Five a Day in Mickleton
Circa 1958 - 64
During this period no one needed to be told that vegetables and fruit were important parts of our diets. Living where we did, the abundance of these items was all around us each in its season. It was not difficult for our parents to put vegetables on the table. These were normally those homegrown perennial children’s favourites such as leeks, cabbages, sprouts, cauliflowers, swedes, onions, etc. However the nicer varieties of fruit and veg grown in the area were rarely homegrown and needed a foraging approach. Several of my friends knew how, where and when to supplement their diets with these more acceptable and tasty alternatives. Risk Assessment was still a thing of the future however a certain amount of prior observation, early warning and escape route planning was undertaken. Pre-meditated you might say – and you are correct!
Harvey Bowld’s dad had several ponies that were kept in fields behind Mike and Pauline Stowe’s bungalow. He also had a cherry orchard there that was approachable almost unseen from the bottom hedge. Once in amongst the trees it was a small matter to just climb up and start picking. One evening Mr. Bowld came unexpectedly and sat with his back to a tree and scanned the area through binoculars whilst the foragers were up a tree. He obviously knew what was going on and did his best to protect the crop. However, having watched westerns and war movies on TV and seeing how to do the Indian Crawl, those involved were able to escape unnoticed.
Colin James’ dad grew strawberries on land that once well kept is now an untidy little orchard beyond Robin Coldicott’s barns. I am told they were superb – probably the best in Mickleton!
Hazel nuts were readily available for anyone down the Broad Marston lane as was the watercress that grew readily in clean running ditch water. If you have a look now at that ditch, even if there is any cress I doubt it would be edible.
If you wanted more exotic nuts, there was always the bank behind Upper Clopton Farm where Mr Slatter had a small nut orchard that was probably not for the benefit of the village children. Visits here were very infrequent though, as Mr. Slatter was able to see up the bank from his house and disrupt any attempts quickly. He must have had an in-built alarm system and this activity by village lads soon become too dangerous to continue. The escape route was also difficult as it involved running into and through the woods beneath Kiftsgate and then down the Avenue and back home.
Apples and plums were easily sourced from the orchards down Broad Marston Lane, the fields approaching Meon Hill, or much more close to home in the orchards behind the church, courtesy of Johnny Hoggins. I think this could have been construed as work placement experience in preparation for the plum-picking season. Several of us went up precarious ladders complete with thick leather belts tying large whicker baskets to our backsides. These were used as repositories for the plums and apples we picked. Going up empty was not too bad but coming down with a few pounds of plums or apples in the basket made for an interesting descent. Payment for this hazardous, but everyday event in those days depended on the weight of fruit picked and probably would not satisfy todays minimum wage! What would Health and Safety say about it today?
Tomatoes. Well there was only one place to get them – from Webb’s greenhouses full of floor to ceiling tomato plants. It was so easy to walk down the rows of green houses on the opposite end to Canada Lane where the workers moved about, nip into a greenhouse and pocket a few tomatoes. Once off the narrow path down the middle and into plants each side you were invisible. The give away was the smell of the plants that stayed with you for hours. Should this method of getting tomatoes fail, you could always buy a chip basket of split tomatoes that were no good for market. From memory a standard chip basket weighed 12lbs costing a pittance. When Webbs changed to from tomatoes to peppers they lost a lot less fruit!
The only sacrosanct growing area was the allotments as this was the place where everyone’s dads grew vegetables for the table – and you would be stupid to mess in your own nest! Plus a good clip was in order if caught.
Fruit and veg were also a source of income for the village kids with plum and apple picking along with bale carting on offer from Johnny Hoggins and pot-picking –up at Collett and Hubbard, whose market gardening took place where Miller Homes estate has been built. All of which subsidized the income from newspaper deliveries – if you were lucky enough to get one.
Of course I must stress that all of the above is purely hearsay from friends at the time and unfortunately my memory is such that I would be unable to remember who these friends were. Such is the selective memory that comes with the ageing process. However, there may be a few reading this that not only remember, but can say “not me either, m’lud”.