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Great-grandfather’s Jingning apples

By Felicity Miller | chinadaily.com,cn | Updated: 2017-11-03 15:59

Great-grandfather’s Jingning apples

Great grandfather [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

"Great-grandfather?" my daughter asked. "When can I try a Jingning apple?"

Great-grandfather’s Jingning apples

Our daughterIsla Rose [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

It was the first time in four years our 6 year old had been able to have a face-to-face chat with her Chinese great-grandfather. However, they were in different countries this time and it was WeChat that finally brought the mountains of Gansu province closer to our flat in the UK. Great-grandfather proudly showed us the last of his apple harvest. As usual he had saved us a box just in case we visited. It wasn't just a box of ordinary apples. He had picked the finest samples from his harvest. Year after year they sat in the cold store waiting. Over the months, their sweet juice began to lighten in weight and their bright color began to fade. I vividly remember my first bite of a Jingning apple picked straight from the orchard. I had wondered what all the fuss was about, but after just one bite I understood. Within just an hour I had devoured five. Jingning enjoys a perfect setting for growing Fuji apples with a high altitude and striking temperature differences.

Great-grandfather’s Jingning apples

Great grandfather arriving at the airport in Scotland[Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

A few weeks later after our first video chat on WeChat, the new blossoms began to appear on the trees. The snow had all but melted other than the snow great-grandfather had packed around the bottom of each tree. He walked through the bouquet of branches, a sweet fragrance floating across the mountain hamlet. He had an idea. If we couldn't take our daughter to his terraced mountain and finally try a Jingning apple, he would take the finest Jingning apples to her. Nearly 80 years old but still agile on his feet, he climbed the ladder to the higher branches of his favorite tree. He meticulously examined the blossoms before deciding which flowers would grow into the sweetest apples. Those that failed his examination were picked off the tree.

Great-grandfather’s Jingning apples

Our family [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

The blossoms had now grown into small apples, still many weeks away from harvest. Once more great-grandfather climbed the ladder and carefully covered each apple with a special bag. The bag consists of three layers. The outside is a light brown, the middle is a black lining, and the layer closest to the apple is red. This would protect the young apples, preventing brown spots or blemishes from appearing; and also helping the apple achieve an even coloring. At night he sat on the traditional bed called a kang and watched out the window as a large hail storm swept across the mountain. Awake at dawn he dashed to his orchard and found many apples, although still in their bags, had been ruthlessly beaten to the ground. He climbed the ladder once more. One of his great granddaughter's apples hadn't survived the onslaught.

Great-grandfather’s Jingning apples

Great-grandfather on the farm [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Several weeks passed. The apples were almost ready. It took him a few days to remove the outer layers of the bags from every apple in the orchard. A few years ago he had fallen out of the tree and damaged his hearing but up and down the ladder he continued to look after all his crop. The inner red layer was kept on the apple. If this were to be removed too early, the fruit would be damaged by the unexpected glare from the sunlight. Once accustomed to the sun, great-grandfather climbed the ladder again to remove the final layer. The apple was now a delicious color and almost ready to pick. At this time, great-grandfather moved from his courtyard kang into the orchard hut. He slept there protecting his orchard and his great granddaughter's apples. During the day he ascended the tree to individually check on the redness of his treasured collection. He turned the paler sides to face the direction of the sun and removed some surrounding leaves that blocked the light.

Great-grandfather’s Jingning apples

The mountains where great grandfather lives [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

From his harvest, he still kept that one box of his finest apples but this time he was determined to deliver them himself. Once the middleman had taken the remainder of his harvest, it was several weeks before he received his eagerly awaited payment. Great-grandfather climbed down the mountain and took the intervillage bus to the main Jingning town where he applied for his very first passport. Once he had his passport, he climbed down the mountain and took a different bus to the nearest train station in Tianshui. He traveled alone to Hangzhou and applied for his visa. Passport and visa ready, he delicately packed his 2 kilogram bag of Jingning apples -- as fresh fruit is restricted by customs to just a minimal amount -- and journeyed to the airport in Xian. Two complex airport transfers later, he arrived in Scotland.

Great-grandfather’s Jingning apples

A group photo near the queen's Balmoral castle [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

"Great granddaughter!" he exclaimed, "I have brought you your Jingning apples!"

Felicity Miller first came to teach English in China and then met her husband. Now she is living in the UK with her family.

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