Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Pendulous Pears, Thanks to the Major

I was just thinking that the harvest season had pretty much drawn to a close, when a trip to Woolston, passing Peartree Green en-route, revealed that we had missed a trick.
They do say, Walnuts and Pears you plant for your heirs, and the ancient Pear tree that was planted by the Mrs Cutler OBE Mayor of Southampton in 1951 was absolutely smothered with ripe fruit.
We discovered this lovely tree a few years ago and have been visiting it ever since. The pears are small, firm, round and beautifully sweet. My children call them Snack Pears. Mrs Cutler is no relative of ours, but we figured that she would be delighted to find that the fruit was going to be put to a good use.
My son and I zipped back up to the tree after his Sunday rugby training, there was a fair few Pears on the ground already and the fruit was suitably ripe, so we set about picking a large bag full.
In about 20 minutes we collected about 15 Kgs, which is quite a lot for a fully grown adult to lug back, let alone a 9 year old boy. However, I’m sure that my fruit based strength and conditioning program will eventually benefit his contribution to the Trojans team.
There is still heaps of fruit left on the tree, if anybody else wants to pick some but you would be wise to use a fruit picking pole, as you should not climb old fruit trees as the branches can snap catastrophically without warning.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Spiny Sweet Chestnuts

The Nights are drawing in. The clocks have gone back. It's getting dark as I cycle to and from work. However, even though it is raining more, it is still warm.
There are plenty of apples left in the trees about the city. Personally, I think that it is a bit of a shame to see all this lovely fruit going to waste, but I guess the wildlife will benefit. I'm still going to pick a few more big buckets full to press and add to my juice store.
Sweet Chestnuts seem to be falling early this year and many trees have already shed their spiny bounty. I don't know if this is due to the warm October weather that we have enjoyed or something to do with the hot Summer before it.
We always love this time of year-whatever the weather-the beautiful shades and colours of the leaves as they fall is the wonder before the winter. It always pays to make the most of the end of the harvest season and, in my opinion, there's no better way to do this than roasting chestnuts over a fire.
If you do not have the facility to build an open fire (my favourite), you can always use an oven to roast your chestnuts. I often use an old barbecue and simply build a small fire using dry twigs, it doesn't need to last a long time.
I did hear that even the microwave can be used, and I tried this method at home as an experiment. It works, of course. However, it does not have the same romance as a fire with real flames, flickering through the gloomy dusk.
I much prefer a real fire because it gives a traditional feel for the time of year, supplies comfort as the nights draw in, and also because the flames partially burn the shells, making them easier to remove.
Whatever method you use to cook your nuts... Please... Remember, Remember to slit or cut the shells before putting them to the flames... Otherwise they will explode, just like the exciting fireworks that will soon accompany the bonfires all over this country on Guy Fawkes Night.












Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Wind in the Walnuts

it has been a funny old Autumn thus far with a very warm September and October, still in shorts and t-shirts temperatures.
We decided to go on the hunt for Walnuts; hoping that the recent rain and blustery wind would have brought some down.
We had been very busy previously, and not had time to check out our favourite trees before-hand, so we didn't know what to expect.
On our arrival, it did not look so good, but we spotted a few broken branches on the grass, signs that the local kids had been trying to knock down nuts.
We soon tuned into the Walnuts and started to find them nestled amongst the tufts of greenery. We quickly filled our pockets, and when we put them all together at home, we ended up with about half a shoebox full.









Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Apple Day Mansbridge Community Orchand

Apple Day 2014 at the Community Orchard in Mansbridge, was a fantastic success, everyone contributed and we all had lots of fun.
We had a big crowd of people from all walks of life and everybody chipped in to get things going, we even had a couple of ukulele players supplying musical accompaniment.
Southampton Woodcraft Folk, who are keen supporters of the orchard, pitched tents and organised pickers, tables and presses. I lugged the big press and fruit mill and more pickers (afforded through funding from the Southampton Airport Community Fund).
Once everything was set up and organised, people were dispatched into the trees, with pickers, to collect fruit. They duly returned with buckets and bags loaded with apples and even some pears.
The fruit was then chopped and milled into pulpy pommace and emptied into the presses.
The levers of the presses were turned by the hands of many enthusiastic and strong children and as the screws turned, the golden juice began to flow.
The process continued until it eventually began to rain but after a couple of hours of exertion, everyone was pretty exhausted anyway, so we packed up all the kit and took it home to be hosed down and washed. Well, I was pretty wet anyway.
I don’t know how much free nectar we squeezed out of those lovely apples but my bucket had about 3 gallons in it at one point. This was reduced to about 2 pints by the time we got home. So, I guess everyone went home happy.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Apple Armageddon

