a bell and the procession follows behind

After the service, I went to explore the market, and I caught the procession of the Corn Queen and Berry Man (who goes by many names, including John Barleycorn or the Green Man) and many others through Borough Market. John Barleycorn represents the personified grain harvest and output of the crops (bread, alcohol, etc). The story and character probably comes from pagan beliefs about the harvest, which were then taken into Christianity to help the conversion of pagans. In the folk song, John Barleycorn is executed (plouged and harvested) so that bread and alcohol can be made from him for people to live, and this has similarities with Christain beliefs. (More about John Barleycorn can be read here:

John Barleycorn

Other figures share the stage with John Barleycorn and the Corn Queen. During the parade, corn dollies were also present and paraded through the market. These represent the spirit of corn, who lived in the fields until the harvest. These corn dollies were idols created to give the spirit a home until the spring. The person who cut the last of the crop would bring it home, drench it in water, and the oldest married woman would turn it into a shape of a woman.  In some places, the idol was dressed in a woman's clothes and called the "Corn Mother" or "Old Woman". The best parts of the grain are turned into a wreath and worn on the head of the prettiest girl, and the corn dolly is the centre of the festivities. (More about corn dollies can be read here:

Corn Queen

John Barleycorn and others, including Pomona (goddess of fruit trees)

Music accompanied the procession and after the talk at the stage area; I was unable to hear what was being said as the trains were traveling overhead. 


John Barleycorn was happy to have his photograph taken with many guests as he wandered around the market.

John Barleycorn

After the procession, the morris dancers started to dance in the market. There was a large crowd to watch them. Morris dancing is a traditional style of folk dancing in England. It involves bells and hankerchiefs and ribbons. One of the dancers was dressed as a dog or a dog-like creature. I do not know the significance of this.

Morris dancing

Another glimpse of John Barleycorn walking through the crowds

I decided to stay for the play, "The Musicians of Bremen", which is based on stories in the Canterbury Tales. While I waited for this to begin, I watched one of the actors playing conkers with children and teaching them how to play the game. I do not understand the game myself, but it's basically an English game involving the conker. (In America, we call this nut the buckeye.) The conker is tied on a string, and the objective is to knock the opponent's conker off the string.


I saw a couple of the actors posing for photographs near the Corn Queen, but I am not sure who they represented. The woman is wearing antlers.


The play, "The Musicians of Bremen", was performed by the theatre group, The Lions Part. This included the tortoise and hare and fox and hare with singing animals that begin a journey away from their farmer's land.

The Musicians of Bremen

This was really for children, and one really had to be up at the front of the stage to hear as the trains overhead were noisey. This was fun, but I left in the tortoise and hare, and I think there was half an hour left to go. (I stayed for the first half of an hour, but my feet were tired and there weren't any seats.)

"The Musicians of Bremen"

The most interesting part of the day for me was trying the different varities of apple on display. Many of these are extremely old and early apples. The seeds have been kept by Brogdale Horticulture Trust to conserve the different varities. They have 2300 apple types and 50 acres of orchards in Kent, England. There were several different varieites to try, but I was disappointed that the oldest known apple (originally brought from Rome) was not amongst them as I was led to believe from the Borough Market website, and they did not really have as large as a selection either.

Apple tasting

At the bottom of this post is a list of most of the apples on display for tasting. The oldest apples were much smaller than the apples of today, and some of the apples did not have much taste. Many of the apples had softer flesh and were not as crisp. (I like a crisp apple and generally I dislike soft fruits such as plums and pears.) The performers were cutting and handing out the slices and admited that they did not know much about the apples. This would have been better if they did know about the apples or if a farmer was present to discuss them.

Information sheets were located around the bags of apples, so I photographed as many as I could, and this is how I correlated the list of varities at the bottom of this post. 

Apple pressing

After the apple tasting, I watched apple pressing and took some more photographs of apples. The apple pressing was held at a stall that was selling London apple juice. This is a part of the London Orchard Project, which was set up in 2008 to help city people understand and sustain apples and learn how to make juice. It is a community orchard.

