We only have a single Mazzard tree in our orchard. It is beautiful in bloom, as it is now towards the end of April, but we haven’t ever had any fruit from it.
What is a Mazzard? You may well ask, because it is not a name recognised outside of the West Country, although, strangely, our American cousins may have some idea of what we are talking about…
Let’s start at the beginning. Mazzards are a type of cherry tree that were once grown extensively in North Devon. The fruit are very sweet but a bit smaller than modern commercial black cherry varieties. The centre of Mazzard growing was the parish of Landkey, near Barnstaple in North Devon. At the time of the Great War, there were over one hundred acres of Mazzard trees in the parish.
However, since that time the number of trees had dwindled alarmingly until it was nearly lost for ever. The reason for this is that it is an extremely tall tree, often fifty feet high, which makes it difficult to pick the fruit and even more difficult to keep the blackbirds from eating the fruit before it is ripe. In olden days local lads would be paid pence to stay all day in the Mazzard “greens”, as the orchards are called, to scare away the birds.
Nowadays no one would want to do such a boring job!
We keep considering how to protect our Mazzard from the marauding blackbirds but, each year, the tree gets taller and the task of covering it with protective netting becomes more daunting. Which is why we ourselves have not yet tasted Mazzard fruit!!
It is believed that the Mazzard cherry was introduced by Huguenots from France in the seventeenth century, but it may be that they are far more ancient. The name is thought to derive from the AngloSaxon word “mazer” meaning a “goblet” because of the shape of the tree. By Tudor times the word “mazard” spelt with a single “z” took on the meaning of “head”, presumably because it is rounded like a goblet. And that is what it means in colloquial American English today.
Webster’s Dictionary quotes the sentence, “Grandma threatened to whop me on the mazard if I didn’t mind my manners”. Perhaps that is what we should do to those pesky blackbirds…..