At my childhood home in Somerset, we had an acre and a half of old orchard, bound on the west side by the churchyard, on the north by a brook. In the spring, snowdrops and daffodils grew under the trees and when the weather got warmer, I took root there too, back against the bark, book in hand, dreaming beneath the leaves.
I read of saints and soldiers, wolves and witches, lost worlds, golden days. Those stories are bound in my memory with lichen growing on gnarly branches, the smell of wood and grass, earth and apple.
The harvest brought us all together. When it was fine, from the youngest to the oldest, we went out from the house in the morning with ladders, chattering and picking, gathering up windfalls, loading the trailer and hauling it back, calling across the field and bagging the yield into hessian sacks. We sorted the good fruit from the bruised, the eaters from the cookers, the bittersharps from the bittersweets. We ate bread and cheese on plastic plates without napkins at a trestle table in our wellingtons, normal rules suspended for one day, for just this one shining day in the orchard.
Afterwards, good apples were wrapped in paper and spread out in rows in the loft in the barn, gifts for the year long. The cinnamon scent of apples simmering on the stove filled the house, as my mother in her apron stewed fruit for the larder. My father made cider from the imperfect apples, the disappointing ones, with a press he built from a landrover jack just before he chopped the end off his finger splitting logs. I remember his shout and searching in the rough grass by the wood shed for a bit of flesh with the nail still attached. We never found it.
Some of the apples went to a big cider-maker at Burrow Hill. The man gave us a pound a sack and said they weren’t worth any more, apples were two a penny in Somerset. Any dreams we had of making our fortune quickly faded. He has gone now and the cider press closed and they built over our orchard, the people that came afterwards. But the apples stay ever sweet in the memory and their names remain, wonderful strange, like an old incantation – Beauty of Bath, Dunnings Russet, Curry Codlin, Fairmaid, Hangdown, Hoary Morning, Slack Me Girdle, Tom Putt, Sack and Sugar, Kingston Black, Rough Pippin, Whittles Dumpling, Green Pearmain, Mealy Late Blossom, Burrow Hill Early, Sheep’s Nose.