How To Keep The Hunger At Bay

By Jan Kaneen

  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees then go pick apples. In the wet’s best, on the darkest day of autumn, when everything smells of mold and mushrooms and the garden looks like rust and cinders. But don’t let the fruit ruin waiting for perfection.
  2. Stand under gnarled branches catching raindrops, marveling at how young the skin on your palm looks, not like the windfallen wrinkles everywhere else.
  3. Place apples in appropriate receptacle. I use a trug made from sheets of birch. It’s got a long flat bottom so the apples lie side-by-side without bruising when I hurry down garden to get out of the weather.
  4. Wipe fruit carefully so skins shine like wintery cheeks, like Georgy’s used to when he came inside for a warm on snowy days and the stove was lit.
  5. Don’t peel. A little skin will give the edges a ruddy tinge, and anyway, it’s good for you – full of roughage and it makes your hair curl – least that’s what I always told him when he used to pull his face.
  6. Slice into cored crescents that look like rose petals and place into buttered tart dish. I arrange mine in circular swirls that coil inward and make a pattern that looks like forever.
  7. Make caramel by heating butter and sugar. Most recipes say not to stir but I do because that’s the bit he loved best – standing on his three-legged stool at the cooker in his Winnie-the-Pooh apron, watching the crystals dissolve into liquid gold, like alchemy.
  8. Add four pinches of cinnamon. One for mummy, one for daddy and two for Georgy, then a squeeze of lemon. An edge of sharpness is necessary to cut through the syrup.
  9. Pour over apples then take block of shop-bought pastry from fridge. This is a matter of preference of course, so feel free to adapt to personal circumstance, but forty-odd years of following this recipe has taught me life’s too short for homemade rough-puff.
  10. Roll thin and place on top of apples, tucking in edges like a child’s blanket, then bake for fifty minutes.
  11. As scent of caramelized apples creeps like yesterday into warm kitchen, pour a glass of something lovely and remember – when you planted the sapling a lifetime ago, when it meant nothing and you were so impossibly numb-and-sensitive-at-the-same-time you couldn’t feel anything though everything still managed to hurt – opening your eyes, birdsong, hearing your own name… and a year later when you finally scattered ashes round the reedy stem… and the year after that, harvesting the first crop.
  12. Smile or cry. It doesn’t matter which.
  13. Take tart from oven and cool, but not too much. Grief, hope, love, remembrance – all are dishes best served warm.
  14. Eat as many slices as you need, savouring every last bitter-sweet mouthful until you’re so tip-top full to the brim you think you’ll never be able to manage another bite.
  15. Take another bite.

Jan Kaneen has an MA in Creative Writing from the Open University. Her short stories and flash fictions have been published widely on-line and in print and she’s won prizes in places like The Molotov Cocktail, Retreat West and Ink Tears. Most recently she was runner up in Ellipsis‘s flash collection/novella-in-flash competition, 2019. She blogs at jankaneen.com and tweets as @Jankaneen1

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