This evening I broke the mould. Well, sort of. You see, I made apple and pear crumble. And all the fruit has come from our garden picked from trees groaning under the weight of a bumper crop this autumn. Absolutely wonderful to see and to touch all these newly-picked ripe round orbs glistening in their wet smoothness on the table. I can smell the aroma of moisture and freshness. It is invigorating.
I set to work in the kitchen excitedly like a kid really and Dear Wife appears looking visibly shocked at this attempted gastronomic escapade of mine. She immediately sought out the officially designated cookery thermometer not she confessed for taking the temperature of my crumble’s progress in the oven rather to check if I had a fever. With that I whooshed her away out of the kitchen.
But yes, yours truly was able to just about get all the ingredients right [in addition to the fruit, flour, brown sugar, pinch of salt, cinnamon, butter and a touch of vanilla] and properly layered together and all in the same cooking implement even. I then put this culinary concoction of mine in a preheated oven and started writing this article as I waited for it to cook. I began thinking. Dangerous for me, I know at times like this. Who knows where this stream of consciousness will take me. The ecstasy of the undiscovered.
Sitting there I realised that I was revisiting a long-lost proficiency learnt when I was at Trinity as – believe it or not – my apple crumble c. 1977/78 was of some stature and commonly requested by a select band of my fellow undergraduates. I even learnt how to make rhubarb crumble and often added was a touch of the hard stuff. That and custard was complete ‘magic’ as they would say in Ballyferriter on a sunny day for us students living on clippings of the proverbial.
I realised that I was, in a quirky way, re-energising skills from a distant and youthful past. Where all those years ago, the arrows all pointed forwards and into the excitement of an unknown future with all the enchantment it wove deep in my imagination.
For some time now I have been considering re-energising skills of scholarship that have lain dormant for too long, such as learning something new within the well-remembered cloistered hush of a decent seat of learning – e.g. at the moment, I’m considering taking on an MA in a fine arts course or possibly philosophy as I’m torn between the two; then there’s my love of languages and how I’ve been so remiss in letting this slip – I’d like to rejig those rusty linguistic and mental gears before the befuddlement of old age erases what remains of any skills in this department.
I take a momentary peep at the crumble. It’s cooking nicely and a waft of cinnamon and vanilla hits my nostrils. I am suddenly cast sideways into another cradling memory of some time in one’s misspent childhood where I find myself in my mother’s kitchen in Dublin and she is baking a cake. It's probably the early 1960s. As she puts the rounded and grease-papered encased mixture into the oven, I go to the mixing bowl and use my index finger to take a big wodge of the leftover mix and taste its delicious smooth sweetness. My mother laughs at this and hands me the spatula so I can recover more of this surplus uncooked confectionary. Heaven.
Meanwhile back in the present there’s something more to all this crumble and cake-induced dreamstate.
It’s stupid really but I want to see if I can (re)capture that sense of excitement knowing that you’re learning something new that there’s an endless stream of the sunshine of optimism buttressing you up for the rest of your life. Now that I’m older I realise how this might be the last hurrah before it’s too late to make amends.
So, in a way making this apple and pear crumble this evening is the first step in making a go of it – revisiting one’s youth in a grown-up way and having fun at the same time while (re)learning some skills quietly yearned for.
The oven has done its work and I extract the hot creation of mine and let it cool momentarily. Dear Wife appears again and jumps ahead of me tasting the crumble. She beams approvingly. I am glad as we exchange a smile. Then, it is my turn to be whooshed out of the kitchen as she prepares some custard and a cuppa.
I feel that I've crossed an interesting Rubicon today. High time to do those things one is always putting off as there are usually more important tasks on hand. Otherwise, our treasured and oft-hidden away second lives can never be satisfied.
*Am I Walking Into Eternity Along Sandymount Strand With This Apple Crumble?: ever since my days as a journalist and newspaper editor, I can’t resist a sense of the excitement generated by an attention-grabbing headline and with humble apologies to JJ.