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The enemy of obscurity

July 28, 2011


My sister, an artist, told me about a short film she saw by Tacita Dean. It filmed Michael Hamburger, a poet and translator, walking through his East Anglian house and orchard, showing the filmmaker the rare apples he grew from pips. I love this idea – that someone is ensuring that the beautiful old varieties don’t die out, that they are taking the time to cultivate them from seed, surely a difficult task. I can imagine him, picking an apple from over a fence, eating it, then spitting the pips into a small paper bag he might keep in his pocket for that purpose. Folding the bag over on itself three times, then pencilling a note about its origins on its bumpy side. It seemed fitting that he also translated literature so that wonderful books, previously unavailable to non-German speakers, could now be read. Michael Hamburger died in 2007; you can read his obituaries here and here.

Do you remember the fruit you ate as a child? It was different, wasn’t it? My next-door neighbours had a giant plum tree with the darkest, juiciest of plums. We’d scramble up the woodpile, stand on the corrugated iron roof of the shed, and hoist ourselves into the branches. We’d gorge on all the plums we could reach. There was another tree that grew yellow plums, but you could pick those by standing on tiptoe, which made them seem not quite so delicious. Whenever I see a dark plum in the shop I buy it, in case it’s the same variety as that special tree. But it never is.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. William permalink
    July 29, 2011 8:06 am

    But if you want to preserve an old variety you should take cuttings. Planting seeds of open pollenated apple trees (apples are self incompatible) will result in new cultivars which might be quit different (think how different jazz and envy are from royal gala and Braeburn) from their parents, and probably quite inedible.
    However by taking seeds he was preserving the genes and DNA of the old varieties, although mixed up a bit

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