Bird, Book & Bone
animism, ecstasy, knowledge, chaos

3 February 2012 @ 9pm

food, landwights, pagan blog project

A is for APPLE

I admit I’ve been dragging my heels on writing this entry. I was going to write about aggression but this post said most of what I was going to inarticulately complain about and I also realized that ‘Does heathenry overemphasize or overvalue aggression?’ is a good contender for the list I have been slowly collating in a text file labelled heathen topics i am fucking bored of hearing about. I’m sure I started the list with the noble intention of some Huginn editorial or something, but in lieu of a lengthy rant about aggression and Vikings (and in light of the general inadvisability of such an editorial), have the rest of the list as it currently stands:

  • Ragnarok
  • pretty much all Jotnar/Aesir conflict
  • is Loki EVIL???? see also: did Loki deserve it, is Sigyn a battered wife, is Loki a fire god, is Loki a euhemerized Satan
  • do the Aesir totes suck or what??
  • do the Jotnar totes suck or what??
  • godspouses, do they exist
  • should we interact with Fenris?? see also: should we worship Surt, immanentizing the eschaton
  • did paleo-heathens/pagans “bow down” to their gods??
  • Loki’s a troll vs. Loki always tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help Him gods
  • Loki’s influence = wackiness
  • is Frey a gay god??
  • and now, does heathenry value aggression too much?

Anyway: I scrapped it in favor of APPLE, which I think we can all agree is a lot better.

Apple’s one of the most interesting and important wights in Europe, especially in the north, and not just as a food product (though apples and pears are among the earliest cultivated fruits in Britain). They’ve always been a symbol of immortality, the Sidhe or Alfar, liminality, travel over water and magical islands. Apple’s got its roots in everything from Emain Ablach and Avalon to the Elysian Fields and Avernus. There’s even a saint whose story reminds me of Gullveig. And I love apple variety names.

But I hadn’t given much specific thought to apple as a wight before I started preparing to cut my runes several years ago. It’s traditional to cut them from a virgin fruiting tree and I had the feeling I needed applewood but I couldn’t manage to put my hands on any. I ended up cutting my set from storm-felled maplewood I scavenged from the local cemetery, but the set didn’t feel right and it wasn’t until I moved to Ireland that I actually got the applewood I needed. A friend of mine brought back several pieces of applewood from an old apple tree that blew over in a storm, plus the last apple from the tree. The fruit was green and still fairly sour, but the wood feels right. He definitely overestimated the age of it by a couple of centuries, but it was clearly a venerable old tree.

Still, the best encounter I had with apple came late last summer, when our friend Damian came and crashed with us. We went hedgerow foraging and felt pretty satisfied with ourselves. We’d taken an old 10-liter mayonnaise bucket and managed to half fill it with clusters of ripe elderberries; our backup sack held a few blackberries — summer came too late and cool, they never really ripened properly — several handfuls each of nettle and yarrow — fresh nettle tastes like green beans, I found out — and we’d reluctantly discarded the prospect of hawthorn jelly since we realized haws taste disappointingly nasty.

We’d done by far the best with elderberries, so we were continuing around the bend towards the last stand of nearby elder trees with the hopes of turning a hell of a lot of elderberries into a frankly ridiculous amount. Just past an abandoned house surrounded by cedars, we both stopped and exclaimed gleefully.

“Do you see that?”Kallisti

“I know, it’s big!”

“You want to get some?”

“Yeah, absolutely. Don’t know what I’d use it for though. Have to look it up.”

“Well, we can make cider.”


Perhaps tellingly, Damian had focused in on a giant burdock, covered in burrs, right in the middle of the field. I didn’t even see it until he pointed it out to me. I meant the massive apple tree behind it that he’d totally missed, the one twenty feet across and utterly laden down with little yellow apples.

We hastily transferred the elderberries to the sack and Damian clamored over the tumbledown fence with the bucket to exercise a little usufruct while I stood guard. We ended up with enough to make apple crumble but not enough for cider, which necessitated another (solo) excursion.

It was a beautiful, rare perfectly sunny day. I jumped the fence and tromped through the field full of burdock, ducking under the drooping branches which brushed the ground. Everywhere around the tree, in the chest-high nettles and in the hidden cavern under the branches, was covered in a carpet of fallen apples. I easily filled my buckets, playing a game with the nettles in my short sleeves. Honestly, it was like nothing I’d ever seen: the apple tree I grew up climbing produced poorly and dropped hard unripe little green apples, but these were bright golden yellow, sweet and crunchy, and the tree was lavishly covered in them, absolutely opulent in fruit.

I was on a little foraging high, a sort of cheerful giddiness I get every time the pickings are good. The tree is only a few yards from the back of the abandoned farmhouse and I imagined the farmhand who’d dropped the core of a nice eating apple out in the field, the seeds that had grown into this unruly tree. As I made my way around the back of the tree towards riper fruit, I realized the tree was distantly backed by a row of hawthorns, and I felt like a hobbit, scrumping golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides.

At least a few of those apples made it into a certain apple cake recipe I’ve tweaked repeatedly over the last few years; apple and hazel are quite friendly wights and pair up like Merry and Pippin. This cake I normally make for Samhain, given the seasonality of apples and hazelnuts, and it’s not a bad time for an immortality-and-wisdom cake.

Apple-Hazelnut Cake
Combine in one bowl:

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg

Combine in another bowl:

  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 egg (or powdered replacer), beaten
  • 1/2 c. (soy)milk
  • 1/4 c. walnut or hazelnut oil

Pour wet mix into dry mix, combine. Add:

  • 1 1/2 c. chopped Granny Smith (or other sour-ish apples), about 2-3

and mix well. Pour into a well-greased 8″ round pan. Mix together streusel and sprinkle over top. Bake at 200C/400F for 25-40 min. until it tests clean.


  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 2 TBSP butter or margarine
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/3 c. finely chopped toasted hazelnuts

Pagan Blog Project 2012

1 Comment

Posted by
12 February 2012 @ 5am

What a lovely post; after October 2011’s freak Nor’easter, we lost one such massive tree, with little golden apples on it. The heavy snows on the still-leafed tree brought the whole thing crashing down. We’ll miss that tree, a lot. It was planted by my father-in-law, many many years ago and is the only one of its kind here.
My little (well, not so little anymore!) Freysman Helper liked to pick apples off that tree and “bowl” them to the horses, who soon learned the game and would chase apples rolling across their pasture. Such a dear tree. We have masses for wood for runes, now but my set is made, and of antler. I put out the call to folks that they could have wood for making runes with only postage but no takers, sadly.

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