Written for my sister Christmas 2015
The orchard is wild now, where the fruit bushes flowered. The apple trees are gnarled and old, and the vegetable garden long since gone to seed. The greenhouse is empty save for piles of plastic seedling pots, and the garden shed, with it’s beaten earth floor and smell of oil and grass cuttings, lies quiet and unused.
All reminders of our parents’ garden where my younger sister and I spent our early years, in a quintessentially idyllic English country village. An unspoilt backwater in the Nottinghamshire countryside.
Our Mother lived by the rhythm of the garden, with the seasons and an age old succession of fruit and vegetables throughout the year; The summer soft fruits, redcurrants, raspberries and strawberries giving way to blackcurrants, blackberries and rosehips, apples, pears and finally damsons and plums.
We ran barefoot out of the kitchen door, across the lawn by the terrace, through the iron gates and up the grassy path, through more gates pushing into the orchard. Between the damson trees hung the hammock where we spent the summer afternoons after school swinging gently between the lawn and the canopy of dappled leaves.
In the Autumn the ladders were leant against the trees and we picked the ripe apples, twisting the stalks and making sure not to drop and bruise them. Mum liked to grow the traditional Old English varieties such as the beautiful Egremont Russets with their rough skins, and the red cheeked Discovery.
Later we would pick the “fallers” up, and then the damson and plum trees were heavy with fruit, and while we filled baskets and baskets with fruits for jam and puddings, my little sister in her blue pinafore, set up a stall at the front gate, with a funny homemade notice selling plums from Mums big kitchen scales.
Ma had 3 freezers in the garage; one for veg, one for fruit and one for meat and ice cream. She used to sit at the kitchen table with a pile of freezer bags and fill them with the surplus fruit and vegetables, secure the bags with a tie then push a straw into the top and suck out the air. Finally she labelled each bag with the year and the fruit – bns, strwbs, rasps, goosgs, never the whole word.
We loved watching the thick fruit sauce dropping slowly through the sieve after simmering on the Aga for hours in a thick bottomed saucepan. A vivid, deep velvety colour like the inside petal of the darkest rose.
Earthly and heavenly at the same time, the tartness and biting sharpness of the fruit on the tip of your tongue, giving way to the crunch of sugar and sweetness, then the swirl of cream making it even more delicious, cloaking our ice cream in a heavy, rich, ripe, intense sauce.
This food represents everything about our home; spring and summer, autumn and winter; sunshine and rain, the planting, growing, picking, cooking and freezing; the baking and the eating.
We are cooking with the last of the fruit from the freezer, and for my sister and I it is the unmistakable taste of our childhood.
A spoonful of home.