By Jennifer Jackson
Peninsula Daily News
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Finnriver Farm owners Keith and Crystie Kisler hosted their second annual Apple Wassail on Sunday to observe a rural English tradition as ancient as myth -- proceeding through the orchards in early January to bless the apple trees, ensuring a plentiful crop in the coming season.
The celebration drew people of all ages and backgrounds to the Chimacum Valley farm, including those with ties to the old country.
Ancestors in mind
"I like to think of my northern European ancestors doing this a thousand years ago," said Lisa Crosby as she followed the piper up the hill to the old orchard.
Before the procession, Crystie Kisler explained that wassail is an old Anglo-Saxon phrase, "wes hol," meaning to be whole, or in good health.
Mentioned in Beowulf, wassailing was traditionally held on the old Twelfth Night, Jan. 17, Kisler said, and involved singing, toasting and lighting a bonfire to scare off evil spirits.
"Here at Finnriver Farm, we are reviving the craft of traditional cider-making and the traditions to go with it," she said.
Nancy Fredrick, on bagpipes, and Gary Fredrick, on drum, led the procession down the hill and along the rows of saplings in the new orchard to the bridge over Chimacum Creek.
Then they wound back up the hill to the old orchard, where the Port Townsend Youth Chorus, led by Leslie Lewis, sang songs and rounds.
One round praised the apple trees, imploring everyone to "drink up their cup with health to the apple tree."
"Sing in the direction of the old orchard over there by the far gate," Kisler asked the singers. "The trees there need to hear that."
Toast and cider
After the songs, Kisler passed out pieces of toast soaked in cider to the children, who tied them on the tree branches with pieces of yarn as a gift to the robins, the guardians of the orchard.
Then everyone adjourned to the tent set up next to the barn for caramel apples and more hot cider.
According to tradition, the person handing a cup of cider to another is the first to drink, saying "Wassail," to which the other person replies "Drink Ail,'" Kisler explained.
Among the participants was the Kislers' neighbor, Lige Christian, who planted the trees in the old orchard with his spouse, Kay, in the winter 15 years ago. Christian said that Wassail is a pleasant tradition worth continuing, if not for the original reasons.
"It's the community that's important, and attaching the community to the land where the food comes from, " Christian said.
"That's what's really important."
According to the Web site, finnriverfarm.com, the 33-acre property has more than 900 heirloom apple trees, producing certified organic fruit for dessert wines and ciders.
To schedule a tasting or place an order, e-mail email@example.com.
Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.