In our garden, behind the kitchen, stands an apple tree. We think it must have been planted there over eighty years ago, long before this house was built. It isn’t a perfect shape. Some of its lower branches are truncated, and, on top, dozens of water shoots reach feebly to the sky. Its bark is deeply ridged and scarred from old washing lines.
Its imperfections are especially apparent in the winter. Laid bare, its branches reveal all the awkwardness, inconsistency and lack of balance that only decades of poor pruning can achieve. Each January I eye it up from the kitchen sink, collect my saw and stepladder and climb, trembling, into its crown. I remove a few of the lower offenders before retreating, afraid of its full twenty feet.
By spring my dissatisfaction has melted away with the last of the frosts. There is no arguing with apple blossom. From Ilse’s bedroom window the whole world is awash with miniature ballerinas, twirling pink tutus in the warming breeze.
Come the summer it shades us generously, lingering over lunch on the patio. A family of bluetits takes up residence in its hollow trunk, and last year, when we grew the lawn into a meadow, they swooped through the evening air, gathering insects in perfect parabolas. Bluetits, gin and tonic and an hour on my favourite bench. Heaven.
The windfalls start in August. Apple butter, apple cake, stewed apple, apple crumble – no matter how fast I cook them I never get to the bottom of my basket before their bruises ripen. They are banished to the compost. By September I sigh at every thump: I am tired of peeling apples.
So this Sunday I rallied the family into our annual picking. The usual questions were resolved: who would wrap the apples (me), who would ferry them from the pickers to my hands (Seb, Ilse and Fliss), and who would get to go up the ladder to pick just a few (everyone, naturally).
There was some precarious balancing on the very top of the steps, and some delicate manoeuvring of Fliss’s hockey stick, but they are in. This morning there were only five windfalls, dropped from the higher branches. I can cope with five. Apple pie for supper, I think.