Food is the space where memory and your family folklore meet…in this series I explore what these memories are for me.
I was inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s Happier Podcast 235 recently when they discussed their own food memories. Elizabeth and Gretchen raced to remember their favourite foods and places to eat and the joy in their voices was compelling. These food memories can help you think about happiness in childhood but also your family lore and a wider folklore. This is a series to talk about my favourite foods and how they are twisted into our past.
Part One: A is for Apple
I grew up with Bramley apples in our garden. So many that my mother would often make batches of cooked apples and have it in the freezer to heat up with ice cream, sometimes making a crumble. We used to take a vat of the stuff to my Grandfather who apparently liked to mix it into his cornflakes for breakfast. But the memory that I am most fond of is baked simply. These days for ease I use the microwave, I feel like then they sat in the oven while we ate our tea. But when I recreate it, I do it like this:
- A Bramley Apple, cored
- A small packet of raisins stuff inside
- A pinch of cinnamon
- A spoonful of honey in the well
- After two minutes in the microwave, the skin with soften and it’s insides will ooze out and be molten hot.
Each spoonful is a memory of childhood. Even though you have to work quite hard to get through the skin, it’s worth it for slick of it that slides down easily. The apple’s warmth and comfort signal Autumn, my favourite season. I am not sure that I would call this a recipe exactly but it’s a simple pudding that makes me happy.
And this is what food memories can be, the taste can transport us even if they are only a dim replica of what came before. Apples now bought from a supermarket, not collected in haste in late September before they fall to brown mulch on our grass, ruining the patch underneath. Sometimes a bumper crop that we struggled to eat even with friends and family helping.
An apple tree can be a very fleeting thing. You have to catch a Bramley apple in its few moments of ripeness before it is pecked by a hungry bird or disintegrates to mulch. There was nothing more horrifying as a child of picking up a swollen specimen to find the sheen on the top was a lie and it had already gone a mouldy brown. I remember throwing these ones down in disdain. I can still feel the slime on my fingers. But many of those apples survived and fed us for months.
There is in fact a the original specimen of the Bramley apple still in Southwell in Nottinghamshire. There is an archived history here about how it came to be one of the world’s most favourite fruits from a simple seedling planted by a child. They hold a festival to celebrate it each year. The original seedling was planted in 1809 and it was been cultivated. The celebrated tree still bears fruit. According to the excellent The Long, Long life of Trees by Fiona Stafford this is an usual occurrence because apple trees lives are short, usually thirty years.
During the Second World War many Bramley trees were planted across the country as an easy source of food. I like to think that my tree in the 1980s, sprawling as it was, had reached forty years and that’s why it stood there on our suburban lawn. I don’t know nor want to find out if it is still there. Unlike the original tree, it’s probably not bearing fruit.
Apples are a gateway to our youth
It is so apt that the apple tree will forever be associated with my youth. Myths promise an eternal life. The apple in Celtic myth and Arthurian legend led people to the fae. Connla, from the Celtic myth, was lured by a fae maiden by an apple that forever replenished. Morgan Le Fey in Arthurian legend, ruled over Avalon, the isle of apples. Both places where time stops, these are symbols of keeping forever young. Apples are tempting and have allure. Though not mentioned in the bible, modern myth calls the fruit that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden an apple. There are even more associations here. But it is clear to me that Britons over centuries have associated apples and youth.
I have always eaten an apple a day (probably because they were something I was allowed to eat between meals as a child.) But now I think about it, while there may be no science to say this will keep me young, there is certainly reason to believe apples are a gateway to our youth.