Banana custard and scrumped plums
Mon, 02 May 2016
Fruit would appear in the house at different times and for various purposes. We had no fruit bowl. There would never be, say, a bunch of bananas, but occasionally there might be two large ones sitting seductively in the kitchen, waiting to be sliced into custard. Sometimes we had oranges and the tops would be peeled off, allowing us to suck and gorge on the juicy flesh of a whole fruit. Tangerines and satsumas arrived in a large quantity at Christmas and no other time. The same with Coxes Orange Pippins. Both those fruits still betoken Christmas to me.
Other apples came and went - abundant while in season and absent the rest of the time - Discovery, Worcester Pearmain, Laxton Superb, Beauty of Bath, James Grieve. The exception was Bramleys, the cooking apples that were available all year as we had a tree in the garden. Towards the end of summer we would start collecting the windfalls for crumbles and pies and would be allowed to eat the small peeled pieces, sour and juicy, before they were cooked. Later the tree would be stripped, the apples picked over, wrapped in newspaper and stored in crates in the loft where they yellowed and mellowed over the winter months.
Mum grew strawberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries. We would be given jobs tending the soft fruit and spent hours crouched, staring at hard little green berries, willing them to become succulent and sweet, eventually yielding to temptation and having to spit out the bitter disappointment.
As we grew older we started scrumping. At first we didn't need to go far as there was a slightly neglected orchard that was separated from the end of our garden by a broken old fence. Apples and pears were there aplenty, but the real treats came in September with demure Victoria plums competing with the honeyed voluptuousness of golden gages. I sat in the gage tree for hours in the late sun scoffing its wonderful fruit until my stomach cramped.
Further afield throughout the season were damsons, cherries and walnuts, all begging to be taken, which of course we did. At the end of September we would be sent out with all kinds of receptacle - shopping bags, biscuit tins, enamel pudding basins, with instructions not to return until they were filled with blackberries.
My dad worked with two men, Amos from Jamaica and Billy from Pakistan. Sometimes they sent us exotic fruit, so amidst the general rural poverty of our lives we would occasionally feast on pineapple, coconuts, lychees and mango. These foods were unknown and unseen by the majority of the British public at the time and that to me typifies a certain kind of working class upbringing - harsh, deprived, yet punctuated by the exotic and picaresque.
All this time Mum would be making pies, puddings, cakes and jams, something I later did for my own family and still love to do now. Naturally when I made my own home I also made sure there was a fruit bowl and it was always full.