A bowl of apples rests on a table in our hallway. I’m repeatedly drawn to it, with its honey-gold fruit. Each apple is identical. I’m bothered slightly by that. The crop must have been very precisely engineered to be so. But the honey and rose colours draw me back to the fruit bowl. The apples have a country scent. It tantalises though. It’s elusive.
It has echoes of ‘flora and the country green’ – but distant. The bag these apples came in proudly bore a union flag logo.
I remember an abandoned orchard planted a century ago or more. The farmer was long gone but a few of his old trees still grew beneath the Mill Hill East railway line.
They were untended but the fruit still came each year. Over the fence, by the railway track the bramble bushes densely grew. Every autumn I climbed the fence and, with a thumb stick cut from an ash plant, carved my way into them to gather the dark blackberry fruit.
Stewed with the misshapen, multi-sized apples from the old unpruned trees, these fruits of the autumn earth, were delicious. In another county and a generation earlier, they would have come with with home-made cream. Eaten raw the apples gave a flavour and fragrance of which the fruit from the supermarket were a mere echo – and tease.
I had two of those ancient trees at the bottom of my own garden. And a massive, battered pear tree, but its fruit was either eaten by starlings or rotted before they were ripe.
You can’t be a commercial farmer and be that profligate with your products but the savour and fragrance of wild, secret, English urban places which I loved – were and are a refreshment for the soul.