I’ve been reading Lorna’s blog ‘Gin & Lemonade‘ for… I don’t know. Years. She was featured once on Freshly Pressed back when I was a spry young thing with enough time to randomly browse other blogs because I liked the titles of their posts, and I stuck around. I recently joined her blogging group on Facebook, and one of the things she’s created are weekly prompts. Lorna’s Ginspiring Writing Prompts, someone’s nicknamed them.
Last week’s prompt was about sepia-toned fall memories. I failed to write a post, mostly because I couldn’t come up with any memories, sepia-toned or not. I have a terrible memory, and I guess there’s nothing I particularly associate with autumn, other than school, which isn’t even vaguely sepia in my head. It’s blue and grey and white, if you made me pick at all.
My first response to this was a negative one. As you’re all probably aware, food is a daily struggle for me: I have dozens of allergies and dietary requirements. I’m coeliac (so can’t have any gluten whatsoever). I’m also lactose-intolerant, and have pollen-food syndrome, so I can’t eat fruit or nuts because my immune system is incompetent. The list of things I can’t digest gets longer every week (onion! garlic! chickpeas!) and I still haven’t got to the bottom of it.
Food is, to be frank, a massive pain.
But then I thought about, and realised that memories are all I have of a lot of foods. (Sugared jam doughnuts. Chip shop chips. Bakery bread that’s crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle, with a thick coating of butter. McVities chocolate digestives.) Sometimes they’re foods that are just nice. Others are associated with particular times and rituals and habits. And some are sensory experiences I haven’t been able to replicate.
The most autumnal of those lost experiences is apples.
I stopped being able to eat apples long before I knew about any of my other dietary requirements. At the allergy clinic, they called it pollen-food syndrome. Others call it oral allergy syndrome, or some variation on that name. It’s not the apple itself that I react to: it’s my immune system recognising that fruit and pollen are not dissimilar, and freaking out about them both.
At first I thought it was a bit of apple skin scratching my throat as it went down, but it happened every time I ate an apple, and the scratching feeling got worse. It began to affect my tongue and lips, too, and eventually I realised I’d have to stop eating apples.
I don’t think I’ve eaten an apple in about six years, maybe longer.
There’s nothing that really compares to the crunch of biting into an apple. The slicing sensation of your teeth through the skin and then the fruit underneath. (What is that called: the flesh? the meat? Either sounds distinctly creepy.) The sound it makes. There were always bad apples, that made a dull shhhhhh sound when you bit into them, too soft to give any resistance, and those were a letdown. Apples, I always thought, should never be mushy.
Which is where me and the parental units disagreed. We have apple trees in our garden, one of them producing a huge crop of large cooking apples every year. And every year my parents made them into stewed apple. Buckets of apples appear in the house, lurking until they’re either stewed or thrown away for being too rotten. Maggots occasionally made an appearance, usually heralded by disgusted shrieking. The freezer became full of ice cream tubs re-used to store stewed apple.
Autumn, then, is about apples. Apples in places you least expect them (“Why is there a bucket of apples in the cellar?”). The smell of apples drifting out of the fridge when you open it because there are far too many crammed into one of the drawers at the bottom. The bowl full of apple peelings in the sink because Dad’s stewing a fresh batch.
And yet even in the days when I could eat apples every day (and often did), I didn’t like stewed apple. It was texturally wrong. (I also don’t like smoothies. Or soup. Liquid food just upsets me, basically.) Dad urged me to try it, year on year. “Give it a go,” he’d say. “Stewed apple is nice.” But I always refused.
He’s mostly stopped suggesting it now. With pollen-food syndrome, cooking the fruit often kills the part your body reacts to, and pasteurised fruit juice ought to be safe. But I can only have apple juice in small quantities, and still react to larger amounts. These days, almost all fruit-based soft drinks are off limits, even if you’d think their fruit content was too low to cause a reaction, because my body seems to have become hypersensitive to it. After years of objecting that (a) I don’t like stewed apple and (b) I can’t eat apples, I think Dad’s given up.
But the truth is, stewed apple would never fill the gap that apples have left. It’s not the taste I miss (I get that through my half-glass of apple juice every day, anyway). It’s the texture.* The way it felt to bite into an apple. The smoothness of apple skin under your fingers. The sound a perfectly ripe Royal Gala makes when you bite into it: a sort of shkik noise.
And I think that one’s off limits.
*(Oh, and the convenience of being able to grab a portable food wherever you are. But that’s just the allergy life.)
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