Mention apples and Devon in the same breath and people automatically think of cider, surprisingly enough the odd apple or two were actually eaten and many of the small cotts had a tree in the garden. Whilst it cannot be denied that a vast majority of the apples grown on the moor did end up pulped they also formed part of the moorfolk’s diets in one form or another – apple pie and clouted cream for instance. A whole tradition has grown up around the actual trees with many spirits invoked to ensure a good crop, wassailing being a prime example of such invoking.
It has always been believed that the apple crop was at risk of failure during three specific nights, namely the 17th, 18th and 19th of May. These were known as Franklin Nights or Francimass and usually demonstrated cold and frosty conditions which would decimate the apple blossom. In the valley of the Taw it was said that there was once a brewer called Frankan who became worried about losing sales of his ale to the more popular ciders. In desperation he sold his soul to the Devil on condition that on three specific nights in May he would send frosts to destroy the apple blossom, hence Franklin Nights and frosts. In a slightly different version the brewer was in fact St. Dunstan and the three nights when the Devil was to send the frosts were the 17th, 18th and 19th of May. The 19th of May is coincidentally the feast-day of St. Dunstan which seems a rather ironic day to ruin the apple crop as what sort of feast would be without cider? People would also keep an eye on their gooseberry crops as a good crop of ‘guz gogs’ also meant a bumper crop of apples. There was also the belief that a year when the apple harvest was good coincided with an extraordinary number of twins being born. If a late blossom occurred when their was fruit on the tree some folk would say a death in the family was imminent.
There are several ways apples can help to predict affairs of the heart, one way was to stick an apple pip to your face for each of your admirers and the one which fell off first would be your future partner. Another way was to peel an apple in one continuous piece and throw it over the left shoulder then whatever letter it described would be the last initial letter of a future lover. The best time of the year to carry out this ritual was on the feast of Saints Simeon and Jude which was the 28th of October,
Medicinally, everyone knows that, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, or as they would have it on the moor, “eat an apple going to bed, make a doctor beg his bread”. But there were other uses, for instance if you wanted to be rid of a wart you could use an apple. People would cut the apple in half and then rub one of the halves over the wart, the two pieces would be bound together and buried, as the fruit rotted then so the wart disappeared. Alternately you could cut the apple in half, rub one bit over the wart and then feed it to a nearby pig whilst eating the remaining half, it’s better not to mix the two halves up.