What a year for fruit! The weather might not have been everything we hope for in a summer, but the fruit trees have obviously loved it. Back in June I first got a clue that this would be a bumper year for fruit, I had noticed how heavy the apple trees were, then my pear decided to set some fruit for the first time in four years.
It was July when I first stumbled across the Wild Cherry Plum trees ( Prunus Cerasifera), as a keen forager I was intrigued. I have a pretty good memory of my local landscape: the first blackberries to the last sloes worth picking, yet I couldn’t ever remember noticing these trees with fruit , let alone dripping heavily with it. A handful later, and they seemed plum like, smelt of apricots, the flesh was a little dry but it tasted pleasant enough. I did a quick check in various wild food books on the bookshelf, but the only mention was a very brief one in Richard Mabey’s Food For Free and there were no recipes. I couldn’t leave so much beautiful fruit to rot so I treated it as a plum and made jam to start with – tastes great! Over the next few weeks I went back several times, and I certainly wasn’t the only one doing so, until eventually the whole area was heady with the smell of fermenting fruit . I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on them next year…
Next came the damsons; we are lucky to have an entire hedge of them at the orchard, although they are becoming very old and gnarly. Picking them has now become a punctuation in our year and for two weeks they are a major priority. Our tried, tested and slightly refined method is a little like olive picking: everyone stands well back as I shake each branch with the help of a very long pole, its rains damsons for a few minutes, then it’s a race to see who can get the most in their basket! Last year we made jam and damson cheese, both were great , but the winner by far was the damson vodka, so this year I’ve just made the vodka, but as requested by friends, lots more … ready in time for Christmas!
Once damson picking was over, it seemed that the hedges were groaning with all their riches: elderberries; for chutneys and ketchup, rosehips for that lovely syrup, and the perennial favourite of the boys – blackberries, they rarely make it as far as the kitchen!
This week, sloes are ready to pick, the hedges all around are covered with them. I know you are supposed to wait for the first frosts, but as we rarely get one here before Christmas here, I prefer to pick them when their plump and juicy. Our first picking expedition was pretty productive, mainly as the boys were keen to earn some extra pocket money, and lots of fun was had daring each other to eat a sloe. For those of you who’ve never tried one straight off the tree, it does strange things to your mouth – reminiscent of going to the dentists!
The kitchen is a little hectic with muslin bags of apples and sloes hung up to drip, rosehips to sort and I spotted quinces at the farm shop today so membrillo next week. There is something soothingl about the smell of fruit stewing and I know from experience that when it gets dark and cold that bowl of porridge will taste great with a helping of compote or jam from all this fantastic fruit.
Categories: Tips of the Trade