The steep way up to James and my sister Mary’s documented orchard of local varieties is littered with shoals of trampled apples – too small to have been much temptation for the youngsters who dared to scrump in our grandparents’ day. Clusters of berries cover a 50ft holly beside an outgrown Norway spruce, while hazels in the sheltering hedge banks show tight catkins among fading leaves, and dark red haws load thorns.
Cidery smells exude from fallen apples such as Mr North’s Cornish Pine, now surplus to the earlier juicing sessions; remains of Mrs Bull’s, a spectacular large crimson apple, lie almost submerged in bedraggled grass. Heavily laden boughs have split from the Herefordshire Pippin, but the fragrant, orange-striped apples hang on to intact branches, unlike the Listener, which has dropped all its primrose coloured fruit (shown by genetic tests as synonymous with Early Bower and the Sack and Sugar).
As the afternoon sun shines through the turning leaves of cherries, a speckled wood butterfly pitches on a carpet of Hocking’s Green, but the yellowish-green Long Keeper and Hambling’s Seedling remain fixed to leafless twigs. Arching canopies spread across the avenues of maturing productive trees, with some sturdy trunks encircled in distinctive drifts of neglected early fruit such as Lizzy, conical-shaped and bright green, which was found at Golant above the River Fowey.
The best keepers have been carefully gathered, stored in shallow drawers in the mouse-proofed, insulated shed. King Byerd, extra large this year, should last until May; Cornish Aromatic, with complex perfumed flavours, improves with keeping; the newer Christmas Pippin – officially named after trialling and patenting by an enthusiast who found the original chance seedling just off the M5 near Bristol – is another long-lasting dessert apple.
Today, James and Mary are having a break from juicing, picking and the clearing away of prunings from the highest cherry trees – by visiting a cider maker on the north Cornwall coast. They have taken samples of their prolific Colloggett Pippin, the Philleigh, Trecarrell Mill Number 1 and Whitpot Sweet – too late to supplement this year’s sparse crops from orchards in that exposed and windy area, but perhaps useful in the future if the producer can organise pickers and transport for the fruit.