Monday, 27 June 2011

Pretty As A Plum

Better For You Than M & M's
We decided to check out a road where I had spotted lots of fallen fruit last year, to see if any wild/cherry plums were ready to drop yet. As we arrived, we saw quite a few plums on the road and pavement. We also found that the road bordered a cricket pitch, which was even better news.
A tree-full of yellow plums or mirabelles
We found small, slightly pointy, yellow plums (possibly mirabelles) – they looked a bit like pixie hats. We also found reddish orange plums, which were slightly rounder. There were also some green fruits and purple ones but these were still a week off being ripe.
A Tree-full of Red Plums
I find it a real pleasure to gaze up into a tree laden down with colourful fruit – just to appreciate the sheer beauty that Mother Nature can conjure up. This wonder is only enhanced when you know that you can also pluck and eat this sweet, candy coloured cornucopia and it is all hanging there for free.
You Little Beauties
The easiest way to get the ripe plums off the tree is to shake them into a blanket, this way you only get the most ripe ones. There are bound to be a few that miss the blanket or fall on people’s heads, so it’s best to get children to hold it. It takes a while to train them to keep their arms out wide and straight but once you have achieved this, you can martial them into position and give the appropriate branch a good old Heave Ho!
The Good, Old-Fashioned, Blanket Method
What seems odd to me, is that hardly anyone else is going to utilise this gift; and that they will fall onto the ground to be consumed by the birds and wasps. Well, today we saved a few Kilos from this inglorious fate and ate quite a few on the way too.
A Few Kilos of Colourful Fruit
They look so gorgeous and colourful; it almost seems a shame to eat them.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

A Real Plum Spot

Miraculously, just as the cherry trees were starting to look a little empty – I spotted a Cherry Plum tree that was laden with ripening fruit. I tried a couple, then quickly filled my empty sandwich box and headed back.
My First Cherry Plums of 2011
These beautiful little fruits are always simple to spot because people do not often bother to crop them at all, hence you tend to notice the fruity mess, squashed all over the pavement.
Squashed Messy Fruit - Look Up!
Cherry plums come in many colours and will differ likewise in taste but they will all cook nicely. I have seen Red, Yellow Purple and Green varieties, all of which taste great straight off the tree. It is easy to tell when they are ready for harvesting, as they will be falling of their own accord and should come off into your hand just by touching.
Many Colours but all Plums
Closely related fruits are the Greengage, Damson, Bullace and Wild Plum. Again, they vary greatly in size, taste and colour but all can be eaten or cooked.
The Usual Suspects
It’s worth remembering (especially if you have young children) that the pavement is not always the best place to pick from, especially if it is beside a busy road. Fortunately, there is often a field on the other side of the hedge, so this is where your young pickers should be installed.
Green Plums - Possibly Bullace
These tasty hedgerow fruits can be eaten straight of the tree or made into Pies, Jam, Chutney, Cordial, Schnapps, Wine and a hundred other lovely things. Most recipes that I know do not include the stones, so you might as well take them out as soon as you get home, if you intend to cook with them.
Red Cherry Plums
You can then freeze the halves in the same way as I described for cherries. Of course, they will keep on the windowsill (as they are) for a while, if you just want to eat them as the fancy takes you.
Pitted and Ready to Freeze
It might be worth experimenting a little with drying these fruits – home made prunes anyone? Actually these things often taste a lot nicer than they sound.
Another Loaded Tree Waiting to be Turned into Chutney, Jam or Pies
I think it may be about time to get the child supported blanket out again and shake a tree or two this weekend.

Monday, 20 June 2011

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Well, I’m not sure what Shakespeare would have thought about this, but according to arcane wisdom (folk /old wives lore), the fruitfulness of your crop can be guaranteed by leaping about the garden naked - especially around midnight on Midsummers Eve!

Redcurrants Add Pectin to Jam

Allegedly, this effect also applies to the potency of the leapers, so be warned.

Ripe Redcurrants - Also Good in (Mid) Summer Pudding
I have no idea what effect plucking cherries or plums naked at midnight on the 21st of June might have, but if you do feel the urge to experiment, I suggest doing it in the privacy of your own property if possible. Please pluck carefully and listen out for the sound of distant Pan-pipes and the feint tinkling of bells… Always be sure not to tread on any faery folk as this is considered unlucky, not least for the faeries.
Cherry Jam - As Made by My Mum
I was sporting shorts and sandals on our latest mission - and that’s about as adventurous as I get most days. We popped round to a nearby neighbour who kindly allowed us to crop some fruit off her cherry tree. It kept pouring with rain but the cherries were sweet, big and juicy. In a short while we collected enough fruity booty to take over to my parents on Father’s day.

All Food is Fully Tested, Naturaly

My Mum kindly offered to turn the harvest into several pots of delicious Cherry Jam. She even donated her ancient brass and iron preserving pan to us, to help in our own future endeavours.
Mum's Old, Brass Preserving or Maslin Pan
Mum’s Recipe for Cherry and Redcurrant Jam

2.5 Lb Cherries
2 Lb Redcurrants
1 Pt Water
3.25 Lb Sugar

Simmer Redcurrants and water for 1 hour.
Strain through a cloth to give half a pint of juice.
Add the cherries and simmer for 20 mins.
Add the sugar, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 mins.
Test for setting, pot and cover.

I call this my Mum's recipe, but all recipes are handed down from someone else - very much like folk-lore, fairy-tales and nursery-rhymes.

Mothers & Others, have been making jam for centuries, so it's impossible to hold on to ownership of them.

As such, I make no appologies for copying any I find anywhere.

