As we fall into autumn, the culinary habits of the British people shift. Denied strawberries, the default home-grown fruit of choice becomes the apple. What could be more comforting on a Sunday evening in October than a joint of pork served with a Delia style array of leeks, potatoes, parsnips and carrots, topped with a generous helping of apple sauce? (Follow it with apple crumble if you so wish…) It is a particularly pleasurable experience to bite into a cox (no innuendo please, those of you who row) or delicate russet (ditto), cold from the market stall on the way to lectures. Not only is it a pleasure, but a comfort.
For me the taste of apples is intrinsic to any conception of childhood: for a start, pureed apple is the ubiquitous dessert for any toddler. But progressing from the age of two to that of ten, my early memories are laced with recollections of bobbing, toffee apples, peeling skin spirals in one piece, apple rings drying in the airing cupboard and fights with windfalls at the foot of the tree, gently mouldering in the grass. It seems I cannot help fabricating for myself a rather bucolic upbringing.
In these memories of childhood lies the crux. Nearly every person I know was brought up on Disney films and out of all the Disney movies, Snow White terrified me the most. Tricked by a seemingly kind, though damnably ugly, old woman, our beautiful heroine allows herself to be hoodwinked into taking a bite of what appears to be a harmless apple, the end result being a rather sinister, if temporary, coma. In effect, the humble apple has a dark side. And this is not only applicable in cartoons.
Apples contain one of the deadliest poisons known to man, and it can be found at the very core of the apple’s being – the pips. Ever wonder why they taste like almonds? Ever wonder why almonds taste like almonds? Cyanide. Yes, it’s shocking; almost as scary as having your father point an arrow at your head; but never fear, the shot is aimed above your hairline, not at it. The cyanide is neutralised in a compound form called amygdaline and contains nowhere near enough the amount required to knock out a human. To do this you would have to lob the orb, and even then it might just glance off the cranium, as happened with Mr Newton. But in any case, the fact is that we simply cannot ignore the duality of this most homely of fruit.
Those Classicists amongst you will be aware that the Latin for apple is malum, the same as the word for evil; a fact Eve might have found useful if history were put in a blender and the Romans appeared before Adam. As it is, the generally received opinion is that an apple precipitated the Fall (though I have it on good authority from other sources that it was variously an orange and a pomegranate), and even now, in sufficient quantities, they can have the same effect. I am talking, of course, of an excess of cider. Though this can be applied to any alcohol, there is a particularly interesting side to cider. It has been posited that an undergraduate can live indefinitely on beer, however, one bright spark has pointed out that unless you were prepared to have a few Corona each day, the result would be the scourge of sailors: scurvy. But with cider’s Vitamin C content, this is not the case.
The plug: on Sunday October 21st, there is an apple fair at the Botanic Gardens between 10am and 4pm. Tickets are £2. Tempted? I am. Pip pip.