Not much has been going on in the veg patch as time has been taken up with watering and picking, again. The raspberries are nearly over, the strawberries have finished. Now we are onto harvesting potatoes, runner beans and courgette/ zucchini by the bucket-load.
Also picked this week beetroot, broadbeans, cucumber, lettuce, rocket, spinach, first tomatoes, blueberries, blackcurrants, loganberries, boysenberries, jostaberries, redcurrants, onion, garlic.
Bad news is the birds are still being pesky. We have quite a few pairs of blackbirds taking up residence in the acre. They already stripped the morello cherry by sneaking under the netting and stripped a blackcurrant bush yesterday that got exposed. They are not very good at sharing…
Slugs and snails – touch wood – have not been trouble lately due to the hot dry weather but almost had a heart attack when I nearly stepped on a grass snake when I was locking up the other day.
And finally, celebrated my sister’s 20th with a homemade cake which I have to share because it has unicorns on it…
But it is getting tricky to get the courage up enough to venture out into the heat trap in the veg garden to pick the fruit.
Someone told me this has been a really good year for strawberries, all due to the time the rain fell this winter (which I thought was all the time. Incessantly. Non-stop). It has certainly been a good strawberry year for us. I’ve been eating them all the time for last couple of weeks.
On top of the strawberries, the raspberries have taken off, along with the red currants, boysenberries, jostaberries and the blackcurrants. I think I almost had a breakdown end of last week due to the overwhelming amount that needed to be picked.
Strawberries are those red gems in the veg patch. They are so good for so many different recipes. You have Strawberry Jam, Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam, Strawberries and Elderflower Cake. Strawberries are amazing with natural Greek yoghurt, chocolate cake (which we have been having a lot of, of course), chocolate mousse, mashed with banana (oh, childhood), banana and strawberry smoothies. But one of my recent-ish discoveries has been how good strawberries go with just plain old vanilla ice cream.
It is no surprise that they go wonderfully well with some food chocolate ice cream (because what doesn’t go well with chocolate ice cream?), but as I am not someone particularly ecstatic about the idea of vanilla ice cream, I was very surprised when I had to eat it for dessert at one time in my life, how well the mixture went together.
The subtle vanilla twang and the creamy consistency of the ice cream got marvellously with this juicy berry, but it also looks so spectacular together: the red and white colours mixing together.
I have been replicating that dreamy match lately with some homemade vanilla ice cream (oh yes, I have recently discovered how yummy and easy it is to make ice cream, even without an ice cream maker).
So, lots of strawberries? No problem! Here is your next recipe…
A little late in the season, but if anyone has some blackcurrants they need to finish…
We were picking bundles of fruit this summer. Most of the raspberries and strawberries were eaten fresh or stored in the freezer for jam. The blackcurrants every year are stored in the freezer too before being made into jam too. You can eat blackcurrants raw, you can turn them into Ribena, but I find that they are far too sharp. But last year I tried eating this amazing concoction my mum made: stewing the blackcurrants with sugar and eating them with Greek yoghurt. The plain, yet creamy, yoghurt is a wonderful companion to the sharp yet sweet taste of stewed blackcurrants. It is absolutely delicious – and the stewed berries look beautiful.
Stewed Blackcurrants with Greek Yoghurt
-About 500g blackcurrants – Granulated sugar, to taste, start with 100g and add a little at at time – About 600g full-fat Greek yoghurt
Stew the blackcurrants but putting all of the fruit into a pan over a high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.
Once the fruit starts to ooze liquid, add a little sugar at a time, stirring it in, until you have enough to taste sweet, but not too sickly, still slightly sharp. Leave to simmer for a few minutes until the currants have released enough liquid and are soft and squidgy.
Fill bowls with Greek yoghurt and spoon the stewed blackcurrants over the top. Serve.
Replace the blackcurrants with jostaberries or gooseberries.
What has my mum been doing while I have been absent at uni? Collecting chestnuts. No, no, not just a handful. I am talking kitchen-overflowing-with-chestnuts sort of collection. There will not be enough for the squirrels despite ht productive year.
Last year (luckily) we got away with a poor chestnut harvest – I had too many apples to deal with that autumn – but the year before we had a similar glut. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t like chestnuts. It is a nice little fantasy of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, a Victorian Christmas treat, but I just don’t like them. Give me walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts and I am fine – dare to wave peanut butter under my nose and you risk a slap. Again, just don’t like the stuff!
However, in an attempt to find a way to a) preserve chestnuts, b) see if I can like them and c) just for fun, we tried making chestnut jam last winter with what we had.
Unfortunately, I still don’t like it but for anyone who likes chestnuts, vanilla or fun things like this, it might be a good gift this winter.
