Monday, 16 September 2013

Season of the apple

Better Seamus than me!
Saturday was the day to end all sunny days. Blue skies and warm autumn sunshine, warm enough to bring out the butterflies and bees that darted around the garden on the ivy and in the long grass, get the birds singing loudly, and better than all that it was the perfect day to pick apples.

Marys apple tree in Tallow is probably close to 100 years old,(her house is over 100 years old) but it's incredible just how productive it continues to be. Last year there were no apples, not a one, and she was very disappointed. This year almost by way of apology it has outdone itself, we ran out of fruit crates, ran out of boxes and finished up with 5 kg potato bags!

I have no idea what the variety is. I can only describe it as a cooker that blushes a nice shade of red on the southern side of the tree, not much of a description really, and I have been tempted to have it officially named if I could find someone to identify it. ISSA used to do it but I don't think they offer that service anymore. Just in case anything happens to it I have grafted it a few times and the new "Tallow wonder" trees are doing nicely. My sister in law got her first decent harvest from hers this year. I'm still at the pruning stage with mine, trying to imitate the open goblet shape of the original tree, perhaps the secret of its long productive life. Maybe its thanks to the deep loam soil and mild southern weather of County Waterford, or the walled garden it calls home, protecting spring flowers from late Spring frosts. The trees next door are still producing too despite absolutely no intervention for years and being surrounded by a forest of weeds!

the very best apples get their own VIP box
The great thing about helping Mary is the advanced "apple training" I have got over the last 12 years. After all that time I really understand that a  successful apple harvest depends on a few things, and these are the same things that apply to any gardeners harvest, especially long term storage crops.

First at the picking stage they must be picked with great care (treat them gently "like eggs" to quote Mary), putting them carefully into the collection bucket, leaving aside anything that falls as it is being picked and treating "fallen" apples as windfalls, not for storage.

Once the bucket comes to the ground the apples have to be sorted. Mary has 3-4 categories. Only the most perfect apples made the grade for long term storage, so sorting the apples according to their keeping qualities is really important. Even little holes present the opportunity for rot down the line so any apple with a hole won't make it to the storage shed. The most perfect apples are the VIPs, they are huge, blemish free, fat and satisfying. Most of these can fill a whole apple tart by themselves.

Mary sorting the apples at the apple "factory"
Next are the regular sized  apples, perfect for storage for at least six months although they will need to be checked over regularly.That old expression " one rotten apple rots the whole barrel" is really true when it comes to storing apples over many many months. If you don't check over them regularly you can lose a hole bag or box thanks to one stinker!

The third category is the almost perfect apples, with some small blemish tat means they cant be stored but at least 80-90% of the apple itself is perfectly good. These go into a use quickly category and get sent out to friends and relatives first as they wont keep for much longer than a week or two and will dis improve dramatically after that.

bucket ready for sorting
The last category are the windfalls, lots of bruises, chunks gouged out by birds and wasps and cracks from where they fell and hit the ground. These apples need to be used up asap, and usually Mary , God love her, makes a pile of apple jelly to use them up quickly before they rot away to nothing. For a few devoted apple lovers Mary will send out these windfalls first, with the promise of the better apples to come.

You would be amazed at how many people Mary manages to supply from this one tree. Her extended family in Limerick and Tipperary, neighbours, friends and now a supply extends to my mother in west Clare! Mary wouldn't see a single apple go to waste and I suppose its a testament to living through more frugal times even if on occasion Marys tales of war time rationing ( how many ounces of tea they were allowed!) remind me of Uncle Albert on Only fools and Horses!

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