It is October, it's still boiling hot in Southampton, and the Saints are flying high in the Premiership. They do say that you should make hay while the sun shines!
So, taking full advantage of the Autumnal warmth we decided to press some of the huge quantity of apples we had collected. Naturally I had initially filled my shed store, for the winter months.
The cider press was dusted off, no mean task as it is a beast of a machine; very heavy, angular and awkward. All the buckets and equipment had to be hosed down and sterilised. Finally, my trusty stainless steel Spear & Jackson No 9 spade was thoroughly cleaned and polished.
We used the spade as a speedy way of chopping up big bucket loads of ripe fruit, before smashing them to oblivion with a branch of cherry wood. These weapons of mass destruction were augmented by the hopper fed fruit mill.
Fortunately I had a good squad of strong, enthusiastic child volunteers to help me with the processing, and the juice was soon flowing freely. As normal I had to balance the amount of sweet nectar necked by the kids, against my desire to have plenty left to bottle.
This year we have invested in a Pasteuriser, which means our precious juice can be kept for a longer time than it would last in the fridge alone. The Children’s valiant efforts produced about 4.5 gallons, a fantastically tasty achievement.
After I had filled and pasteurised 12 bottles, there was still two gallons left, so that will  become cider - unless the kids find it first.
Apple juice-straight out of the press-is the best tasting treat of the Autumn and If you want to experience this delight, you should get on down to the Mansbridge Community Orchard Apple Day on the afternoon of 12th October 2014. Bring some bags or buckets to collect fruit in, and join in with the family based fun, in the Octavia Rd Open Space.
If you have any spare fruit from your garden bring it along and we will turn it into delicious juice. The Apple Day is an open air event, so wear robust clothing and footwear (wellies are de-rigeur).
N.B.This is an amateur/volunteer/community based event – everyone is responsible for their own health and safety and parents/guardians are accountable for their children.


Monday, 22 September 2014

An Apple a Day

If the age old adage is correct, and an Apple a Day does indeed keep the doctor away, we should now be OK through the next year!
Even Rosy On The Inside
We started to pick Apples with the aim of filling our shed based store for the Winter months. I also want to press a nice load of juice. The children were keen to climb/eat/pick, and this year they have been honing their catching skills too, which is handy.
Initially we visited the Flemming Park Red trees in the swimming pool car park; they were loaded with sweet rosy fruit that no one else was picking, we grabbed a good crop here. Next we whizzed over to Hedge End, where we literally filled our boots (or car boot to be precise). These two quick trips netted us about 60 Kgs! There’s still plenty left on the trees though.

This year I want to make cider again but we have also invested in a pasteuriser. So, this time we will be able to bottle up some of the delicious, freshly-pressed juice-based elixir to consume later in the year.

Apple juice will not normally keep for more than a few days unless it is pasteurised. It is possible to freeze it, but we only have a small freezer and that’s half filled with Blackberries!
Apple juice-straight out of the press-is the best tasting treat of the Autumn and If you want to experience this delight, you should get on down to the Mansbridge Community Orchard Apple Day on the afternoon of 12th October 2014. Bring some bags or buckets to collect fruit, and join in with the family based fun, in the Octavia Rd Open Space.

If you have any spare fruit from your garden bring it along and we will turn it into delicious juice. The Apple Day is an open air event, so wear robust clothing and footwear (wellies are de-rigeur).
N.B.This is an amateur/volunteer/community based event – everyone is responsible for their own health and safety and parents/guardians are accountable for their children.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Summer Summary

Hazelnuts are now starting to fall, so make like squirrels and get collecting. They come in many different shapes and sizes and only trial will tell which nuts hold the biggest kernels. I have my favourite trees but these nutritious little beauties are very common in hedges and woodland all over the UK.
Hazelnuts will keep very well in a dry place. So, if you don’t cook or eat all of them straight away, you can save some until Christmas. They will keep a lot longer than that too; I recently finished cracking my supply from last year, to make space for this year’s crop!
Apples and Pears are still ripening on the trees and they will soon be ready to pick. I have been scoping out my favourite local trees to see how well they are doing. When fruit trees supply a heavy crop one year, they tend to have a bit of a rest the following year, so it’s well worth checking before you make any plans.
In due course, we will be organising an Apple Day at Mansbridge Community Orchard. This fun annual event is likely to be held in early October.
Other things to be thinking about at this time of year include Elderberries, Sloes and Medlars, all of which are plentiful and can be converted in to an array of delightful and delicious hedgerow treats.
Blackberries and Mulberries are still very abundant at the moment and you can always freeze any that you or your children do not greedily gobble up.
Crab Apples can be processed into a great many different preserves and drinks and there are loads available for free at the moment.
As Autumn begins, It’s always worth keeping an eye on the Sweet Chestnuts. It’s far too early to collect them yet, but it’s always good to bear these magnificent trees in mind.
Frosty days might seem a long way off at the moment, but the seasons still turn and keen observation of change is a key weapon in the forager's arsenal.

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