The recipe is from the River Cottage Handbook: Preserves. It is also on their official website. They recommend dolloping it on top of meringues or ice cream or buttered toast. I tried mine on toast, a bit like Nutella. If you like the idea of mixing it with whipped cream in a chocolate swiss roll it might be nice?
(Makes 5 x 225g jars)
1kg sweet chestnuts
400g granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
The first task is to remove the leathery shells and skin from the chestnuts. Use a sharp knife to make a knick in the top of each chestnut. Plunge them into a pan of boiling water for 2–3 minutes – sufficient time to soften the shell but not to let the nuts get piping hot and difficult to handle. Remove the pan from the heat. Fish out half a dozen or so chestnuts and peel off their coats. With luck, the thin brown skin under the shell will peel away too. Continue in this way until all are peeled.
Put the chestnuts into a clean pan and just cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 25–30 minutes, or until tender. Strain, but keep the cooking liquid.
Purée the chestnuts with 100ml of the cooking liquid in a food processor or using a stick blender.
Pour a further 100ml of the cooking liquid into a pan and add the sugar. Heat gently until dissolved. Add the chestnut purée, vanilla paste and honey. Stir until well blended. Bring to the boil then cook gently for 5–10 minutes until well thickened. Take care, as it will pop and splutter and may spit. Remove from the heat and stir in the brandy. Pour into warm, sterilised jars and seal immediately. Use within 6 months. Store in the fridge once opened.
All plums and gages are varieties of Prunus domestica. Gages (small, green plums) tend to be sweeter tasting and more spherical in shape than the darker purple plums, more popularly sold in UK stores therefore investing in your own gage tree at home in the garden is an excellent idea. Do not be put off by the bogey-like colour – they taste divine.
Plum has many species, and taxonomists differ on the count. Depending on the taxonomist, between 19 and 40 species of plum exist. From this diversity only two species, the hexaploid European plum (Prunus domestica) and the diploid Japanese plum (Prunus salicina and hybrids), are of worldwide commercial significance. The origin of these commercially important species is uncertain.
Plums may have been one of the first fruits domesticated by humans. The most abundant cultivars have not been found wild, only around human settlements. Prunus domestica has been traced to East European and Caucasian mountains while Prunus salicina and Prunus simonii originated in Asia. Plum remains have been found in Neolithic age archaeological sites along with olives, grapes and figs.
It is considered plums came originally from Asia. They were likely first grown in China more than 2,000 years ago and made their way to Rome by 65 B.C. The fruit Prunus armeniaca gained its name from the beliefs of Pliny the Elder who was a Roman historian and scientist of the first century. He maintained the apricot was a kind of a plum, and had originally come from Armenia.
The plum is in fact closely related to the apricot and peach and numerous intermediary forms like Prunus simonii, the Apricot Plum. Prunus salicina, Asian plum native to China and Japan, has been in cultivation for thousands of years and was mentioned in the songs and writings of Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC). Although Pompey the Great is credited with introducing the cultivated plum to Rome in 65 BC, it is likely that wild plums were used by the peoples of southern Europe for many thousands of years. Wild plums flourished throughout the Old and New Worlds. In fact, the domestic plums we eat today descend from numerous sources. Some sources believe the European plum was carried to Rome around 200 BC, then north to Europe. Others say that the Duke of Anjou carried the plum home as he returned from Jerusalem at the close of the Fifth Crusade (1198 to 1204 AD).
The French enthusiastically embraced the European plum during whichever scenario it arrived, using it in the kitchen as both fresh and dried as prunes. French immigrants carried plum pits to Quebec where a traveler recorded plum orchards flourishing as early as 1771. Plums came to North America with British settlers.
The markings on plum stones are unique to each variety, like a fingerprint. When Henry VIII’s ‘Mary Rose’ was raised after 450 years from the sea-bed, over 100 varieties of plum stones were discovered. It is an indication to how popular plums were in our diets during the Tudor period and are appreciation at the many different varieties on offer. It is a shame that instead of this giant figure increasing, we are lucky if we have more than 50 varieties available nowadays.
Plums are produced around the world, and China is the world’s largest producer, 6,100,000 tonnes during 2015.
Plums can be self-fertile but it is safer to purchase two, to make sure. ‘Victoria’ is a popular, reliable, high-yielding, self-fertile cooker and eater. ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’, a dark purple and another popular variety is a late-ripening, heavy-cropping type that can give your fruit as late as October. Other popular plums that will be recommended are ‘Czar’, blue plums for cooking that apparently thrive in poor soil; ‘Early Laxton’, a dessert plum with red flushed, yellow fruit yielding in mid to late summer; ‘Blue Tit’, a compact dessert plum with blue fruit in late summer.
