We ate a lot of fruit as kids. Growing up on a fruit farm we sort of had to. It would have been churlish to declare a lack of interest in Bramley apples, russets, Victoria plums, cherries and Conference pears. An allergy to fruit would have been considered family disloyalty.
The minute the first baby pears and apples started to form, my brothers and I would stop our bikes and knaw at them, unbothered that they had no sweetness whatsoever. As the summer went on, they got sweeter and plumper until, one day, all of a sudden, they weren’t there any more. Picked, packed and on the way to the supermarket – or possibly the big forbidding cold stores across the orchards where dials and flashing lights kept the fruit in a sinister kind of hibernation.
At harvest time we went in search of the sweet pollinators dotted inamong the Bramley trees and stretched our school jumpers with tens of Spartans, Miller’s Seedling, Worcesters and English Delicious, waddling back to the house with our haul. As you can imagine we at a LOT of baked apples in our time. And we are no strangers to stewed apple.
But it wasn’t all eating. Oh no. Growing up on a fruit farm was political too. When the French Golden Delicious hit our shores, Dad handed us ‘I’m an English Apple Eater’ stickers which we plastered all over our schoolbooks and bedroom walls as protest at this Franco invader. No records survive of this brave endeavour but I’m sure it scared the French.
As the years passed, the picking workforce changed. First it was local women laughing and shouting jokes at each other over the branches, then quiet, breathtakingly efficient Eastern European students, camping in tents and saving up for houses and cars. I’d help out, picking pears in the rain or, much more preferably, sunbathe on the bonnet of a tractor reading DH Lawrence until the call for ‘Tractor’ roused me to pick up a full bulk bin and move it to the collection point. I developed a crush on a Bosnian that summer. It was the DH Lawrence.
The visiting pickers would have big parties at the packing sheds, making their own bootleg alcohol and using the tractor lights as disco lights. One year we had a whole load of Mongolians who worked out how to reverse the charges on the payphone. They weren’t asked back.
As the supermarkets became ever more controlling of the fruit market, the orchards changed. Out came the cherries and the plums, in went more pears and Bramleys because that was where the money was. The trees got smaller, pruned into squat shapes. I missed the plums and cherries.
Now I live in the city I get a bit wistful about my farm childhood, particularly since a lot of the orchards are grubbed up now, awaiting who knows what endeavour. But this summer has seen my little garden give my nostalgia a run for its money.
This has been the best summer for fruit I can remember in this garden. I might not be filling my jumpers with Spartans, but I’m picking figs for breakfast every day, grazing on handfuls of blackberries and blueberries, gorging on plums. June saw an ambrosial crop of apricots and some sweet if rather disoncertingly wrinkly peaches. My French pears – disloyalty alert, the Conference doesn’t quite cut it for me taste-wise – are frankly ginormous, and the grapes are plumping up nicely. It wouldn’t make any impact on the supermarkets, but right now this little farm does it for me.