This year, our Egremont Russet apple tree was laden with apples despite the hot dry summer. For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been eating windfalls, but recent winds and the inevitable abscission process have meant that they are dropping in significant numbers, so today I hauled out the ladder and picked the rest. There were so many bending the smaller branches in twos and threes that I dropped a few; you really need three hands, one to hold the ladder and two to cradle the group, as inevitably the one you twist off the twig is holding on tighter than the other one, which plummets to the ground with a small thud.
In my opinion, this is one of the finest English apple varieties. Not only is it beautiful with its suede-like skin, but the taste and texture are unrivalled, especially picked straight from the tree. (They don’t keep as well as some other varieties though, tending to lose crispness.)
So, now I have two ‘bags for life’ full of golden apples waiting in the porch for me to sort out. The bruised and damaged ones will go for apple sauce, and I hope I can get the rest into an old fridge humming away in the corner of the garage.
These would never win on the show bench, but I think they are “perfectly imperfect” to borrow a marketing phrase from Tesco’s produce section (or so much more elegant and nuanced is the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi). Some are unblemished and well-formed, but a lot are mottled, streaked and pitted with green, yellow and brown marks – a couple with rosy cheeks almost look like a model of Mars. They vary in shape from slim heart-like shapes to wide fat spheroids, and one or two with twisted cores where the calyx appears improbably on the equator.
Some from the top of the tree have beak-marks where a blackbird has reached over from a convenient branch for a meal; others have woodlouse or earwig burrows exploiting breaks in the skin from twig damage; some have radial splits from the calyx; and any dropping to the ground are quickly overrun by ants sucking the juice from wounds.
I left one little golden apple at the top of the tree as an offering – we don’t wassail our trees but in the past when the children were small, we’ve taken part at a friend’s orchard – hanging toast in the branches, pouring a libation of cider on the ground near the trunk and singing a traditional song or two, followed by shouting out this incantation:
Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
And all under one tree.
Some people shoot at the trees, but we confined ourselves to party poppers, and of course, drinking cider and eating applecake!