October 27th – The Festival of Apple Tasting

It was a cold, damp morning in 1710 when the Faute family apple tree was chopped down by their next door neighbour, a Mrs Adewene Ustanzor. There had been something of a quiet feud between the two parties which had been going on for several years, culminating in this wanton, destructive act. According to Ustanzor (whose husband, Reichard, was on good terms with their neighbours), the tree blocked out the light to her vegetable patch, where at the time of the felling she was unsuccessfully attempting to grow cauliflowers. On the other hand, the Faute family patch was overflowing with all manner of brassicas; cabbages, cauliflowers, even some (rather exotic for the time) broccoli. It seems that Ustanzor was one of those people who is always willing to blame others for her mistakes.

In fairness, we only really have the Faute family side of the story, but it does seem to be truthful. The Fautes admit that their ancestors did make a nuisance of themselves somewhat; Egenie was known to practice her horn outside (she wasn’t allowed to play in the house) at unholy hours, and they were wont to have fires out in the garden whilst Ustanzor had her washing on the line. It’s not clear whether Reichard was forgiving, mild mannered, or simply milk-livered, but his wife certainly wasn’t. The trouble really started when she decided to put out a fire in their garden that summer with a well-aimed bucket of water. Nobody seems sure whether the ball which went through her dining room window was intentional or not, but either way the Fautes were pretty sure she deserved it. Things went quiet for a bit after that. Ustanzor was convinced that they were throwing all their slugs over into her vegetable patch, but again, nobody from the family seems to know whether they actually did or not. And then, on this day, seemingly out of the blue, the tree was gone.

It seems that, in her anger, Ustanzor not only cut down the tree, but removed it from the premises entirely, save a low stump. She never revealed where she had taken it, not even in court when it may have reduced her fine. Ustanzor seemed happy to pay; she knew that the blow she had struck was vital; for the Fautes, no amount of money could have made up for the loss of their beloved apple tree, which was said to have the best eating apples in all of west Buentoille. The tree had been owned by the family from as long as anyone could remember, grown from a pip spat out by a Chastise Church hierarch during a visit. According to family lore, the hierarch was choking on the pip and their life was saved by Julian Faute, an enormous bear of a man who slapped them on the back with great force.

The loss of their apple tree was too much for the Fautes to bear, and it wasn’t long before they moved from this home, where they had lived for many successive generations. The decision was taken by Annie Faute, the family’s matriarch at the time, who couldn’t go out into the garden without crying at the sight of the stump. It was on the day they were moving out that her son, Ignam Faute, realised that perhaps not all was lost, and began an obsession which continues to this day. Ignam found an apple which had rolled under one of the nearby bushes. It was a little slug-eaten, but most importantly, all the seeds were intact. At their new home in the east of he City, Ignam planted eleven new trees.

Now, anyone who knows anything about apple horticulture will probably be screaming that it doesn’t work like that; you can’t simply plant seeds from an apple and produce the same type of apples as before. There is such a wide genetic variation between apple trees and their seeds that the fruit are highly unlikely to taste the same. Normally a cutting is taken from the tree you want to reproduce the apples from, which is then either grown into a tree of itself, or grafted onto another apple tree. Obviously this normal method was not possible with the Fautes’ apple tree. Ignam knew how it worked when he planted those trees, but he had a hope that there was a tiny chance that one of the seeds would be genetically similar enough to produce similar fruit, or that he would be able to cross-breed various trees until he had one that tasted the same as that delicious fruit he had grown up with.

The Fautes’ tree was a late-harvesting variety, and this seems to be a trait that all the trees Ignam grew inherited, so it was today, the day the original was felled, that Ignam chose as the tasting day when he decided whether to keep each tree or to fell it and grow another in its place. Obviously it takes around ten years for an apple tree to grow sufficiently to begin producing fruit, so this was a slow process at first. Nowadays the family have an entire orchard dedicated to the process, and there are usually one or two trees which are ready for tasting each year, as the process has been staggered somewhat. None of those first eleven trees remain any longer; they have all been replaced with better varieties over the years, as the endeavour was passed down the generations. Nobody has yet hit upon the perfect apple, but apparently they are getting close.

Quite how these new generations of Fautes know what they are looking for, when none of them have ever actually tasted the original is presumably the next question burning your lips. The answer is a thickly bound book, which describes, in exquisite detail, everything about the Faute Apple, as the mythical variety has come to be known, and which includes many colourful illustrations. Most of this is taken from the memory of Ignam Faute, but he also wrote several pages of tasting notes whilst eating small pieces of that final, miraculous apple. These notes are a family secret, and taught to all children as soon as they turn seven years old, but in layman’s terms, the apples were deeply fragrant, in both taste and smell, with a thicker-than-average skin, an enormously satisfying crunch, and a sweet nectar which seemed to almost explode as soon as the skin was broken.

Apparently the originals won every competition they were entered into, but the family always refused to allow commercial growers to take cuttings from them. As the latest generation of apple-growers delivers a respectful basket of apples to adorn the tree trunk which resides in their old garden still, or bites into a potential candidate today, and weighs it in their mind against the complex guidelines, as they sit together and deliberate its pros and cons, the likelihood of breeding a better apple from it, they will perhaps secretly curse their ancestors for their pride, their foolishness in not allowing any cuttings to be made whilst they could.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Gratuitous Gifts
  • The Festival of Her Healing Spirit
  • The Festival of the Weathered Sole