Ripe for the picking
Country Life UK|September 23, 2020
Ripe for the picking
On a hazy September morning in Herefordshire, John Lewis-Stempel plucks haversacks full of Worcester Pearmains from the orchard and reverts to childhood by climbing up to sit in the top of an ancient tree
John Lewis-Stempel

HIGH in an apple tree, orbs of fruit hanging around my head; a private constellation of red planets. Where the sun touches through the leaves, the apples become enringed with gold-shine.

September sunlight is hazy and imprecise and cannot be mistaken for the sunlight of any other month. The day did not begin like this. In the early morning, there was the sort of mist that is actually fog and it had a choke-hold on the valley. I could barely breathe and, when I was at the top of the ladder picking the apples—Worcester Pearmain, a Victorian breed—my head was in a blind bag.

Fortunately, the sun of summer came back for a last, valiant hurrah, and it banished the fog, except at the brook. I can see the mist down there now: a sullen winter-white anaconda. Waiting. Waiting to constrict again.

In this hiatus, however,I can breathe and I can smell: all around me, in the air, the sour-and-sweet tang of the apple harvest in an autumn Herefordshire orchard. Down the aluminium ladder I go, for the umpteenth time, to unload the nylon McKinley haversack—attached to my front—containing the plucked fruit. Each apple is methodically placed in a wooden box; these are the apples for storage, for family eating on winter nights by the fire.

The haversack is adequate as a picking pouch; when I was a child doing this exact same job, I had a brown canvas satchel, which my persuasive father charmed off the shoulder of the postman. The satchel had GPO stamped on the side. I wish I still had that satchel; it was the best of picking pouches.

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September 23, 2020