I have an affinity with apples.
Not surprising perhaps as I grew up on the borders of the cider county that is Herefordshire.
We had apple trees in the garden, apple sauce in the pantry, and apple crumble in our tummies. I prided myself from a young age on my ability to carve a whole apple peel snake. The smell of apples cooking conjures so many happy memories of life around the kitchen table that it still brings tears to my eyes today.
I don’t, by the way, have many memories of teenage scrumpy sipping sessions. Nobody ever does remember those!
Our trees weren’t unusual then but today they’d be valued as a heritage collection. Sadly not that long after we left the house, they did too.
Their names, Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, Blenheim Orange, were like poetry to a young girl just finding her way with words. I used to talk to them and stroke them of course, and that hasn’t changed. Trees, I feel, grow better with a bit of love and encouragement.
Even trees that aren’t mine. There is something about apples that engenders a sense of community ownership. Of life before the Enclosures Act. Even the act of taking apples that don’t belong to you has a romantic name. You don’t scrump cabbages, potatoes or even blackberries. Taking those might be stealing. Scrumping though. Well scrumping is a rite of passage. At least it was in Herefordshire.
If there was a list of most satisfying words, ‘scrumping’ would be very near the top. There’s nothing like sourcing a neglected apple tree, snuffling surreptitiously around, and coming home with bags of fruit to process. If the scent of an autumn orchard could be bottled, it would make millions. Especially once the sheep have been in to enjoy their share.
There have been discussions in our house about the meaning of ‘scrumping’. Initial dictionary investigations indicate its affiliation with stealing, but if you look deeper the word is associated with ‘scrimp’, and more likely originally referred to taking windfalls or the tiny apples deemed not worth picking.
We aren’t by the way, the only ones who like to illicitly gain our apple portion. Or, as Laurie Lee put it, our ‘season’s dole’. You only have to look at the holes and pits on a scrumped apple to see that the rest of the natural world is just as keen.
Whoever’s taking their share, I believe there’s a special kind of magic afoot in orchards.
'And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.'