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Tony Grist

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Apples [Oct. 8th, 2007|10:45 am]
Tony Grist
My father-in-law has been losing his balance and falling over while picking apples from his apple tree. I said I'd do it for him. So yesterday Ailz and I were at the in-laws bungalow and I harvested what was left of the crop. I also picked the pear tree clean of pears.

When I was a kid we had a little orchard at the top of the garden- apples, plums, pears. Rationing was still in force and to have your own source of fresh fruit was enviable. People used to make lots of jam (my father-in-law still does). We had an air-raid shelter in our back yard and that's where we stored the apples we weren't going to use immediately. On pallets, wrapped up in newspaper, in the dark.  That place was scary. You had earth piled over you- an artificial hill with an elder bush planted on top- the whitewash was peeling, there were brick-dusty spiderswebs hanging off it and the air was thick with the sweet smell of rotting apple-flesh. 

When I was in Cambridge (studying to be a priest) we lived in part of an old rectory and there was a huge, old apple tree at the front. Someone explained to me that the apples were a very rare- if not obsolete- Victorian variety. There were other, smaller apple trees round the back. We were living on bent pins and  pocket fluff so it was great to have all that fruit for free.

My ex brother-in law used to be a fruit farmer. I remember visiting him in an orchard once. The grass was full of windfalls- tons and tons of them. "Don't you gather these?" I asked. "No, not economical," he said." This was in the pocket fluff days and I was shocked.

I've read that the apples in the Bible are really pomegranates. Eve's apple was a pomegranate, the apples in the Song of songs were pomegranates. Not the same, is it?  Pomegranates are silly, messy, fiddly things. You need utensils to eat them. But an apple you just twist from its stalk and it's yours.

Apples are mythic. Atalanta chases apples, the Hesperides recline beneath an apple tree, King Arthur retires to an apple-island.  I shut my eyes and the light is dim and green and there's ground mist between the rows of trees and we're back in the middle ages or the dark ages and something wonderful or terrifying is about to happen. They're all apple trees, of course.  Pear trees, plum trees, just wouldn't do.

I like my apples hard and sharp. Those cotton-woolly French apples are an abomination. Cox's Orange Pippin, Braeburn, Granny Smith  for eating; Bramley for making sauce or putting in pies. 

[User Picture]From: richenda
2007-10-08 02:35 pm (UTC)
I share your pain about the windfalls - but a worse pain is finding a wasp in the windfall I've just picked up.
I have a huge bowl of windfalls on my table at this moment. The secret seems to be to go out while it's still thick jumper temperature, before it's warm enough for the wasps.
But wasn't Eve's fruit just that - fruit unspecified?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 03:09 pm (UTC)
Actually I think you're right about Eve's fruit. It's simply that in Western European tradition it's always been an apple.

Adam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winter
Thought he not too long.

And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took,
As clerkès finden
Written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Ne had never our lady
Abeen heavenè queen.

Blessèd be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we moun singen,
Deo gracias!

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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2007-10-08 03:30 pm (UTC)
You and Ailz must come visit me during apple harvest time. I live in one of the best "apple areas" of the U.S., the Lake Ontario Valley (well, actually, I live close). I'm very picky about my apples, and won't eat the cold storage ones so during this time of the year I eat LOTS of apples.

If you weren't across the ocean, I'd find a way to send you some.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 04:33 pm (UTC)
That would be nice.

I spent part of my childhood in Kent- "the garden of England"- where the main crops are hops and apples.
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From: manfalling
2007-10-08 03:37 pm (UTC)
Over here sharp tart green apples are very hard to come by. It's all big fat frumpy red apples, soft and floury. I don't like 'em.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 04:34 pm (UTC)
Soft and floury- yuk. Do they grow apples in Japan are they all imported?
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[User Picture]From: zoe_1418
2007-10-08 03:52 pm (UTC)
Beautifully written, Tony. Very evocative.

When I lived in Michigan in the early 1980s, there was an old couple at Farmers Market who sold "antique" varieties of apples from their orchard, including one called "Arkansas Black." Those were small, very dark (hence the "black"), hard, and very tart, and I just couldn't get enough of them! When I moved to Seattle and came back to visit, I filled my suitcase with them... Later my parents had a tree of Arkansas Blacks and sent me a box, but they weren't the same -- I think the variety had been messed with to make the apples big -- they were pretty but not as tasty. I haven't had a "real" Arkansas Black since.

I have some good apples from Whole Foods right now -- Empires. Hard and tart.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 04:46 pm (UTC)

It's sad that there are so few varieties of apple for sale today. We're told that supermarket customers will only buy fruit that conforms to a platonic ideal- all rosy and waxy and not too big and not too small.

