If memories could be stored in boxes, this summer would have filled the multitude that still sit in our attic from our move here, 16 years ago. Except memories should never be allowed to be stored, sealed, and mothballed. This summer I watched and mentally ‘clicked’ on as many moments as I possibly could fit in my head.

Our children are growing up and it’s taken me until now to acknowledge just how fast it’s happening.

Spring always seems to be so busy amongst the veg beds (dig, sow, plant, water, weed, repeat) that often I forget to look over my shoulder and see what the fruit trees are doing. If I do, I’m lucky to be greeted by a riot of blossom; the trees become petticoated in layer upon layer of froth and flounce. It’s a sight that sends me right back to my grandpa’s orchard in Cornwall. As a child I used to spend hours lying on my back in the grass, surrounded by fresh goslings, gazing up through the gnarly bows of his ancient apple trees.

As Spring slips into Summer, the flowers wilt and their petals pool as confetti beneath our young trees. And miraculously, tiny embryonic fruit begin to emerge.

This year, for the first year ever, both of our young pear trees have decided to push on past the bloom, and braving ridicule from the more productive apple and plum, they’ve produced a total of five Williams, and two Conference. And I almost missed them. Yet there they are, dangling enticingly amongst the curtain of shiny, ovate leaves, ‘almost’ within my grasp… and definitely within a beak’s bite of a keen-eyed bird.

But now I know where they are I’ve been watching them closely, giving the lowest one a tentative squeeze. The second it yields under the pressure of a thumb, I’ll fetch the ladder.

To me, a pear, ripened on a tree, (or a windowsill, if the birds are queueing along the branches) is perhaps the most perfect fruit to eat as is, unfluffed or adulterated with any pastry or pomp. Straight from the tree, there are really only two ways to eat a pear. You can cup it’s round and plumptious bottom, and with the briefest of crunches you’re straight through and into the flesh… or you can use a knife. I have a penknife that I found while climbing in France. It’s a beautiful old thing… simple, elegant and with just one blade. To pierce the skin at the tip, and slip the blade down as the pear widens to it’s fulsome rump, and open out a perfect twin of creamy white, is a joy… and just as messy. That sweet burst of heady, perfumed juice, followed by an unconscious knuckle-wipe of a wet chin.

Autumn has arrived and I’m sitting in my little studio, and I’m finishing these conference pears, in egg tempera. And of course it’s difficult not to draw a parallel with my sweet children, who, like the pear trees, have blossomed and now fruited into young adults…. and I almost missed it. So I’m stashing away these precious moments in my head and heart, to the point where there’s a more than slim chance that I could just burst… this driving sense of urgency that I now feel, like trying to stuff the feathers into a pillowcase, before they float off, out of my reach.

But I won’t forget this Summer.

The plum


I can’t remember the first plum I ate… though I suspect it was perhaps more of a tinned, rehydrated prune, the kind you’re offered in a pudding bowl with others, forming little shrivelled islands in a thick yellow sea of Bird’s Eye custard (which I love). I do recall the heated debates that would ensue, if either my brother or I got the ‘right’ number of prunes that would henceforth have the undisputable POWER to predict a future. In fairness, it was blatantly geared towards girls, and the assumption that they would aspire to marry, and marry a ‘rich man’ at that. The list of potential suitors could perhaps do with an update, to include, among others, ‘Angelina Jolie lookeelikee, yoga guru, ecowarrior, Tom Hollander, bearded person, heaven forbid:Donald Trump’…

Come Summertime, plums would appear in a bowl on the kitchen table, nestled amongst Cox’s Pippin apples and Conference pears. But I rarely reached for them, preferring the convenience of an apple that didn’t leak and make hands awkwardly sticky.

If only I’d known…

Now a ‘grownup’, with a family and a bit of land, we’ve planted apple, pear and plum. They hunker down in a little orchard that we’ve fenced off from the deer, who would strip the young trees within minutes, given the chance. In July it is one of the greatest pleasures, to slip down, alone, to the orchard, and pick a sun ripened plum.  Standing beneath the little tree, with the sun on my back, a warm and voluptuous plum in my hand… the wave of delicate perfume radiating from the blush and bloom of this Rubenesque jewel; a flavour bomb waiting to happen: utterly beguiling.

And then there’s that first bite… the lick-of-the-lips smooth skin as tongue guides teeth to the plump ‘give’ point… the give to the gave, as teeth pierce to flesh; it’s messy. Juice will always roll down from palm to wrist, and if unchecked, will trickle to the bony tip of an elbow as, throwing all caution to the wind, you go in for a second bite. It’s perhaps one of the most sensuous fruits, second only to a ripened fig. Summer love, in all it’s fresh and sweet abandon. And no one wants it to end… so you reach for another plum.

As I write this, I’m working my way through the left over ‘models’ from the egg tempera illustration above… “tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor…” I feel as if I’ve cheated a little, enwrapped as I am in this deliciously sweet moment before time… it is only May.

But it was worth it.