IX. CULTURE OF FRUIT TREES
Fruit was an important part of the diet at least for the older people surveyed. Most houses therefore had a good few fruit trees. A strategy was followed consisting of planting more species and having different varieties of each one, which guaranteed there would be sufficient fruit as that would make it difficult for bad weather to affect all the trees as they blossomed and ripened at different times and had different requirements.
Pear, green fig, white fig and quince trees and currant bushes were the species typically grown in the vegetable gardens. Walnut trees were usually grown near to the homes, but not always in vegetable gardens, but rather on small plots of land. Some cherry trees were also planted in both areas.
The apple trees were planted further away, in fields on the llosas and in cierros y meadows that were usually away from the enclosed arable land. This did not mean that the odd apple tree was also grown near to the home. Many families often had at least an apple orchard, in other words, a plot or meadow “planted with apple trees”. The trees were planted along the edges in the fields and in the hollows or lower parts of the meadows and along the irrigation ditches.
The vines must have been distributed in a similar way to the apple orchards to judge by the location of the plots whose names are related to that type of crop and to what the respondents remembered who continued to grow vines in the decades after the vineyards had been wiped out by phylloxera.
Chestnut trees grew in the highest areas near to the uplands, where the meadows ended and the common land began. Those trees, particularly the ones that produced nuts, always had an owner even though they grew on land that was not "owned". This was not an unusual situation in the sense that many of the timber trees grown on common land had owners. The grafted chestnut trees, that were the ones that provided their prized nuts, usually grew in copses, grouped together by each owner. Many cherry trees also grew on that land and particularly in siebes or hedgerows; the majority were ungrafted, but despite being upland shrubs, they produced a very tasty fruit.
When the people surveyed were asked about the reasons for this fruit tree distribution. They seemed to give greater importance to the proximity of the species whose fruits had to be picked frequently in order to be eaten than being able to prevent the fruit from being stolen. They said that stealing was not common as the majority of residents had plenty of fruit and bartering was a common practice between homes. This was a better use for perishable fruit as if it was only eaten by the members of the house, a great deal would end up rotting. If a neighbour picked a piece of fruit to eat it as they went along, that was not considered theft. At most, they would ask permission if the owner was nearby and they always received a "take what you want” type answer.
The scrumping-foraging activity, sometimes considered to be theft, was restricted to gangs of boys and youths and they mainly went after cherries.
Growing fruit trees has experienced many changing fortunes. In the territories of the area studied where land consolidation occurred, the number of fruit trees dropped considerably, as the custom was to plant them along the boundaries of the fields. When the plots were unified to create larger properties, one of the consequences was the trees would end up in the middle of them and were therefore felled.
The progressive specialisation, on the Atlantic side of the watershed towards livestock farming and on the Mediterranean side towards cereal-growing, played a role in this shift away from fruit trees.
As has already been indicated, when the apples trees were grown together in an apple orchard, only ewes were usually allowed to graze in that field. The grass was also sometimes used by green reaping. Cows were not usually let into the field while the trees were in leaf so that they did not damage them. That was even more the case when the trees were heavy with apples as there was the risk that the cows would choke on them and even die. If there was stubble grass still in the orchard in October and November, when the fruit had been collected and the leaves had fallen, the orchard would no longer being used for grazing “because they wouldn’t leave the branches alone”.
The risk of chocking was even greater when the cows ate the apples from the trees, as an apple could more easily get stuck in the throat due to the position of the cow’s head than when they picked them up from the floor. If they ate too much fruit, for example, when the ground was rustrido or covered with windfalls, there was another risk: that the cows could get drunk where the apples fermented in their bellies as the result of the digestive microflora that those ruminants have. Cows would then behave strangely and in extreme cases, would fall to the ground and would not be able to get up again. They would get over the spree with no real after-effects except for an undesirable complication, which was that their milk production would be seriously impaired. Cows would easily become addicted to that fruit, so care was taken to avoid this complication during the apple season.
Specialisation also meant having less time to look after fruit trees. Thus, the trees that escaped felling after the land consolidation and the increase in the number of cows progressively aged without being looked after and without anyone planting new apple trees to replace the ones that died.
These considerations were common to other areas. The reduction in the number of fruit trees was also due to the fact that there was less of a need for a family to grow their own fruit, as it began to be widely available at the market along with new fruit brought in from abroad.
The situation has now changed dramatically due to the changes in eating habits as the result of the growing globalisation (trees now grown such as kiwis or persimmons are exotic). Many different types of fruit are now eaten and a wide variety of trees grown as the climate conditions allow.
Fruit is eaten fresh, processed (as desserts, for example baked apples or compotes), preserved (in syrup, jams) or as fermented juices (cider, wine and derivatives).
- Land used as grassland within enclosed arable land, usually in the part that was farthest from the homestead.
- Set of arable land and some also pasture land, small in area and belonging to the residents of a district, with a perimeter enclosure belonging to all of them.
- Common land enclosed by an individual in exchange for paying a fee to the local council, used as pasture in the majority of cases.
- Tiller blades were kept at the homesteads for a long time after they were no longer used to plough the land precisely to try to save the lives of any choking cows. After the animal’s moth was opened, the two prods of the tiller blades were use to keep the mouth open and a person with a small hand and a slim arm could then try to move the jammed apple.