CORE Cider House enchants guests with "Fire, Fable & Feast"
Though a Winter chill still lingers in the air, some of you may have noticed the growing warmth that heralds the imminent shift into Spring. If you have, you can thank the team at CORE Cider House in Pickering Brook, who recently hosted the Fire, Fable & Feast event. I was at the popular Perth Hills cidery with some friends on Saturday the 10th of August, ready to help shake the frost off the branches with some revelry.
The Winter Festival was inspired by the centuries-old pagan custom of wassailing, in which people would visit their local orchards and perform rituals to wake the trees from their wintery slumber. They would eat, drink, dance, and bang pots and pans together to scare away the bad spirits, ensuring a good harvest of fruit from the orchard’s apple trees.
As we approached the Cider House’s Apple Shed at sundown, we were welcomed by the costumed organisers, who scanned our tickets and gave us tokens for mulled cider. On their table sat a basket of ivy leaf crowns, waiting for attendees to adorn themselves with. As I chose a green garland from the basket and perched it on my head, I felt like a devotee to Dionysus, Greek god of wine and fertility.
Inside, the Apple Shed was spartan in its bareness, and yet still rusticly pleasing. Massive wooden carts for storing the Cider House’s apples were stacked all around the room, and thick wooden benches sat ready to be relaxed upon. A red old-fashioned pick-up truck provided a stage for the acoustic entertainment to perform on the back of. In front of the truck was an open space for the crowds to dance.
At the bar, the friendly staff redeemed our tokens for hot spiced mulled cider, and also sold the traditional chilled ciders usually available at CORE, such as the Rusty ginger (my personal favourite). While others bought beer, wine, soft drinks, and apple juice (for the kids), a friend tried the special Apple Pie cider. Personally, I found the taste of a sweet pastry dessert in beverage form a bit odd, but it went down a treat as more people arrived to try it.
Guests arrived first in trickles, then in a flood. Many were dressed in Middle Ages garb, looking like peasants, knights, jesters, bards, and lords and ladies of a medieval court. There was a fairy or two, and even a child dressed as a dragon. The vibe was reminiscent of a more wholesome version of Game of Thrones.
A line of hungry party-goers started to form in front of the bar, ready to order food. The menu offered a range of delicious pizzas, and a number of other hearty winter meals, such as braised short ribs, a chickpea and chorizo gruel, fries, and smores. For those willing to pay extra and book tickets early, a 3-course feast was served in the CORE bistro, but those of us in the Apple Shed didn’t feel any less fortunate. Peasant and King ate alike that night, enjoying the heart-warming food, acoustic background music, and lively atmosphere shared by friends and family.
With our bellies full, we cleared a space as the dancefloor was taken over by Morris dancers, dressed in their unique black and white costumes, festooned with multi-coloured ribbons, fabric strips, and tinkling bells on shin pads. As simple drum and pipe music played, the entertainers performed the traditional English folk dance, skipping and rhythmically tapping their long wooden staffs against each other.
As the dance ended, the robed Master of Ceremonies called out and beckoned us all to follow the Morris dancers, beyond the warmth and light of the Apple Shed, to the outside. Venturing out into the night, we were led to the Cider Garden, where a skilled fire twirler entertained us with his pyrotechnics, sending billowing plumes of fire into the crisp winter air to the crowd’s delight. After the fire show, the parade of costumed attendees walked further down the orchard path, towards a clearing behind the rows of apple trees.
There, staff handed out long applewood branches to the mob of excited revelers. Each stick had a powdery white mega marshmallow skewered onto the end, ready to be toasted. The evening’s MC, now atop a raised platform, welcomed us to the field where we would wassail the night away. We cheered in anticipation, hoping our loud cries would scare away the bad spirits, and wake the apple trees from their long sleep.
Our cheers rose even higher as the massive bonfire was lit, growing into a towering inferno that burned brightly against the dark night. We surrounded it on all sides, leaning in to toast our marshmallows, but shying away from the intense heat that was almost too bright to look at. Soon our marshmallows were beautifully browned, gooey and sticky, while others were a little overdone and tasted of ash and smoke.
The celebrations continued well into the night, spurred on by the wild heat of the bonfire, the freedom of the open field beneath the stars, the lively music back in the Apple Shed, and the sweet taste of apple cider in our mouths. And when it was finally time to go home, a bus service to Crown was available, although my fellow tipsy revelers and I were content to be picked up by a sober friend.
If you’d like to know more about CORE Cider House and future events they’re hosting, check out their Facebook page.
Images credit: Ashleigh Ballantyne.