From the Garden of Eden to the I-Phone, from attracting a
teacher to repelling a doctor (‘an apple for the teacher’ and ‘an apple a day
keeps the doctor away’ respectively), from the wicked stepmother Queen in Snow
White to the humble, homespun American Pie, is there any fruit as laden with
myths, metaphors and meaning as the humble apple?
Whether symbolically or literally, many of us hold an apple
of some kind in our hands on a daily basis.
They are all around us, red, green, shiny, round, crisp, crunchy, sweet,
sour (or rendered in white plastic with a neat bite mark taken). Never are they more common than at this time
of year, where even in towns and cities it is possible to find trees straining
under the weight of their ripe juicy goodness.
For me, as I mentioned in Week One’s reflection, there is no surer sign
that autumn is here than being offered a bag of home-grown apples. Of all nature’s fall bounty, it seems that
apple trees are the most generous givers.
They shower their owners (or the volunteers who gather for the
increasingly common community harvests) with gluts of fruit – branches and
branches and branches there to be picked and devoured, lest they go to waste.
Lest they go to waste…With this abundance comes a sense of
responsibility, a feeling of duty towards the offering set before them. Every person I know with an apple tree seems
to suffer the same sense of guilt if each and every last one is not harvested
and put to good use. They become
obsessed with giving them away by the large bag load – you can never take just
a few. ‘Take more! Take more!’, the
owners cry, ‘Give them to your mum/your nan/your friends/people you work with! Please.
PLEASE. YOU WILL TAKE MORE!’
And so even those of us far removed from possession of an
apple tree begin whipping up all manner of apple-based culinary goods: pies,
crumbles, sauces, chutneys, cakes, even fruit leather. Stodgy desserts that we haven’t eaten all
year suddenly become appealing. This may
be in part because of the cooler weather but I’m convinced that it is also
because in homes the northern hemisphere over there are two dozen cooking
apples sat on the kitchen worktop that one feels morally obliged to use up. Childhood echoes of ‘there are starving
children in Africa’ ring in our ears if we even think about chucking them
out. We become as frantic as the tree
owners themselves: the apples must get used up!
Buy the corner shop’s entire supply of custard – we’re going to need
Thus we find ourselves in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up and
hands busy peeling, chopping, slicing, mixing.
The light outside begins to fade and the windows steam up with the heat
from the oven. We keep checking on
cooking progress because we can’t quite remember if we’ve done it correctly – I’m
sure those were the ratios my grandma used to use – oh if only I could ring her
up, she’d definitely remember – of course they didn’t have fan ovens then, I’m
not sure I’ve accounted for the different cooking times correctly – does it
matter that I’ve used ordinary rather than caster sugar? – I don’t think it’s
important – is it flour or sugar that you sprinkle on the top? – it seems like
so long since I last made a crumble, now when was it? Must have been last autumn, you know, doesn’t
the year pass quickly…
Here we are again.
Peeling, chopping, slicing, mixing, just like last year and the one
before. Just as our forebears did. The seasonal glut of apples connects us with
those who went before in the same way that it links us more directly with the
source of our food than the usual reliance on industrial agriculture and mass
The seasons of the year and the seasons of life were
well-known to earlier generations but they no longer shape our lives to the
same extent. Modern living provides many
advantages that we should be grateful for, but in losing our link to the
changing of the year we have also lost our sense of interconnectedness to each
other and the world around us. Yet the
autumn apple brings it all back to us. They
evoke particular memories along with something deeper, a more ethereal sense of
remembering. We may not be able to put
our finger on exactly what it is, but as we peel and chop and slice and mix, it
slowly comes into focus: the depths of existence, glimmers of what lies beneath
the surface appearances of life.
And when we have remembered what it is that we always knew,
we get to eat the fruits of this profoundly spiritual labour.
This week, then, let us learn what the autumn apples have to
teach us. Pick some up, whether from a
friend, road-side stall or your regular shop, then get curious about what the humble
fruit has to offer you…
Maybe experiment with meditating about your apple. If you uncertain about doing this ‘freestyle’
then there are some instructions about how to go about doing so here.
Whether you love baking or loathe it, how about cooking your
apple in some way? See what the
experience brings up for you in terms of memories or associations (it could be even more interesting if you don’t like baking).
Get out your journal and set a target (say twenty minutes or
three pages). Then put ‘apple’ at the
top of the page and start from there, simply writing whatever comes to
mind. It may begin as a list or
capturing a particular moment that comes to mind, but who knows where it will
go from there.
Children are not required but it would probably be fun for them too 🙂 There’s the hanging from string version or
head in water version (I was never a fan of the latter).
And don’t forget to share your responses on the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page or via
the #fourthquarter2015 hashtag on Instagram and Twitter.