What came first, the noun or the verb? In the west of England, where apple groves abound and scrumpy is the `real’ cider (forget that pathetic brew they sell in the shops) the locals will tell you that `scrumping’ means stealing apples – this rough brew was the result of orchard raids.
The making of scrumpy is nothing to take lightly – it is a calling, and it even has its own language. For example, the mill that grinds the fruit is called a scratter – today scrumpy makers use electric scratters of course, but once it would have been operated by hand, or a simple stone grinding tool, similar to the action of a mortar and pestle.
The ground fruit makes a `pomace’ or pulp, which is formed into cakes and put into a cider press, separated by layers of horsehair or straw (today they use fine mesh). The cakes are pressed and the juice collected and poured into casks. Nothing is wasted – the animals get the dried pressed cake as winter feed when all the juice has been collected.
The juice is left to ferment its natural juices into scrumpy for several weeks. This is real cider – it is made of one hundred per cent apples, gathered, crushed, squeezed and fermented where the apples grow.
Apples are of course the perfect fruit – a portable meal that is both refreshing and filling. Apples can be stored a long time, and gypsies love them, because they remain edible even when they start to dry and wrinkle. As the old country folk say, ``an apple a day keeps the doctor away and a glass of scrumpy will cheer him up if you do have to call him out on a cold and rainy night”.
The apple is a tempting fruit, begging to be eaten as it hangs low on the bough – perhaps this is why it came to be associated with the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. In the Garden of the Hesperides, apples grew on the Tree of Life. Paris won Helen of Troy (and started a war) when he presented a golden apple to Aphrodite. Snow White is the victim of a poisoned apple given to her by her stepmother.
Steeped in legend, the apple is the fruit of romance, temptation, love and sin. No wonder apples can make a drink as potent as scrumpy.
Traditionally, red delicious and even crabapples are used to make cider, although other varieties can be used. Pears can be crushed and squeezed in the same way, making a drink called perry. No wonder the tribe is happy to be back.
(image from Free Stock Photos)