Terhune Orchards annual celebration features singing and dancing
LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP — Now in its 22nd year, the annual “Wassailing the Apple Trees” celebration at Terhune Orchards is a chance for the Mount family to remind the surrounding community that the farm market, wine barn and store are still open through the winter.
The event is based on an old English practice dating back to the 1600s, when apple farms were plentiful across England.
The cold-but-sunny afternoon on Saturday, Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, the event drew a crowd of several hundred people throughout the day.
For their efforts in singing and sometimes dancing around the apple trees, patrons at Terhune Orchards were provided with complimentary, delicious, homemade apple cider donuts and hot apple cider.
And if things got too cold out in the orchards, patrons could always duck in to the wine barn or the Terhune Orchards farm store.
“The Molly Dancers from Princeton have been coming here a long time,” Pam Mount said as she and her husband Gary ducked out of the cold and welcomed New Jersey Farmer into the warmth of their living room.
“We have a lot of events here,” Pam explained, noting years ago, the Molly Dancers would come to celebrate the first of May.
“That’s how we got the idea to do something with them in the middle of the winter,” Gary said. “We found out they take this Molly dancing [contra dancing] business very seriously.”
Gary said they often hold their annual Wassailing the Apple Trees celebration in January, but the Princeton Molly Dancers were competing in England and weren’t back home until a few days before the celebration at Terhune Orchards, designed to ward off evil spirits and ensure a healthy, successful apple crop later this spring.
Patrons who participated were given noise makers and encouraged to shout out loud and sing around the apple trees, also leaving cider-dipped pieces of bread on apple tree branches.
“We have lots of events and festivals here, and we were trying to figure out how to do something in the winter,” Pam said about the genesis of the event.
“We did our research on what wassailing was all about, and we discovered that they used to do this in apple orchards in England in the 1600’s.”
The Mounts said the celebration started out as “Plough Monday” 22 years ago, but the discovered people did not want to come out to a cold apple orchard after a long day at work in the short days of January.
“We were open and we wanted people to know we were still here,” Pam said, noting Plough Monday was another old English tradition “where groups of farm boys would come around and knock on everybody’s door, and you either had to give them some hard cider or they’d plough up your fields.”
After two or three years without much of a crowd, Plough Monday was transformed into a weekend event, the current “Wassailing of the Apple Trees.”
In 1600s England, there were elaborate dancing and singing rituals, Pam said, “to scare away the evil spirits because the buds of the apples are on the trees right now, so the idea was to protect the trees and you’d have a good crop of apples.”
In 1600’s England, they’d shoot their guns in the air and make a lot of noise, and even though Terhune Orchards is on a rural stretch of Cold Soil Road, shooting guns in the air can’t easily be done in Lawrence Township.
However, patrons were encouraged to yell and sing and noisemakers were handed out to children and adults.
Aside from the Princeton Handsome Molly Dancers and singers, the troupe was joined by a group from Philadelphia involved with the annual Mummers Parade, the Kingessing Morris Dancers, and another troupe from western Massachusetts, the Green River Tap and Die Molly Dancers.
“They have a great time after this and they all go out to dinner together in Princeton,” Gary said, “and we always give them more than a few pies to enjoy after dinner.”
In past years, Gary said he’d often have to plough snow out of their parking lots and clear patches of snow away from the apple trees. Pam recalled other years when the celebration took place in a sea of mud alongside the apple trees.
While both Pam and Gary said they were pleased with the crowd that came in the afternoon between 1 and 4 p.m. for the celebration and to enjoy music in their wine barn, they admitted, “it’s hard to get people to come to a farm market and do outdoor activities in the middle of the winter, and we advertise a lot, too. So you never know who you’re going to reach and suddenly, they become loyal customers.”
Out in the apple orchards, one of the Mount’s daughters, Tannwen, said the event is good community relations for the farm and a reminder for people to come back there in the spring. She credited farm general manager Elaine Madigan with making the event grow steadily through the years.
“Wassailing is not only a way for our customers to come out and celebrate with us in winter, it’s also looking forward to the spring and our next harvest,” Tannwen said, “it’s a way for us to invite our community to come and celebrate, hopefully, the coming of spring soon. It’s also a great way to get out of the house in the winter!”
Madigan, who has worked in various capacities with the Mounts at Terhune Orchards since 1992, said the annual Wassailing event was Pam Mount’s idea to drum up business during slower winter months at the farm market, “but over the years, I just took it one step further, I guess. I like to call myself the heart of the apple corps, a reference to Pam and Gary’s experience in the Peace Corps,” Madigan said.
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