Trail Mix Trial

Last night I finally produced my fabled Trail Mix, nine months after harvesting the main ingredients (I had the idea for this after the kids and I gathered a record crop of walnuts last year).

Trail Mix
After drying some cherries in the sun, I mixed them with the remains of last year’s walnuts and hazel nuts to create this tasty, filling and very healthy snack.
I was cracking away for half the evening it seemed - then in the morning I promptly forgot to take the box to work with me…

Friday, 17 June 2011

Preservation - Part of the Process

Because everything seems to ripen at the same time, keen foragers will soon need to familiarise themselves with various traditional (and some decidedly modern) methods of preserving fresh produce. I mentioned in my previous episode (Cherry Picking the Best) that my son likes his cherries dried or dehydrated. You can buy machines for achieving this or simply leave them in the sun on a hot day. The airing cupboard is good on dull days too.
Sun Dried Cherries - I know they don't look that nice, but the flavour is intense.
Cherries also freeze well, either with the stones in or after pitting them. I have found the best method is to initially freeze them on a baking tray. This keeps the cherries separate and loose when you finally transfer them to a bag. It also allows you to defrost a specific amount as opposed to the whole lot. This suits my daughter who has developed a taste for frozen cherries as an interesting alternative to an ice lolly on a summer’s day.
Pitted Cherries, Ready for Freezing
Of course, the best thing to do in my opinion is to eat them, either straight off the tree (after a quick rinse if needed) or to bake them into some kind of cake or pudding. My wife made us a lovely Cherry Clafoutis, which is basically a big cherry pancake. Mmmmmmm!
Cherry Clafoutis (Pancake)
Here is the recipe...

Cherry Clafoutis (a big pancake with cherries in it)
Serves 4

300g Cherries, unpitted
300ml Milk
3 Eggs
60g Caster Sugar
60g Plain Flour
Half-tsp Baking Powder
Pinch of Salt
Half-tsp Vanilla Extract
Icing Sugar for Serving

Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
Remove the stalks and arrange the cherries in a single layer in a shallow, lightly buttered 22cm glass or porcelain dish.
In a food processor, combine the eggs and sugar and beat until smooth.
Add the milk, salt and vanilla extract and whiz briefly.
Sift in the flour and baking powder and blend for one minute until smooth.
Pour the mixture amongst the cherries to about 5mm depth and put it in the oven until golden brown. The mixture will rise in the oven, but will deflate somewhat when removed.
Sprinkle the hot pudding with icing sugar before serving.
This pudding looks fab and tastes lovely but don't forget to let everyone know, the cherries still have the stones in them.

Clafoutis? Pancake? Who cares what it's called? Watch out for those stones!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Cherry Picking the Best

People always look at me incredulously, when I tell them that we picked 5 Kgs of ripe cherries in St. Deny’s (close to where we live in the heart of Southampton city).
Pick Me, Pick Me...
However, it is true and here is the proof...
Over 5 Kilos of Cherries
We walked round the corner with our pickers and boxes and set siege to a tree we spotted earlier in the week. It only took us about half an hour on this one tree and there are plenty more left where they came from. 
They Look Just About Ready To Me
We probably picked more that 5 Kgs, but rather a lot got consumed (largely by my daughter) before we even got them home and weighed them.
Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff
We were pleasantly surprised by the lack of competition, although having the Phantom Limb and a telescopic picker does give you something of an advantage over any potential opposition.
The Phantom Limb Fruit Picker in Action
My son prefers his cherries dried, which converts them into large raisins as far as he’s concerned. He helped me stone them beforehand, using the very handy cherry pitting tool that we invested in last year.
Chief Cherry Pitter
There is a potential down side to this abundance though... My daughter had tummy ache today, probably from gobbling down too many in one go!
More Than Enough to Go Around
Perhaps it’s time to get baking...

Monday, 6 June 2011

Cherry Red

During my lunchtime wander two weeks ago, I spotted RED CHERRIES in the nearby trees. Not all of the trees, and not a lot in those where I did find them, but they are definitely on the way.

Nearly Ripe Cherries in a Local Tree
What this means, is that from this time it is a straight race between us foragers and those feathered fiends our feathered friends, who are also partial to a juicy cherry or two. Of course, every cherry eaten by a bird may grow into a new tree elswhere, which is probably why there are so many of them.

The First Cherry of the Season is Always Special (and probably not quite ripe too).

The trick is to keep a close eye on your chosen trees and not pick them too early, wait until most of the fruit is ready (red or black depending on the type)  - then pick them quickly, before the birds realise what’s going on (maybe distract them with a worm or something).

Cherry Picking

We spent the half-term in Devon and on our return we scoped out the local trees. One small tree by the railway looked ripe. The cherries were large and they tasted good – so we grabbed as many as we could.

Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries - Apparently
YUMMY! Sorry, there's none left. We are hopefully picking again next Sunday though.
National Cherry Day is on Sat July 16th apparently (although this seems a tad late in my experience). According to Cherry Aid, in the last 50 years we’ve lost 90% of our Cherry orchards and now import around 95% of the Cherries we eat. A couple of weeks ago I bought a reduced punnet of Cherries for £2.00, but I won’t be buying any for the next month, not while the wild trees are bursting with juicy goodness.

Ripe Cherries - Yum, Yum, Yum!

You can cook them, freeze them, boil them, preserve them, dry them, turn them into wine, probably even pickle them or even just eat them straight off the tree. The good thing about all these options, is that the sour/bitter tasting fruits are better for cooking and of course the sweet delicious ones are best for simply scoffing!
Click on the recipe name and the detals should appear below.