The variety growing on my pa-in-law's tree (I I forget the name) are not of a kind you'll find in the shops. I guess it devolves on the private gardener to keep the uncommercial breeds alive.
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[User Picture]From: zoe_1418
2007-10-08 04:52 pm (UTC)
Here's an interesting website about apples of "antiquity" that one can get roots/starts for:

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-09 08:43 am (UTC)
That's great. I'm glad there are businesses like this keeping the "old" apples alive.
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From: amritarosa
2007-10-08 04:50 pm (UTC)
Fuji, honeycrisp, and southern rose for me! A gala is ok in a pinch, butsits on the edge of too mealy for me.

Granny Smith for carmel!

I haven't cooked much with apples, though.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 09:00 pm (UTC)
I make a lot of apple sauce- apples, orange juice, a little sugar all boiled up together. It's my favourite accompaniment for a pork roast.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2007-10-08 05:11 pm (UTC)
I love pomegranates in winter, but apples are my fruit for this season: they are one of the smells and tastes of autumn. If I ever (somehow) live somewhere I can't get apples, fall won't feel right.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 09:11 pm (UTC)
Pomegranates are still sort of exotic over here. We had one on our altar once. It went hard and dry and lasted for years.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2007-10-08 09:13 pm (UTC)
Pomegranates are still sort of exotic over here.

I think they are here, too. I just buy them anyway.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2007-10-08 07:03 pm (UTC)
and if you cut an apple in half horizontally you get a pentacle shape made out of the core... must check that tonight experimentally.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 09:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, it works. I've just done it.
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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2007-10-08 07:07 pm (UTC)
We are avid fruit growers here in our bit of garden but have no apples because the climate in southern Spain won´t do for them. I miss them. My father had apple trees and when I was growing up in Michigan I was in charge of picking the best windfall apples off the ground.

Here we have plums, oranges, almonds, pears (oddly, they grow here albeit grudgingly),"messy" pomegranates, persimmons, loquats and necatrines in our yard. I don´t use pesticides. I love picking fruit from a tree and NOT seeing a waxy covering on it like you see in the supermarkets.

What a beautiful post! Thank you, Tony.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 09:21 pm (UTC)
That's not a bad line-up of fruits. I'd love to be able to pick oranges straight from the tree.

I love apples, but oranges are my favourite.

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[User Picture]From: pondhopper
2007-10-08 09:31 pm (UTC)
We only have a few citrus trees in the yard but we have friends who have orchards and they bring us crates of naval oranges every Christmas (harvest time). Oranges picked the day you get them...there is nothing in the world like that.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-09 08:45 am (UTC)
I can imagine.

Buying oranges over here is very hit and miss. You don't know until you get stuck in whether you've got good batch or not. And price is no guarantee either. I've had cheap oranges that were lovely and expensive ones that were dry and tough.

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[User Picture]From: sina_says
2007-10-08 07:18 pm (UTC)
what a lovely entry.

i don't agree, though, about the pomegranates. i find them to have a slightly magical quality about them, all those rubies hidden inside...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 09:22 pm (UTC)
You have a point.

Pomegranates are still pretty exotic over here. I could probably count the ones I've eaten on the fingers of one hand.
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2007-10-08 07:29 pm (UTC)
Excellent post.

There's a lovely, ancient apple tree on my parent's farm that I just adore. The fruit are sort of striped yellow and red, squat like fat doughnuts. The flesh is crisp and the flavor is a perfect balance of sweet and tart. Alas, a late freeze robbed us of all fruit this season, something we were lamenting just yesterday while walking under its boughs.

I like pomegranates, though. There was a tree in the back garden, last place I lived in northern California. It was something so foreign to my experience I didn't even know what it was until someone told me. When they ripen fully on the tree, they tend to split open in a most suggestive manner and one can break them apart in pieces and eat them easily with bear hands. Lovely, sensuous things, messy too, but the ones I've bought since in the market were a profound disappointment.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-08 09:41 pm (UTC)
That's a shame about the apples.

Pomegranates are still fairly rare over here. I've only ever had them from the shops. I love the idea of being able to pick them off the tree.
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[User Picture]From: mokie
2007-10-09 08:14 am (UTC)
Pomegranates are mythic. Persephone was trapped for half the year because she swallowed the pomegranate seeds; they're associated with death, the afterlife, and secrets.

So are apples, really--Arthur's going to an apple-island ties back in.

All related...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2007-10-09 08:49 am (UTC)
You're right, of course.

If I slight the pomegranate it's because it's still an exotic fruit over here.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2007-10-17 11:17 am (UTC)
This post hums nicely in my head.
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