For Green Gages, ‘Cambridge Gage’, partly self-fertile, green fruits, sweet; most reliable of the gages, but vigorous and needs a warm garden; ‘Imperial Gage’ is self-fertile and described as ‘reliable’; ‘Oullin’s Gage’ is self-fertile and recommended by River Cottage for cooking or eating fresh and flowers later so it may miss any late frosts – plum blossom is very early and delicate.
You must be warned that some plum varieties do refuse to pollinate each other. ‘Rivers’ Early Prolific’ and ‘Jefferson’ or ‘Cambridge Gage’ and ‘Old Green Gage’ are such examples. Check with your suppliers for further details.
Plums like fertile, well-drained soil in sunny, sheltered locations. They are particular about water- they like a reasonable amount during warmer months but despise waterlogged soils at any time of the year so a well-drained site is really ideal. Add plenty of organic matter if the soil is too dry to help the plant retain water in its roots. Feed and mulch the tree every spring to kick-start its blossom and fruit production and make sure you water in during dry spells, especially when it is settling in during the first year. The trees themselves are quite strong and hardy but unfortunately, the blossom is often early and hits the frost. Avoid frost pockets or windy sites and follow our crazy example of positioning ladders around the trees and wrapping the blossom very gently and carefully up in excessive amounts of horticultural fleece at night and then, using pegs, hoist it up during the daytime so pollinators can do their business.
A word on ‘Victoria’ plums – they are prone to such heavy cropping that their branches can snap if unsupported. This happened to our one a couple of years back when I foolishly removed some trees growing nearby that were supporting it. It has struggled on though like a brave soldier and produced an excellent crop this year.
Depending on the variety, location and type of plum, you can harvest from July to October. The first few fruits falling from the tree are a sign it is ready to start picking. Colour, squidgyness and ease of the plum being pulled from the tree branch is the next indicator. The fruit ripens very gradually over time so do not be too hasty – harvest every day whatever seems ready over time. Pick carefully to avoid bruising the fruit and try to leave a short stalk to keep the fruit and next year’s buds intact.
Silver leaf disease is the most likely nuisance for plum trees. Minimising pruning helps reduce the likelihood of this disease a lot. Brown rot, blossom wilt, bacterial canker and rust are also a possibility. Spots of gummy looking resin on the bark are a sign that the tree is under stress. Aphids can appear in early spring but rarely do more than cosmetic damage. Worst case would be larvae in some of the fruit.
100g of fresh plums also contain 350 IU Vitamin A, 10mg Vitamin C, Vitamin K, 150 mg of potassium and smaller amounts of B vitamins and other minerals.
Some plums are best eaten fresh, others need to be cooked. All plums can be frozen. The best way is to de-stone them and put the halves in freezer bags but if you don’t have time, you can freeze them whole and remove the stones once defrosted at a later date. I freeze most of my plums to make jams and save the fresh ones for people to eat or to make delicious plum crumble from.
I offer two recipes: my green gage jam (feel free to apply the same recipe for other plums or half and half) and plum crumble. Dig in.
Green Gage Jam
My favourite way to eat homemade green gages – or plums – is in jam. Plums have an (almost) high amount of pectin in them so the jam should set without the aid of extra special pectin liquid however, I have been known to resort to using it in plum jam before so do not be afraid to do so yourself.
Serve the jam slathered thickly on buttered toast with a cup of tea on a sunny afternoon and you will be in heaven.
(Makes 2.25kg worth)
1 kg plums – 1kg granulated sugar – Juice of 1-2 lemons – 125ml Certo liquid pectin, optional
Slice and remove the stones from the plums and place in a large pan. Add the sugar and lemon juice.
Stir over a high heat and then allow the fruit to stew, checking the temperature with a jam thermometer. When it has reached boiling point, allow it to bubble furiously for at least ten minutes.
Meanwhile, put a china plate inside the freezer so that it is cold. Spoon a small dollop of jam onto the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute. Take it out and run a fingertip straight through the middle of the jam splodge on the plate. If the jam ‘crinkles’ and leaves a trail as you push your fingertip through, then it is done. If it doesn’t, continue to boil the jam and check in this manner until it is ready.
Once done, turn of the heat and if using, add the liquid pectin and stir in before you allow the jam to cool slightly.
Bottle in steralised jars and store in a cool, dry place overnight. You can use them from the next day onwards.
Traditional plums look gorgeous in a crumble – the red juice makes it look so pretty – but mixing in some green gages as well takes the dish to a whole new sweet level and I urge you to try it at lease once!
