August in the orchard

 

With barely a whisper of breeze July has slipped her mooring lines and, lifted by one of the zillion thermals that this extraordinarily warm Summer has conjured, she’s sailed away with barely a backward glance as August rummages for her bathing suit and broad-brimmed hat. To be honest, it’s been a very long time since the month of August required a sun hat, let alone an actual bathing suit. Usually, most of us are probably reaching for our wellies and raincoats as we contemplate the British Summer holiday we sensibly booked a year in advance. But this Summer has continued to stretch herself out and languish just a little while longer on her beach towel.

And of course, I’ve now jinxed it, haven’t I. So you know where to find me if is all goes Pete Tong. I’ll be standing in the cloakroom ready to hand you your boots, coats and soggy pasties.

But for now, it’s still hot, and there’s no sign of rain for the time being.

Yesterday I donned boots and took a walk down through the field to check on the fruit trees, and I could see the heat rising in a shimmy of waves from the still, dry grasses, and all around me the parched symphony of crickets and grasshoppers vibrated loudly from the taller, bleached islands in this thirsty ocean. These string musicians seem fatter than previous years, the legs more elastic, their bounce more ambitious. Wearing boots is of course a wise thing to do, with a view to possible grass snakes, adders and tics, but also they’re usually high enough to avoid the odd grasshopper jumping in. Not this year!

With all this fierce sun it seems that the apples have decided to ripen a little earlier. They’re somewhat smaller than their usual comforting handful, and I would think that’s a direct result of the lack of rainfall for the last couple of months.

I was ready to pick some, but then realised that I wasn’t the only one there. Tuning out the grasshoppers and the husky refrain of a trio of tenor pigeons, I became aware of a deep grumble from a bumbling but busy squadron of hornets. It seemed I was supposed to reserve a table at this particular restaurant. I left them to their endless taster menu and headed back, to return with my beekeeping suit on, legs rolled up for fear of spontaneous combustion. Working carefully with extendable pruning shears, I duckndove among the branches, avoiding the tell-tale rows of striped bottoms that lined the empty hollows of apple husks. There’s plenty for us all, so they’re surely not going to miss a few.

Some of these apples aren’t quite ripe. So it’s likely that I’ll be slicing and freezing a few pounds, compoting others, and using a generous apron-ful for an apple tart. While there are literally hundreds of wonderful recipes out there on the airwaves, the one that springs to mind (and makes me inordinately hungry while I should be thinking of emptying out the latest batch of washing from the machine!) is tarte aux pommes Normande. It’s a simple, sweet and buttery recipe by Elizabeth David, from an old copy of French Provincial Cooking. And of course the whole book is a complete joy and definitely worth hunting down if you haven’t got a copy. I suspect I’m preaching to the converted here.

Meanwhile, back to my day job…

Just recently I’ve become a bit obsessed with cutting fruit in half and painting what I see.

It’s something about portraying hidden details. And apples are no less beautiful, extraordinary, sensuous even, than the obvious choices of fig, pomegranate or strawberry.

Below, a Discovery Apple, in egg tempera

 

As I type this, a loud rumble of thunder has just sent our smallest dog into a fit of terror. He’s now shaking so hard he can barely hold onto the leg of the table he’s chosen to hide beneath. And now it’s actually raining!

So I’ll see you in the cloakroom. Be sure to have your tickets ready.