It’s Jewish New Year and apples feature heavily on the menu. In a rare blog (she is usually encouraging JBG scholars to write about their experiences), UK Friends’ organiser, Barbara, shares some thoughts on her garden tree.
Most years, we send an email to our friends and relatives, wishing them a happy and healthy New Year, usually featuring a photo of the apple tree in our back garden. This year, for the first time, I shared the same picture with my colleagues at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens and I was surprised by the interest it raised.
We have always lived in London and have moved several times over the years. In the 1930s, there was a huge amount of house-building on the outskirts of London, creating large suburbs. It was made possible by the extension of the London Underground travel network and most of the houses we’ve occupied were built during that time. With only one exception, we have always had an apple tree in our back garden so I think it must have been part of the developer’s utopian dream that every family should have a fruit tree of their own. We are very happy that ours is well, thriving and a generous producer of fruit.
It’s been suggested we cut the tree down as it takes up such a lot of space in our small back garden. Yes, it does and it also takes quite a lot of work collecting windfalls which quickly go rotten and squidgy, picking and processing the fruit and getting the brown stains off my fingertips, raking up the leaves and organising pruning. But what joy that tree brings.
There’s the first day in Springtime when the tight deep-pink buds blossom into delicate pink flowers of breath-taking beauty.
There’s the shade it provides in the summer and the dappled light on the ground underneath. In the late afternoon sunlight catches the topmost apples so they are the first to develop red ‘cheeks’, a sign they are nearly ready to pick. There is also that first delightful mouthful of stewed apple, tart yet sweet, fragrant … and free!
Our tree provides food and shelter for wildlife; we watch a family of squirrels carefully select the best apples to munch. They are clever enough to wedge small apples into a knot in one of the tree’s branches so it is easier to eat, and easier for the birds to access as well. Family groups of blue tits arrive for elevenses and tea and eat the insects, blackbirds get tipsy on fermented windfalls and magpies, robins and wood pigeons take their share. We leave the smaller apples on the tree for the birds and last year we saw for the first time a visitor from Scandinavia, a fieldfare, who quite aggressively defended its place at the tree dining table. Last year the supply lasted until January before we hung feeding stations in the tree.
We don’t know what cultivar our tree is. It is a cooking apple that doesn’t look much like any of the apples I’ve found on apple-identification sites (http://www.fruitid.com) but the UK grows more species of apples than anywhere else and there are at least 7,500 different types! We even have a word ‘scrumping’ specifically to describe the act of taking apples from someone else’s tree.
Our apples find their way into the freezers and stomachs of our family, friends and neighbours. I can incorporate our apples into almost any recipe I prepare; soups, sauces, cakes, crumbles and last year I bottled apple sauce for the first time! It is a pleasure and a blessing to be able to share our bounty, especially when our tree kindly ripens its fruit to coincide with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and a time when it is traditional to eat apples dipped in honey.
q.What’s worse than finding a worm in an apple?
a. half of one.
So on that note, I bring my observations to a close and wish everyone a year of health, happiness and peace.