I ran into Old Man Mallet in the apple orchard yesterday. This was a cause for concern as a) my pockets were literally bulging with apples, b) he was carrying a twelve bore shotgun and c) it’s his orchard. As he glided down the footpath towards me I noticed a pair of squirrels hanging lifelessly from his left hand, an observation that did little to settle my unease.
Perhaps I shouldn’t feel guilty. Thousands of apples line the orchard floor; a muggy sweat of rotting fruit thickens the air with dust and vinegar. It’s an alarming amount of waste and a sad indicator of the decline affecting many English orchards; two thirds of which have disappeared in the last three decades.
Scrumping is by definition an act of criminal enterprise, the acquisition of another person’s property without consent. Theft. Robbery. Pilferage. Orchards aside, I’ve had my eye on an old pear tree that sits in the front garden of a house at the end of the road, branches flecked with russety-hued fruit. Surely too many for one household alone, this is becoming increasingly apparent as a mash of squidged fruit drifts up the driveway and across the lawn. Zero chance of confiscating a few pears off the tree though - not without stilts anyway.
This is the essence of conscientious scrumping - “a few”. Two years ago my parents experienced a sorry episode in which the plum tree on the farm was completely stripped of fruit overnight. Less scrumped, more harvested. As part of the bigger picture it’s not that important (at least it wasn’t a van load of tools), but when you’ve spent the summer looking forward to untold crumbles it’s far from ideal.
Is Scrumping a simple gesture of enthusiasm towards oft-wasted food or contemptible, premeditated plunder? I make it away from Mallet unscathed; he’s far more concerned about being late for a game of tennis at the Manor. Fruit looting has won the day, but I’m stuck with an image of him propelling dead squirrels across court with a beaten-about Slazenger. What a way to spend an evening.
Posted on bbcgoodfood.com 25th November 2009