Sunday, September 23, 2012

Happy Autumn & Scrumpy, and The Art of Scrumping

1015leaves1 by megan_n_smith_99
1015leaves1, a photo by megan_n_smith_99 on Flickr.
Happy Autumn!

"No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face."

--John Donne

One of my Autumn memories on the farm is of going down the "rocky road" at the end of our street to pick apples. There was an overgrown dirt road leading down into a large and wildly overgrown lot, and in amongst the blackberries and evergreens there were some old and forgotten apple trees. I don't know if there was ever a house back there - if there was we never found the foundation - but there had been an orchard and to the orchard we went to gather apples.

The Brits sensibly have a word specifically for stealing apples - alas, there seems to be no American equivalent.

Michael Quinion, word guru and former curator of the Cider Museum in Hereford, defines scrumping thusly:

"...the earliest example is from 1866. The source is uncertain but seems to be from a dialect term meaning something withered, shrivelled or dried up. It may be linked to the old adjective scrimp, scanty or meagre, from which we get the verb scrimp, to economise or be thrifty.

Support for this comes from an early meaning of scrumping, which referred to taking windfalls or the small apples left on the trees after harvest. This evolved into illicitly taking any sort of apples."

I know some of my readers are fans of Scrumpy, a type of hard cider. Quinion goes on to say:

"If you’re familiar with British cider, you will know scrumpy for a cheap and rough, though strongly alcoholic, variety which is a hazard to the unwary. Its name is a relative of scrumping in its oldest sense because it was often brewed from small or unselected apples. Modern brands that go by that name are mild compared with the vinegary farm-made sort of old, which a farmer described to me in Herefordshire many years ago as squeal-pig cider, this being the noise you made when you tried it. “It used to take three people to swallow a mug of it,” another old countryman told me, “One to drink and the other two to hold him upright.”

I, myself, find Scrumpy to be just a bit too much for my delicate palate.

But --Back to my erstwhile adventures in scrumping. Apples were to be had. There was no one else about to pick them. The land was owned by a developer who perhaps had never even set foot on it - if he had, he certainly did not make a habit of it. In the late 1970s we were going back to the land and I guess it was okay if the land was not ours, providing no one else was using it. Nature's bounty should not go to waste.

I can remember my sister and I using some of these apples to carve apple heads for dolls. We dried them on the wood stove. I cannot recall that we ever came up with an idea to make bodies that met our exacting standards. We also carved apples like tiny jack-o-lanterns. I can't at all recall how we hollowed them out, but I do remember that it was extremely tricky. And we peeled them, in long swooping peels. If you threw a peel over your shoulder it was supposed to land in the shape of your true love's first initial. Usually a C. And it was always exciting to see if you could peel an entire apple in one fell swoop - one long spiral.

This all happened decades ago, and those apple trees are long gone. The abandoned orchard no longer exists, the land was cleared, and it's now the site of a Johovah's Witness church. But I'd like to think that God was just as present in those apples.

Autumn Leaves
4.5 x 3"
ink, watercolor, and colored pencil

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