I’m delving into the classics now. Over the last weekend, the weather had turned lovely again and we had a wave of guests. There were a lot of mouths to feed and a desire from us to showcase GYO. When it comes to desserts it’s easy; one’s thoughts turn to summer puddings and fruit fools.
This is when soft fruit comes into its own, red and black currants; raspberries and gooseberries. Delia provided the summer pudding fruit ratios, (though I found the 7 slices not enough to line my bowl), Nigel Slater, the gooseberry fool recipe, (no pictures of the puddings, sadly, as I was too busy).
Of course, this was the point at which I realised that there is a bit of a gap in our red berry category. Yes, we’re good on redcurrants, plenty there, however our strawberries had finished by the first week of July and our autumn raspberries have just started to set fruit. We’ve not grown summer fruiting raspberries for a number of years, as I always found them to be a bit disappointing. Sadly, we didn’t have any cherries as we hadn’t got round to netting. The birds have feasted well.
I had to nip to the shop for raspberries.
To avoid this in future summers, I’ve been investigating late season strawberries, fruit that will crop into late July and perhaps even August. Some of the newer varieties seem to fit the bill. I’ve plumped on Florence from East Malling, (always good to see that this emminent research station is still producing the goods), so I’ll place an order for 50 runners this autumn.
I did an amble along the field boundaries; the shelter belt is bulking up nicely and the brambles in the hedgerow are full of insects.
It definitely pays to be a bit lax towards the edges of the garden.
It’s time to break out the jam pan!
I have been online flicking through some wonderful blogs on preserving; peach and chilli combos seem to be all the rage. Whilst we have a mass of chillies, here in the UK our peach tree produces a modest crop, so we eat them fresh.
However, we do have a bumper crop of soft currant fruit, (red,white and black), so we set to and picked the fruit from 2 of our redcurrant bushes with the aim of making jelly.
In truth, we didn’t need to strip out the stalks, but as the currants were on the cusp of going over we picked out the fruit and so removed the stalks at the same time. The recipe was from Pam Corbin’s River Cottage Preserves book, (No. 2 in the series). Following stewing, we strained the juice overnight through scalded muslin.
The next day the juice was brought to boiling point and the sugar added. I prefer to check the setting point by using the wrinkle test rather than a jam thermometer. Once the set point was reached I ladled the hot liquid into sterilised 225g jars.
The jelly is a gorgeous garnet colour.
A perfect addition to a homemade Christmas hamper!
Winter pruning is upon us. So to ease us into the task we started with the easy stuff! Redcurrants; whitecurrants and gooseberries. All the bushes have been in for 3 years.
In the fruit cage redcurrants are to the left, gooseberries to the right with a whitecurrant at the end of the line of gooseberries; the last row partially out of site is of blackcurrants which have a different pruning regime. The closest redcurrant has just been pruned. 2 to 3 year old wood is the most productive so the idea is to have mostly wood of that age with some new wood coming through to replace the older.
Wood produced this year, (see above), is easy to distinguish from older, (see below) because it is much paler.
So we set about pruning the bushes – first up the 3 D’s, removing anything dead, damaged or diseased. Then the centre of each bush was opened out to create an open bowl. This discourages sawfly infestations by allowing the wind to blow through the structure as pest seems to prefer to lay its eggs in dense foliage. Any low lying branches were removed or pruned to a rising branch to prevent the fruit from lying on the ground. Some of the oldest wood was removed entirely where we had a strong new shoot coming through. Side shoots were cut back to one or 2 buds and the new wood bit of the leaders tipped by a third to a bud facing the way we wanted the structure to go.
Onto the apples and pears…
I’m waiting on the return of the lovely OH to help me move the grapevine to its new home. The weather alternates between heavy rain, (hello Clodagh), and unseasonably warm weather. Every year I have grandiose plans to decorate the house with seasonal berries and greenery. The plans remain just that, but then the birds need the berries more than our mantelpieces.
However I do have an abundance of redcurrants. These we picked back in August and much of the crop was frozen. As we are thinking along the lines of having goose as the centrepiece of this year’s Christmas feast, I took the opportunity to try out a recipe for redcurrant sauce.
I picked over 450g of redcurrants, removing any remaining stalks, (this is quite easy to do when the fruit is frozen). For every 100g of fruit I added 50g of light brown sugar and one tablespoon of red wine vinegar. All the ingredients were added to a heavy bottom saucepan and heated to dissolve the sugar.
The mix was then brought to the boil and simmered for 20 minutes.
Old habits die hard, so I still did a wrinkle test to ensure a soft set.
450g of currants made a jar and a bit. I tried out the end result on the OH when he returned. We both like the tartness of the sauce, it will go very well with goose, but we don’t like the pips!
So onto a recipe for redcurrant jelly.
One of the best things about the smallholding in summer and early autumn is the bumper crops of fruit. The harvest started with strawberries, and gooseberries; cherries; currants; blueberries and smatterings of mulberries.
We are starting to pick plums and greengages.
Waiting in the wings are fruits that need a little longer to ripen – melons; peaches and apricots.
Autumnal fruit will end the growing year with a flourish – cultivated blackberries; late raspberries; apples; pears; medlars and quinces.
Fruit is easy to grow and every garden or plot should have some! Possibly the hardest part is making sure the choice harvest is protected from marauders.
Fresh fruit needs little embellishment. Today – grilled apricots with honey and greek yoghurt.
Reading this week: Woodlands by Oliver Rackham