Many years ago when anything was possible, I pushed an apple pip into the ground and it grew into an apple tree. My apple tree moved with me to two new childhood homes and eventually grew sweet apples that I ate in memory of that first original fruit.
When my parents moved to Devon earlier this year, they tried to bring some part of this apple tree with them. My Dad attempted to graft some winterbound twigs onto new stock, whilst a friend planted fresh cuttings in a transportable mini cold frame. It was the wrong time of year, it was the nature of things – all of these much-appreciated attempts failed (although I still have a pressed leaf from the cuttings of my apple tree).
At the same time as when my parents were preparing to pack up their moving crates however, O and our children planted a new apple tree in our front garden with its own story to tell.
Last November, O brought home a young apple tree from St Bridget Nurseries. He told us how a staff member at the nurseries had helped him to carry the tree to his car. It had been a struggle to wedge the tree into the boot of the car without snapping or trapping any of the precious branches, and they were both tired from the effort. Having recently been in the States where he had learned to reach automatically for his wallet at times like this, O offered to tip the man. The man replied that he wanted no tip, but would instead welcome an apple from the tree the following year.
We planted the tree and worked hard to lay turf over the ground before the first frosts came, only to wake up to an unprecedented covering of snow that lasted for the first two months of our newly-designed garden’s life.
As the ground began to thaw and the dark days started to lengthen, we worried that the young tree had not survived the ill-timed freeze and watched anxiously for signs of growth. Crocuses and daffodils planted at the foot of the tree peeked tentatively through the grass as if unsure about the rewards of pushing upwards through the frozen earth. Buds on the tips of the bare apple tree branches swelled minutely and we held our breath as we waited for Spring to explode.
Among the apples we have collected from our tree this year, one is reserved for the man from the garden centre. We will be taking it to him later today. Fingers crossed he enjoys his slow-to-mature tip!
I’m not alone in turning my thoughts to apples at this time of year. Yesterday saw the 21st anniversary of the autumnal celebration of Apple Day with events around the world to inspire and inform an orchard revival. Close to home, Otterton Mill is hosting food tasting, apple bobbing and other family activities tomorrow, whilst we have the opportunity to press our own apples into juice at Matthews Hall in Topsham on Sunday (perhaps we may grow sufficient apples for a drop or two of juice next year!). There’s still time to discover an Apple Day event near you …
Apparently, the association of apples with Hallowe’en is all down to the Celts. They believed that fruits grew magically in the Island of Apples, an enchanted place that was only accessible by passing through water. So next time you find yourself snorting water as bobbing apples bonk your nose at a Hallowe’en party, it may help to remember this mystical isle.
One of my own favourite apple traditions as a child was to throw the peelings over my shoulder to discover the initials of the person I would marry. Well, would you just look at that … spooooky!
I thought that now would be a good time to share a recipe I was inspired to create recently. It’s a dish for those seasons of mellow fruitfulness when the morning mists cling to the path of the river towards the estuary and the crisp evening skies fill with the aroma of wood smoke from bonfires and hearths.
Pork and Apple Sausage Parcels in Apple Stew
2 small onions, halved and cut into long slices
2 sticks celery, diced
6 mushrooms, diced into large chunks
1 green chilli, chopped finely
3 dessert apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
150 ml chicken stock
8 oz pork fillet
6 pork and apple sausages
6 rashers unsmoked back bacon
500 ml dry cider
Using an ovenproof 10″ saucepan with lid:
Fry the onions, celery, mushrooms and chilli in 2 to 3 tbsp olive oil to soften.
Add diced apples, herbs and chicken stock.
Cut the pork into 4 slices, then bash each with a mallet into rectangles. Split 3 of the sausages from their casings and divide the sausagemeat between the pork rectangles. Roll each rectangle and wrap with bacon (1 1/2 slices per pork parcel). Secure with string.
Split the casings of the remaining sausages and make balls out of the sausagemeat. Add to the pan and fry to brown.
Place the pork parcels on top of the apple stew and add the cider (it should come halfway up the sides of the pork parcels).
Cover and place in the oven at 160 degrees C for 1 1/2 hours.
Untie the parcels to serve. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice.