10,000 trees it says on the orchard deeds but it feels more like infinity when I’m standing in the main tractor lane that cuts through the middle, as straight as a roman road, with rows of apple trees stretching out on either side of me and ahead to the windbreak of poplars and past them all the way to the beech trees at the edge of Offham woods.

We have come home from France for two weeks to see what can be done with the apple farm. The farmer who rented it for seven years decided not to renew his lease. So this year we’ll try and sell the crop to a local apple juice company who’ll supply the bins and lorries but it’ll be up to us to pick the the fruit.

We are learning about tractors: Massey Fergusons are the best. About models: standard, narrow and vineyard. About equipment: toppers, tipping trailers, rear bin forks. There is the language of apples to learn: cultivars, pollinators, yield. And stories to remember: when you shake a Cox’s Orange Pippin you can hear the rattle of its seeds loosely held in the flesh unlike other apples whose seeds are part of the flesh.

It is mid-May. The blossom has come and gone and the apple buds are as hard and shiny as marbles. Beneath the trees last year's windfalls have almost returned to earth. If there’s enough rain and the right amount of sun, no drought, no freak hail in June, no scab or mildew, then we’ll have a good crop.

Between now and July, when the fruit buyer will come and make his decision, all we can do is mow, spray, weed, and hope for the best.

in the empty cold-store apples everywhere I breathe

MJ’s Tarte aux Pommes

I’ve never really grasped the tart or pie issue. When I was little my mother made what we always called apple tart: on a large Pyrex plate with a pastry bottom and top. But some people will say that a pastry top automatically makes it an apple pie. For others, a pie only has a top crust. In France it’s easier, they’re all tarts. If you know what I mean!

My friend MJ’s recipe is exceptionally easy but impressive. The addition of lemon curd is a touch of delicious genius.

In France the ready made pastry is particularly good. You can buy 'all butter' (pur beurre) versions thus avoiding the dreaded hydrogenated vegetable oil thigh building and heart clogging ones. And you buy it as a ready rolled circle in its own sheet of baking paper too. so all you have to do is unroll it and trim it to fit a flan dish. Alternatively you can buy a ready baked pastry case.

If you go along the uncooked pastry route, prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork once you’ve fitted it into your dish and bake it for about 10 minutes at 180°, just until it starts to turn colour and then continue here:

Spread some bought apple puree over the bottom of the pastry case. About 150gr should be enough. Quarter and core some dessert apples, (don't peel them), slice them thinly and lay them in a pretty pattern over the puree.

Heat a good tablespoon of lemon curd with a teaspoon of water and use it to glaze the uncooked apples. Sprinkle with a little bit of cinammon.

Cook the tart for about 20 minutes at 180° but make sure the pastry doesn’t get too brown.

That’s it. And it looks and tastes gorgeous. Of course you could make your own pastry, your own apple puree, and your own lemon curd. You could even grow your own apples. In which case, I highly recommend the Massey Ferguson 135 as the perfect orchard tractor.

Hungry Writing Prompts
  1. Write about something that doesn’t end or seems as if it will never end.
  2. Write about a tree.
  3. Write about something that is rotten.
  4. Write about waiting and hoping.
  5. Write about a dish your mother used to make.