I'm sure no one will contradict me when I say that growing or foraging, then preparing and eating, your own food has a certain magical but, at the same time, earthly appreciation attached to it. Tasting the Bramble Jelly I made in August under this November's grey sky transports me to the side of the
blackberry hedge again, the one that runs east along the railway line towards Moorland Wood, to the scent of the sun in long grass, the lazy buzz of summer's insects, the grazes and scratches along my arms ignored for the sake of the ripe fruit.
I'm on my last jar: I don't know how long I can make it last.
I made this year's apple jellies - Mapple (apple and mango), Chapple (apple with chilli) and Whapple (you're probably noticing a pattern now (!) - apple with whisky) - from the leftovers, the occasional overlooked fruit and the windfalls, after the pickers rolled purposefully through the orchard in September then tractored their brimming crates to Chegworth Valley Farm, not far from Harrietsham, Kent, to be made into juice.
The Deme family who run Chegworth have taken our apples for several years. David Deme established the fruit farm in the early 1980s on a 15 acre parcel of land that had originally been a dairy farm attached to the Leeds Castle estate.
Today the farm stretches across 100 acres, all of it certified organic by the Soil Association: apples, pears, soft fruit, seasonal vegetables and salads. But these are cold facts and the reality of what happens on the farm is far more vibrant and life-affirming. Let me try again.
Have you ever tasted sorrel fresh from the ground? It's like a burst of lemon juice across your tongue.
And nasturtium leaves and their bright, carrot-coloured flowers? The surprising peppery bite of radish heat.
In a poly-tunnel, still simmering with the smell of summer in November, the ripening strawberries grow like trees, fruit spilling from their waist-high raised and propped up beds. Another tunnel opens like a yawn, the organic soil raked ready for planting with more salad crops: rocket, or rainbow
chard, or spinach.
These are the whispering crops: their delicacy and freshness picked and bagged and sold within a day or two. Back at the farm entrance the apples are causing more of a hullabaloo: rumbling and chundering out of wooden bins, along conveyor belts, through baths and presses, their juice flowing one way into the stainless steel vats, their flesh rolled and spilled another to go back onto the land as fertiliser.
Egremont Russet, Cox, Bramley: all shades of apple gold. Or Apple and Beetroot, or Elderflower, or Strawberry, or Blackberry. Pasteurised, bottled, capped, cooled, cleaned, labelled and boxed.
Perhaps the day I visited coloured my response to the farm: one of our recent blue-skyed and sun-plumped November days when everything seems right. But even on a cold muddy January day you couldn't help but be impressed by what happens here: the land loved and respected.
Want a little more magic? How about a gleaming raspberry whose hull lifted out like Cinderella's foot from a glass slipper.
The small rewards. The great gifts.
Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about what happens in the earth.