Toffee apple

I bought some apple juice and a candy (toffee) apple. The toffee apple tasted spicy. I said my "goodbyes" to Borough Market!

Borough Market

Have you been to Apple Day? Most of the varities available for the tasting are included below.

Api Noir: A 1700s French apple, similar to the "Api" that was found in the Forest of Api of Brittany in 1628. The fruit is very small (a little larger than a crabapple) and dark red in colour. It was popular for wiring into evergreens to make garlands and for floating onto Wassail cups. 

Hounslow Wonder: This apple variety was grown in Hounslow in 1910 and won an award of merit. It is a crisp apple with acid flavour.

Howgate Wonder. A  large cooking apple. 1915, Isle of Wight (England). Has a sweet taste but loses the taste when cooked. Keeps it shape well when cooked.

John Waterer: This variety was introduced in 1920 from Twyford, Berkshire. It cooks to a lemon-coloured froth. It is very tart in September but loses the acidity and froth as it ages.

Saint Edmund's Pippin (or Russet): Suffolk (England), 1875. Sweet, juicy, with dense texture. When it is very ripe, it tastes like "pear vanilla ice cream". The apple is yellow and brown in colour.

Striped Beefing: Norwich (England), 1794. Coarse-textured and juicy. This is described as a cooking apple.

Barchard's Seedling: Putney, London. 1856. Fruit is sweet and crisp.

Mobb's Royal: Australia, 1865. Described as a mid-late season cooking apple. It is pale green with very white flesh. Resistant to disease and keeps well.

Curltail: Surry, England, 1872. A cooking apple. Tender and sweet flesh. Named after the shape, which is enlarged at the stalk and curls around.

Greasy Pippin: An Irish apple, founded in 1951. Greasy fruit, but it is described as firm, sweet and juicy. It is green in colour.

Biggs' Nonsuch: Twickenham, England. Yellow, tender, and juicy flesh.

Shoreditch White: Somerset, England, 1884. Described as having a tender, yellowish flesh.

Knobby Russet: Sussex, England, 1820. Firm and dry with a strong flavour.

Tom Putt: Somerset, England, late 1700s. Crisp and juicy and is meant to cook well. Widely-used in the west coutnry and midlands for cider.

Golden Spire: A yellow-green apple from Lancashire, England in 1850. It is described as a crisp apple.

Queen Caroline: Leicestershire, England, 1820. Described as having a firm but loose-textured flesh. They have a yellow colour. It is a cooking apple used in October and November. Cooks to a creamy puree. (Named after queening or quoining, which is a term used for angular-shaped apples.)

Lynn's Pippin: Cambridge, England, 1942. It's a cross between Cox's Orange Pippin and Ellison's Orange variety. It is described as sweet, soft, and juicy but disappointing. Whatever that means.

Castle Major: A cooking apple for use in October and November. It has deep yellow skin with a reddish glow on the sunny side.

Bloody Ploughman: Gowrie, Scotland, 1883. Crisp and tender flesh and grows well in cold spots.  Large, red eating apple but is also good for applesauce. Mid-September. When ripe, it can darken to a deep purple colour and stores for three months.

London Pearmain: 1842. Crisp.

Chad's Favoruite: London, 1952. A large apple with an intense flavour.

Downton Pippin: hereford, England, 1861.

Marriage Maker: England, 1883. Creamy flesh.

Sops in Wine: Southwest England, 1832. A beautiful apple on a purple-red tree with red-purple blooms. The apple is red, and the flesh inside is red in colour. Used for eating and cooking. 

Brownlea's Russet: Hemel Hempstead, 1848.

Pitmaston Pineapple: Worcester (England), 1785. A dessert apple with a sugary flavour. 

Morris' Russet: Described as a sweet, medium-sized apple.

Mabutt's Pearmain: Kent, England in 19th century. A tender, juicy and freckled apple with a lot of flavour and is used up until Christmas.

Cellini: London, 1828. This was a popular London apple.

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