Monday, October 10, 2011

Apple Day

The Herstmonceux Allotment Association’s (HAA) Apple Day has now become a regular event every October. Last weekend, for the fourth year running, allotmenteers banded together to pick juice apples on the fruit farm that houses the allotment site. Being paid the going rate by the farmer for each giant crate filled with Cox’s, it is an opportunity for the HAA to raise some funds and a fantastic way of getting the community together and involved in the harvest. Since the first Apple Day in 2008, when the rain was coming down like stair rods (© my mum) for the duration, this event has been blessed with glorious autumn sunshine and this year was no exception. Meeting up early on Sunday morning, the blue sky and balmy temperature guaranteed a good turnout and the number of pickers was further swollen by a contingent of Canadian students from the study centre at Herstmonceux Castle.

There has been a considerable apple crop this year; the dry hot weather of the early summer balanced with just enough rain later in the summer saw the fruit blossom and swell. Even after the picking of the premium sun-ripened apples on the outside of the trees - bound for the supermarkets - there was still an abundance to be picked. Inner branches and those near the ground were heavy with low-hanging fruit; this made for quite back-breaking work but there were plenty of children on hand more suited to this, literally, low-level work. That’s when they weren’t charging up and down the rows of trees, chasing and hiding from each other, which seemed to them a much more agreeable way to spend the time than getting snagged on a tangle of branches.

It wasn’t just hard work: with the warm October sun on our backs, it was an idyllic way to spend the morning. It was difficult not to romanticise: this is what my grandparents would have travelled from London to Kent to do for their summer holidays each year. Too many of our lives now don’t have the balance between mental and physical work that is essential to wellbeing and it felt good working up a thirst and an appetite. Eating the produce was a difficult temptation to overcome, especially if you came across one of the sporadic Russet trees, planted amongst the Cox’s for cross-pollination. With skin the texture of coarse leather, these burnished ochre apples are the sweetest you can smell or taste. Having eaten three before the sun was at its highest, I was in danger of leaving no room for the barbecued sausages that were promised for lunch.

After a morning of picking, we wandered back through the rows of fruit trees to the barn where the barbecue was smoking and the cider barrel had been tapped. Refuelled with hot dogs, burgers and cake the children formed a water-fighting mob, running free over the allotment site whilst the grown-ups sat around, basking in the glow of the day-star and drinking cider. The decremental pricing of the cider – first glass £1.50 and each subsequent glass 50p cheaper until your fourth and any further glasses would be free – was a dangerous incentive. However, its cloudy stillness and strength was such that it was impossible to make it past a third glass, although it was pleasant enough making a valiant attempt. All things pomaceous - the effort of apple-picking and the effect of sampling them in their fermented form – finally took their toll and in mid-afternoon the congregation wandered home tired and fulfilled for another year.

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