It’s that time of year again, folks – APPLE time!!!! Having been raised by a apple-mad dad who turned our entire suburban garden into an orchard and took us to the amazing all-singing all-dancing Ironbridge Gorge apple day every year, my standards are pretty high. So imagine my delight when I found that there were not one, but TWO apple days going on in Cambridge: the low-key, homegrown Murray Edwards College apple day, and the classy Cambridge Botanical Gardens apple day. Below I review and compare both, because why the ruddy heck not?
Saturday: Murray Edwards College apple day
Too many young people and too many apples.
She had a point. We arrived to find that the entire place was overrun with hoodlum whippersnappers, or “students”, as they are commonly known. To us, some of the Freshers looked like actual children, and we couldn’t remember (or imagine) ever looking that fresh-faced and idealistic. However, once the existential crisis had worn off, we were able to start exploring and soaking in the “vibe”. I’ll start with the positives:
1. It was free
And when I say free, I mean everything was free – Murray Edwards College has its own orchard, so this knees-up was plainly an excuse for them to get rid of as many of their apples as they possibly could. We even saw a squirrel carrying one on the way in, which we interpreted as a good omen. So it wasn’t just free to get in – there was also free apple juice…
Free apple pie (which all three of us had to eat out of a single cup, because the bowls ran out the minute they managed to replace the spoons, which had also run out…)
Free giant marshmallows, which we melted on a lovely fire:
2. There was a lovely fire
There’s nothing as wonderfully Autumnal as the smell of wood smoke and searing sugar. After I’d melted (well, burned) my marshmallow, I was advised to put biscuits on it to create what is known as a “smore.” But I’m not entirely sure I did it right…
3. The apples were pulped and pressed on-site
Just like any self-respecting apple day, the apple pulping and pressing was happening right under our very noses, with the bitter scent of crushed pulp fresh in the air and the juice poured by straight from the weird machine thing:
4. There was a lovely dog
It just added something to the atmosphere, you know?
4. There were cool crafts
Roll over potatoes, there’s a new plant-based stamp in town…
But there were also some negative points…
1. The apple bobbing was too character building
I mean, usually there’s at least a little stalk or something you can bite onto. But in this case, the apples had absolutely no purchase at all, and I ended up feeling like I was being waterboarded…
In the end, I just gave myself one as a reward for my ordeal. It was delicious!
2. The music was too quiet
The Murray Edwards choir was lovely, but you had to get up pretty darn close to know that…
Then there was a duo who had made some quite… interesting fashion choices. They both had ginger hair, and had opted to wear matching tops that also matched their auburn locks. Perhaps it was their “unique selling point.” Their guitar-backed vocal harmonies created a mellow, Simon and Garfunkel-esque soundtrack to our peregrinations, but again, they really were too quiet – even though there was a PA system! They obviously hadn’t turned it up to eleven…
3. There really were too many young people.
My housemate put it best when she said that the clientele of adorably traditional events like Apple Day usually make her feel younger, whereas here, the opposite was true – and we all started getting rather existential…
But then again, there were cool straw bales. And we did all have a lovely time!
Score: a solid 7/10
A little while after this photo was taken, my housemate insisted we go home due to “apple fatigue”. But that wasn’t an option for me! So the next day, I was onto the next one…
Sunday: Cambridge Botanical Gardens apple day
This had better be worth the £8
As you can imagine, this was an enterprise of a whole different scale. Rather than accidentally gatecrashing a college event (which I fear is what happened on Saturday), this bonanza was the highlight of the Cambridge social calendar, which had both up and down sides. We’ll start with the positives:
1. Cambridge Botanical Gardens are beautiful in Autumn
2. I mean really, really beautiful
3. There was an apple identification stall!
My apple, which I had brought from my garden, caused quite a bit of controversy and intrigue as nobody in the tent seemed to be able to work out what it was. It was passed around the tent from expert to expert as they hummed and hawed and talked about ridges and sepals and other bizarre parts I never knew apples had. Finally, one of them shouted “listen! It squeaks when I rub it!” which somehow apparently meant that it was a Lane’s Prince Albert cooking apple. “Prince Albert” because it was named to commemorate the monarch’s visit to the orchard, and “Lane’s” after the outraged gardener who had actually invented the breed, and added his name on afterwards in disgruntlement at the mustachioed monarch stealing his glory.
4. There was delicious food
From food vans outside to a whole market inside, there was no limit to the fancy schamcy food on offer. I would particularly recommend the gloriously creamy Cambridge Blue cheese. Perfection!
However, there was one item of food that proved the source of a particularly fervent quest. My American colleague insisted that we find out if there were any “caramel apples” left and, thinking this was just the American way of saying “toffee apple”, I allowed her to lead us on a film noir-style odyssey from stall to stall until we finally arrived, tousled and out of breath, at a van that possessed the last three such items in the entire garden. We had purchased two when, hot on our tails, a small child arrived in pursuit of the third one. As my colleague put it, “I would have felt bad if I’d taken the last one, but I still would have taken it.”
However, no sooner had she taken a bite than she recoiled in horror. “This isn’t a caramel apple!” She exclaimed. “Caramel apples are soft!” When I suggested our brittle, inedible toffee version was more “character building”, she went into a diatribe about the British habit of “taking a perfectly good food and making it worse”. This didn’t stop both children and adults from running up to us and asking where we’d purchased these much-desired items, and us having to turn them away in disappointment.
5. There were Morris dancers!
Through the trees, we could see them mustering. They were definitely up to something. But by the time we got there, they’d finished their routine and were making a beeline to the beer tent. I’ve always thought Morris dancers were flighty creatures. They only perform for about three minutes at a time, after which they run off for another half hour break, and I always seem to miss their set. But this time, we stuck around. And after a while, they started doing things again:
The Morris dancers were a particular source of fascination to my German colleague, who had never seen anything like them and kept asking “Why do the do it? What is it for?”. I couldn’t really think of any way to explain it, really, except that the Spanish have the Flamenco, the Argentinians have the tango, and the English… have Morris dancing.
But apart from the customary flightiness of the Morris dancers, there were a couple more negatives:
1. You had to queue for everything
Not only did you have to pay for entry (£8!) and food, but the event was a victim of its own success. It’s a good job I went into the apple-tasting tent last year, because this was the queue for it this year. Luckily, I could still remember the experience of sampling slices of hundreds of different apple varieties, and no-one else seemed that enamored of the prospect, so we moved on.
2. Some of the food stalls had some rather bizarre signage…
But all in all, I would say that the £8 was worth it, and we did have some very jolly and non-existential fun, in stunning surroundings! So I’d give it a shining 8/10.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this apple-themed romp! And don’t forget to tune in for my next extremely rock n roll adventure, where I’ll try to make soap out or conkers! The fun never ends…