Comfort me with apples 

Reading time: 4 minutes

After a wet, grey week, Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares how she finds joy in a simple fruit.

It’s been a hard couple of weeks in the news. The ribbons ripple on the Sarah Everard tree on the Meadows, and for days on end, my messages – I suspect like yours – were full of anger and grief. Screenshots of telling details came in. Stories were voiced. Old experiences re-emerged from the depths, swirling unbidden into consciousness; dreams were apocalyptic, full of tsunamis and sieges. For many of us, staying present with what was emerging in the public domain and in ourselves felt like a vigil, necessary witnessing. We raged, and wept, and knew that both were important.

For all warriors, the moment arrives when the fight is – if temporarily – laid down; when survival energy gives way to exhaustion. For some, fear is still so strong that anger is not yet possible. These are the moments for comfort. Weary bodies need somewhere soft to rest, and something strong to hold on to. Like the earth, we must give ourselves time and space to compost, to make anew all that we are holding. It is perhaps in the earth, and its fruitful rhythms, that we may find what is soft and strong at the same time. University Chaplain, Harriet Harris explores this idea more.

On the side roads in Marchmont you will find apple trees, planted by some enlightened town planner many decades ago. They leaf and blossom and fruit freely on the street, some of their small red ovals falling to be crushed by motorcycles, others picked by me with my stepladder and the Chinese family next door with their fruit picker. These apples are a variety I have never seen elsewhere, not even at the Duddingston village community apple day, when the trees in the allotments are stripped. Their bounty is laid out in a labelled gallery of apple delights: there are Worcester Pearmains and Yorkshire Aromatics, Newton Wonders and Ashmead’s Kernels and Bramleys. We meet Steph from the vet school, and drink multi-malt apple juice from plastic beakers, and pocket kilos of apples. They are tasted, pressed, and taken home for crumble. Even Ben the collie, dying for a proper run, behaves himself around the fruitful throng.

And then there are my walks, and the windfalls: a single Bramley star from Grange Cemetery, and russets from the Meadows; bagfuls of red, rosy, exuberant Pearmains from the allotments; the crab apples, the stray pears. Some hungers can only be felt, not fed, but apple hunger is not one of these. The fruit piles high in my kitchen, tolerated by my flatmates, and quite right too: a single-variety Marchmont apple pie emerges one weekend, and there is apple pie for breakfast, tea, and dessert.

I grew up with apples. There was a cooker in the back garden, lingering from the early twentieth century, relic of the old orchards around Oxford. I swung on a swing from that tree, picked up apples to keep in the garage, discerned the rescuable blackbird-pecked fruit from the irredeemable moulderers. Throughout autumn and winter we ate stewed apple with yoghurt, and apple pudding with ground almonds. Later, on the other side of the city, I watched fox cubs sleeping under the apple tree of someone I loved. When it snowed we ate stewed apple with dates, and put food out for the foxes, ravenous in the chill.

‘Comfort me with apples,’ sings the Song of Solomon, ‘for I am sick with love.’ With love? Maybe. But also with sorrow. This morning, in my office, I received a small personal alarm for my keyring. I was given my first when I was ten; this will not be my last. And so I will take my solace in both apples and love: tonight I’ll go home, and cut up the freely-given Worcester Pearmains, and heat them with Duddingston blackberries. I’ll make autumn jelly for my morning toast, and drink tea among soft pillows, and taste what’s wild, sweet, and strong. And you: feed yourself, this week, even when you least feel like it, with the fruit that someone thought to grow for you a hundred years ago. Make memories of apple crumble, and revisit those of childhood. Give a slice of apple to a hungry dog, and laugh at their open-mouthed crunch. Get wet in the rain, and then curl up in a blanket, and practice warm attention.

Know, from this letter-writer, that your apples may mean more to someone than they could ever tell you.

Read Kitty’s apple crumble recipe.

You can join Why Don’t You Write Me, the University’s postcard-writing, art, and connection project, at any time: Why Don’t You Write Me.

Photography: Sam Sills