The other weekend I drove west to see my brother in Dorset. It was a cold spring day and snow was forecast but the roads were still dry. I pulled into a motorway service station in search of petrol and personal sustenance. I didn’t need a coffee but was gaging for some sort of fruit; funny how we get like that about some food …… just gaging for it!! The motorway service stations in the UK have recently been accused of hiking the price of petrol by 15% but overall the quality of the food & drink offing has improved immeasurably since the 1980s when they were graded abdominal!
Three shops comprised the retail section, the first two a burger joint and a coffee shop with its attendant biscuits, buns, wraps, doughnuts and sugary snacks; the other was a small supermarket offering newspapers, CDs, ready meals to put into the microwave when you reached your destination, crisps of every size shape and flavour, snack bars and chocolate made by the well-known manufacturers ….. but the only fruit was an extremely small container of melon balls. Three scoops with the plastic spoon and that would have been it, except you would have been considerably poorer!! No apples, no bananas, no …….. before my current exercise in eating more healthily I would have bought a Twix bar, a Cadburry’s chocolate whole nut, a tube of Smarties or Trebor Extra Strong Mints but this time I had only set my sights on some fruit!! I drove away disgruntled and empty handed. Got me thinking about the health geeks’ exhortations to eat more fruit, eat at least five portions of vegetables and fruit a day etc etc.
In my mother’s day our fruit was mainly home grown, except for bananas. In 1956 my parents bought a house in the Sussex village of Balcombe called ‘Orchards’(see PC 58 Going Home). The name suggests more than one and there wasn’t, but the singular name doesn’t sound right does it?
Some previous owner had planted dozens of apple trees in the garden with the net result that every autumn we picked hundreds of apples, wrapped them in newspaper and put them in cardboard boxes in the cellar, ready to be enjoyed throughout the winter. Invariably about February one would unwrap one and find the whole box had become mouldy. Or you took a bite and found a maggot in the half-eaten apple …… and wondered whether this was a half or the whole maggot ….. and where might the other half be!! We picked apples from the trees without realising just how many varieties of this fruit there are. In another part of the garden were fruit cages full of raspberries, red currents, black currents, blackberries and strawberries. Strong netting was needed to keep hungry birds out.
In addition to the outside grown fruit there was a grape vine in the conservatory attached to the house. With a little bit of careful pruning and mould management it produced small bunches of white grapes. I ate them as if it was my duty, being home grown and all, but actually my memory is of a rather bitter small grape …… with a pip! In UK apples with names like Bramley, Cox, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious were well known and then along came the New Zealand Braeburn which was developed in 1952. Other varieties continue to be developed. English pears, plums, greengages and gooseberries seem to thrive well in our island climate but all the citrus fruits we tend to leave to those Mediterranean countries that have a more suitable one.
Today we have got used to the availability of most fruits month in, month out, although you need a mortgage to buy half a kilo of cherries imported from Chile or Peru out of season. Sadly imported strawberries bought in January suffer in the long flight in low temperatures; the result is a tasteless berry you bought for a premium! Buying ‘in season’ reminds us of the yearly rhythms.
Blueberries were almost unknown in Britain thirty years ago but growing awareness (no pun intended) of their benefits has caused a 500% increase in their production in the UK, rivalling the raspberry in popularity. Experts say that blueberries contain antioxidants that help blood circulation, keep the heart healthy and skin elastic – a classic modern ‘superfood’! In the three years 2005 to 2008 total sales went from £40m to £95m.
And I haven’t mention bananas yet!! Britain became conscious of the banana at the beginning of the C20th due to a marketing campaign by Elders & Fyffes, importers of the fruit from the Caribbean. Sales soared ….. and further increased in 1960 when Mather & Crowther launched a campaign on behalf of the major importers to ‘unzip a banana’. The sexual suggestiveness of the fruit was reinforced when ‘unzip your banana’ became a popular slogan!!
Today the banana is the favourite UK snack with imports from the Caribbean and Latin American countries reaching 5 billion a year. Sadly due to the fickle nature of the buying public, 160 million of these are thrown away each year, either because they were rejected by the supermarkets as too ripe or by the public who let them over-ripen and become black at home. Apart from unzipping and eating it straight, you can BBQ them, fry them, put them into a Banana Sundae or, and this is great, wrap them, without the skin on, in clingfilm and put them in the freezer. If you fancy a banana ‘ice-lolly’, just take it out, leave it to defrost for a few minutes and suck! Yum.
I couldn’t write a postcard without some nod to the use of fruit in our language and I hope you smile at a few that come to mind:
‘Going Bananas’ is used to describe someone becoming irrational or crazy.
‘Life is just a bowl of cherries’.
‘Don’t upset the applecart.’
‘I couldn’t give a fig’ means not to be worried about something, but why the use of the word ‘fig’ is uncertain.
Otherwise it would be sour grapes! The one that I really like is ‘The Apple of One’s Eye’, referring to someone who is irreplaceable and precious. Curiously over a thousand years ago the centre of one’s eye was called the ‘apple’ in English as the Latin word ‘pupil’ had not been introduced. So the association with something precious and the word apple became common.
And my mother would have been amazed at the lychees, star fruit, Kiwi fruit, mangos and papaya one can now buy in most regular supermarkets.
Richard 8th April 2018
PS Pineapples were grown in the UK by the Victorians but today they are virtually all imported. The name has specific connotations in Brazil where a pineapple, apart from their delicious home-grown ones, is a problem to be grappled with! Funny life inn’t?