Thursday, May 10, 2007

Apple Blossom, May Blossom and Golden Trees

We have a very old apple tree at the bottom of our garden. It is now on a two year cycle - perhaps because of its advanced age, it paces itself, and only fruits every second year - in between we get the odd apple, but that's all. This year, I'm happy to relate, is definitely an apple year. Usually our tree is very cautious - only bursting into bloom when the much more impulsive ornamental cherries are long gone. But we have had a very mild and sunny spring, and the apple tree is full of the most beautiful blossom. At the same time the big hawthorn or may tree at the bottom of the garden is just blossoming, so the whole place smells fabulous. This blossom is the source of the old saying 'Ne'er cast a clout till may be out' which means don't take off your winter woollies till the may is blossoming, and not, as people sometimes think, before the end of May. So if it's a warm spring you can cast a few clouts a month earlier!
Meanwhile, the tree at the top is growing a few hundred yards from here. When the leaves are new, it looks golden - and always reminds me of those Mallorn trees which Tolkien wrote about! I always found that bit of the Lord of the Rings incredibly sad - the fact that once the elves were longer on Middle Earth, the magic of those trees would fade and die. Celts loved trees, and sometimes worshipped them - or the spirits which inhabited them. Anyone with a knowledge of Celtic history will realise how much of his inspiration for all things elvish Tolkien took from the Celts. I have no idea, incidentally, what variety the apples are. They are what are known in the UK as 'cooking apples' ie quite large, greenish apples, which are good in pies and puddings. But they aren't Bramleys, which are the most common cooking apples to be found in our supermarkets. These are a bit smaller, and much sweeter than Bramleys. When the autumn sun gets on them, the skins have a golden tint. The flesh cooks wonderfully - at once juicy, sweet, fluffy - and has the advantage that you hardly need to add any sugar at all!