Scrump (verb): To steal fruit from an orchard.

Cat: So what did you do?
Lister: Well, I mean, like scrumping. I mean, when I was a kid, back in Liverpool, we all used to go scrumping.
Kryten: Stealing apples? That's hardly a crime.
Lister: Yeah, but me and me mates, we went scrumping for cars.
    - Red Dwarf, Series 4

I seem to remember it being about the time I was seven. It was certainly during those carefree years of childhood shortly after we moved back from a tour of duty in Germany.

We bought a house on a new development close to Nottingham, about two miles from Newstead Abbey. For me, as a kid, it was a great place to be, and a wonderful time to be there, given that the back of the house gave onto farmland, orchards and chicken runs, and we were surrounded by the business of builders, piles of sand, stacks of bricks. In short, it was a playground of delight, a childhood Eden.

It was here that I learned that one can hardly go hungry in the countryside. In the spring there was "bread and cheese", the young shoots and buds of the magical hawthorn, there were always berries and the juicy stems of grass, not to mention the childhood bets of worms and grubs, and sucking eggs. But then there was the late summer delight of the purloined apple.

The Art of Scrumping

Ah, the adrenaline high! The skinned and muddy knees! The torn trousers! (Short trousers, of course, although Christine still chuckles when I say that instead of just "shorts". So British.) All this and more was ours as we scrambled under the barbed wire ("bob-waar" as I'm encouraged to say these days) or over the fence to cast about for the fresh-fallen fruit in the applegarth, or when that was lacking, to climb trees and pick them.

Stealth was the foundation of the art, stealth and cunning. Stealth, cunning and patience. And finally, having someone keeping cavey. "Our" orchards were a way away, down a track behind a hedge, and in the event that we were spotted, in theory we had to scarper in quick time. In practice, this farmer didn't mind us collecting the windfalls, which were usually somewhat bruised.

It was the tree-borne fruit that was best, and often that was our target. Now we had to shin up the short trees and pick the fruit before tossing it down to our pals, who stood ready with pullovers tucked into trousers, a poacher's pocket of some size. The very best of all, to us were those late-season fruits, hung from the tree until slightly wrinkled, fully sweet and superbly fragrant.

Finally, we'd hole up (literally, we had a dug-out cave in a grass bank up the road) and share our booty, making sure that we'd keep enough to take back for friends and family. My memory blurs as to whether I did or not - my mother wouldn't have cooked with these apples, being Cox's Orange Pippins, not the Bramley apple of her choice. That they were nicked would also have stood in her way.

Wot! No cider?

Actually, no - we knew no-one who would have made cider (hard cider, that is), or scrumpy as it is also known. Oh, wait, I see why you ask now. Yes, there's a connection. The OED mentions that the word scrump originates in a dialect word meaning "withered apple", and scrumpy is indeed a fermented apple beverage.

Scrumping may at one time have been legal, on one sense. Some farmers used to leave a certain amount of fruit around (occasionally on) the trees, especially those taller and less accessible. In the same manner as gleaning, the poorer members of the parish would then collect them, after the main harvest was taken. It's a long-standing practice this, mentioned in the Levitical Law and common to this day. Even now, Christine will be preparing to hoy to a friend's farm to glean the walnut orchards in like manner, and fill our freezer with bags of them, shelled and cleaned and ready.

Of course, apples are not the only fruit, and one can scrump pears, too. Which we also did with equal relish. I remember having a conversation later in years about the whole thorny concept of property theft, and asking whether scrumping applied to anything else, like the eggs we'd steal, or the occasional foray into the wheat fields to munch on the warm, bready wheat berries. No, not "scrumping" - sorry, Lister, it was ever reserved for those sweet autumn apples, summer captured in every bite, or be gathered away for later consumption. As indeed I, in my wrinkled age, reach back to pick these childhood memories.

Andrew Aguecheek says re scrumping: Ah... those halcyon pre-ASBO days...
I replied But these were the days in which, if caught, you got a thick ear from the local bobby.

For princess loulou, a start, at least

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