This is what I will miss: bonfire night and toffee apples. Bonfire night, toffee apples and funfares, to be precise. Specifically, the moment when the glassy seal of toffee is broken, and soft splinters fall onto the tongue, followed by the sharp, merciless crunch of sweet apple – what a heady combination that is. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
We would eat them with the searing heat of the bonfire reddening our hands and face, while leaving the rest of us frozen. There were fireworks too, and sparklers, but I’m probably getting all my Pagan festivals mixed up. We didn’t really have Halloween back then, it being essentially an American import that took off in the 80s. What we had instead was the Tar Barrel tradition. This was peculiar to our town Ottery St. Mary, in Devon, where we lived. Men would run down the main street on November 5th – bonfire night, to celebrate the burning of Guy Faulks – carrying a barrel of tar on their backs that had been set alight. I remember the flames pouring out from behind them as they ran, their hugely mittened hands blackened and charred, and the screams as they collided with onlookers. One man ran into the wall next to us and the barrel exploded with sparks and detritus. There was a maniacal glee about the proceedings, an undercurrent of bravado and violence.
I won’t miss that especially, but there are other things impossible to carry with me on the plane – the chill in the air, and coming in from the cold, the train, being a passenger again, crispy leaves, conkers on the ground, always a glossy chestnut-brown, round and firm like a horse’s rump. Shelves and shelves of chocolate. My first wet walnuts. Salt and vinegar crisps. Views of hugeness from small bays and ports. I will miss my DNA.
And apples. I can’t get enough of them, though so far I have been largely enamoured with the tart and sour varieties – ‘cookers,’ such as the Bramley. The sweeter, gentler, dessert apples work better here, like Early Windsor, Falstaff and Discovery. So, apples, I will miss you. Wet and windswept, rough-cheeked, and a bit the worse for wear, peppered with holes where small things have burrowed. Hope to see you next year.
Be prepared for a puddle or two when making the toffee apples (see top picture). The homemade version lacks the thick umber coating and square ‘seat’ at the base that you get with the commercial ones. You will also need to prise the toffee from any surface it has been in contact with – the upside is that it’s a bit like sucking a Werther’s Original from the odds and ends bin. The photo of the shelled wet walnuts, above, is not quite as random as it seems. I think they go well with a smattering of toffee apple.
Adapted from Abel & Cole, http://www.abelandcole.co.uk
4 dessert apples
225g demerara sugar (or any soft, brown sugar)
2cm slice of peeled ginger (optional)
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
3 cloves (optional)
1 tsp cider vinegar
4 wooden skewers
Line a tray with greaseproof paper. Skewer the apples until it reaches half way down (remove the stem beforehand). Place a pan over a high heat. Add the sugar, water and spices. Simmer until the sugar has fully dissolved. Add the vinegar and butter and cook for 7-10 minutes. The toffee will start to bubble and thicken and darken a bit, which is what you want. Stir constantly. Check the toffee is ready by adding a trickle of it to water. If it firms up immediately, it’s done. Coat apples generously, swirling them through the mixture. Place them on the lined tray. The toffee will go everywhere. Leave them to set. To store, wrap loosely in lightly oiled greaseproof paper and tie with string.