– Lots of plums, about 1kg – Caster/ granulated sugar, to sprinkle over the plums
For the crumble topping: – 170g plain flour – 110g salted butter – 55g caster/ granulated sugar
Preheat the oven 150C.
De-stone the plums and cut into halves or segments. Place them in an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle a generous amount of caster or granulated sugar over the top of each layer of plums as you put them in. You want to have a nice thick layer of fruit as it is going to decrease in size during the cooking process.
Put the flour into a bowl followed by the sugar and salted butter. Rub together using your fingertips until the mixture resembles large bread crumbs (add more butter if too dry and more flour if too sticky). Sprinkle the crumble topping over the top of the plums that have been placed in layers inside the dish.
Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes – 1hr, or until hot and golden brown on top and the fruit is cooked underneath (once done, you can turn off the oven and leave the crumble inside to stay warm until you are ready to eat it). Serve hot with custard.
Blackcurrant season has been long over but I have only just managed to make my first batch of blackcurrant jam from this years crop from the bags we stored in the freezer. It had to be done a) make space in the freezer for the last of the runner beans (and my brother and sister are complaining there isn’t enough space for ice cream in there), b) blackcurrant jam is just what I crave on wet, cold days in winter so I needed some at the ready, and c) blackcurrant jam is delicious.
Blackcurrants are high in pectin so you should not need to add any. This is the best recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. It is easy and delicious, as far as jam making goes.
(Makes 7-8x 340g jars)
– 1kg blackcurrants -600ml water – 1.5kg granulated sugar
Remove stalks and leaves from the blackcurrants (the dried flowers at the end are fine to leave). Put them in a large pan and add the water, bringing it to the boil before allowing it to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the fruit is soft and broken down to let all the juices out but not completely slushy/disintegrated.
Add the sugar and stir in until dissolved then bring the pan to a rolling boil. Leave it to boil furiously for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir until it is room temperature (try pectin test here if you would like and if it has not set, bring back to the boil or add a little liquid pectin).
Leave it to cool – if the blackcurrants are going to float to the top of the jars, leave it to cool a little longer. If they still refuse to sink slightly, then bring it back to the boil for a couple of minutes until they do.
Once cool, bottle in sterilised jam jars and store in a cool, dry place overnight to allow it to set a little more.
Remember my love of jam? Not that I am trying to hit you over the head with it or anything…
I fell in love with raspberry jam a couple of years ago. Then it was homemade plum jam. Then blackcurrant. This year, it has been strawberry. I just can’t get enough.
You will remember my overly-excited post about harvesting enough strawberries to make strawberry and rhubarb jam (Recipe: Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam) and hoping that one day I would pick enough to freeze for purely strawberry jam? Well, my dear friends, that dream came true and it is a sweet, sticky, yummy dream, perfect for finishing off August with slathered on homemade toast and butter.
Strawberry jam is a little tricky: the fruit is very low in pectin meaning it is most likely going to end up running all over your toast or scone so pectin rich liquid (what I use) in abundance or pectin jam sugar is pretty much an obligation. Then there is the sweetness of the fruit. You don’t want to overly sweeten the jam with sugar otherwise it becomes sickly. To counter this, I would advise using lots of lemon – this will also add pectin to the mixture. Finally, do you want whole strawberries in your jam or just a straight jelly? To get rid of the whole fruit, you need to simmer the fruit down to mush. For my batch, I chose to go halfway – stew the fruit before adding in the sugar so that it created a jammy sauce for some whole fruit to float in.
– 1kg strawberries – 1kg granulated sugar – Juice of at least 3 lemons – 135 ml Certo Apple liquid pectin
1. Put the strawberries in a large pan over a high flame. Stir the fruit as it begins to bubble and some of the juice starts to ‘leak’ into the pan so that the whole berries are swimming in the sauce. Add the sugar and lemon juice, stirring in.
2. Stir over a high heat and then allow the fruit to stew, checking the temperature with a jam thermometer. When it has reached boiling point, allow it to bubble furiously for at least ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Meanwhile, put a china plate inside the freezer so that it is cold. Spoon a small dollop of jam onto the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute. Take it out and run a fingertip straight through the middle of the jam splodge on the plate. If the jam ‘crinkles’ and leaves a trail as you push your fingertip through, then it is done. If it doesn’t, continue to boil the jam and check to see if it is improving. Once it is nearly done, turn of the heat. Pour the liquid pectin into the pan and stir in. Check the pectin test again to make sure that it is setting. Allow the jam to cool slightly, for probably at least half an hour.
4. Once done, bottle in sterilised jars (place wax discs over the surface to preserve it longer before putting the lid on) and store in a cool, dry place overnight, allowing it to set. You can use the jam from the next day onwards.