Thursday 29 June 2023

Cherries and the lovely little Boat Club in St Denys

Our daughter is back from university, and on a sweltering sunny day, she asked if I wanted to go for a walk around the park after I returned from work. 

As we were crossing the bridge over the Itchen river, it occurred to me that it was time for ripening cherries (we have a small but prolific tree in our front garden).

I suggested a short detour through St Denys, where we had collected cherries before. The tide was low but it would return the next morning.

Our luck was in and the timing was perfect, the trees we looked at had lots of ripe fruit and the birds were starting to pick them off, making a mess on the pavement. We grabbed a few by reaching up as high as we could and shoving them directly into our eager mouths, then vowed to return the following morning, armed to the teeth with fruit pickers.

Bright and breezy the next day, we filled our collecting box to the brim, whilst still stuffing our greedy mouths with whatever we could manage. We then zipped out for a lovely paddle board down the river, joined by our son, before finally bringing home the booty, or what was left of it any way.

Sunday 20 November 2022


It has been another busy year for us. Our daughter has been preparing for university and our son is out of school and into college. I'm delighted to say that we do still have plenty of fun picking fruit together, and we always enjoy getting out and about in the Autumn months to see what we can find.
Earlier in the year, I popped into a local school fete, and took a gamble on a random selection of chillies and peppers. They were only very young when I bought them, so I had no idea what would develop, but I'm pleased to report that they are still producing fruit in November. We already had enough chillies to make, sweet chilli jam, which is a house favourite, and the peppers are now long, yellow, pointy and sweet.
My allotment produced its normal load of delicious soft fruits but the veg (and I) struggled with the drought conditions and my lack of attention, so this will be my last year there. A sad point here, is that an apple tree, grown by our son from a pip, has been producing loads of very nice apples that keep well and are good for eating. We will leave it for the next occupant.
I am now working at the local university and have taken advantage of their beautifully landscaped campus during lunch breaks, including the mulberry tree, which produces a different fruit from the red ones we were familiar with, so I froze the fruits while I consider their best options. I think it might be a white mulberry, good for feeding silk-worms apparently. There is an interesting historical story about this, elsewhere on this blog.
During a crazy day or two in September, the kids and I went out to pick pears and apples in huge quantities, we then had a nice apple day in the garden, inviting friends and teenagers to help press and drink the golden juice, the rest is steadily fermenting into cider in my shed!
Along with my good friend Lou, we also organised an Apple Day at the Mansbridge Community Orchard. It had been a couple of years since we had been able to do hold this annual event, so we were unsure how many people would turn up. However, we soon had a substantial crowd of helpers, participants roamed off to gather fruit and returned with bags full of bounty. Back at base camp the keen team smashed and pressed the fruit into delicious juice, which was gulped down and used to fill drinks bottles to take home.

Friday 24 June 2022

Red & Ready Summer Berries

Visiting my allotment I realised it was time to start harvesting my Summer berries. I started with the Raspberries, which always taste divine, straight off the plant.
Then I moved onto the tart little Redcurrants, which always add a bit of bite to the sweeter fruits in puddings and also help when making jam.
Then it was the Tayberries, as long as my thumb on occasions, and always a tad more risky to pick due to their fine thorns..
Finally my favourites, the lusty Loganberry, tasty sharp, sweet and large. The only drawback is that they can get over-ripe quite quickly.

I also picked some Blueberries because they were getting ripe, before returning triumphant with my large box of soft fruit, ready to be scoffed with ice cream or added to muesli for breakfast.
As I arrived home I realised that I also needed to begin harvesting my Cherries. On close inspection, I realised that something had been eating them before they were fully ripe...
I laid in wait to discover the culprit...


Tuesday 11 January 2022

Reflections on the Fruity Constancy of Autumn

Normal is not a word that we will be using easily any time soon. The global pandemic has touched everyone probably, in numerous different ways. For me the biggest changes in the past two years have been, losing my elderly parents, and being made redundant after 15 years in one job. These two things were not directly linked to COVID-19, but they occurred during this period and added to my emotional stress levels. However, because of the pandemic, I did quickly find temporary employment, in a state of the art Coronavirus saliva testing laboratory, this was exciting, challenging, interesting and lasted for nearly a year. 
One aspect of my life that changed directly as a result of the virus was being unable to coach and train Wing Chun (Chinese kung fu), my hobby for over 30 years. I think the most significant thing that I missed was the social aspect of running a sports club. Being in frequent close proximity to people, who's company you enjoy and trust, while taking part in physical activity and learning, is tremendously beneficial to mental states and wellbeing. While we were unable to train together, I set up an online Qigong course to help people to reduce personal stress and control anxiety, while learning this solo art.
In many ways, being outside often, walking, observing nature and actively partaking in the seasonal changes, has been a consistent balm to my stress and anxiety levels during this difficult time and being aware of the ordinary changes, constantly reminds me that change is not only healthy but also is actually the only normal there can ever be.
Lots and Lots of Lovely Apples
Our children have now grown into teenagers, so their wants and needs are ever changing, but I'm pleased to say that they are still very happy to come apple picking with me in Autumn.
The Processing Begins with the Stainless Steel Spade

The kids and I along with my friend Andy picked about 300 Kgs of apples this Autumn, a really tasty haul. Lugging the heavy bags of colourful fruit up to the back of my garden, was quite enough exercise for one day.
The Delicious Juice begins to Pour
Then, one sunny weekend, Andy and I smashed, bashed, crushed and juiced the piles of apples and produced around 60 litres of delicious apple juice. It was a hard work,. but a nice (not to mention productive) way to spend the day. After our hard grafting we stored the juice in various buckets and jars in the garden shed, where it soon began to ferment into 60 litres of tasty cider. We aim to reduce this volume soon, it's taking up a lot of room in my shed!
Quite a Lot of Cider!
I also collected a good load of delicious yellow plums, which my daughter was more than happy to consume.

In November I started new employment, as a research technician at Southampton university. While wandering about during lunch hours, I kept an eye on the Medlar tree, situated near the Physics building, where I now work.
I have meddled with Medlars before, making wine and jelly but fancied something different this year. I gave a load to my friend Matt, who made nettle beer with me earlier in the year, and he produced a delightfully fruity Medlar Ale. I covered some Medlars with gin, in jars to supplement our Christmas Sloe Gin. We picked bags of Sloes during a much needed break on the Isle of Wight, and I can now testify that Medlar liquor is just as fruity as Sloe Gin, with a unique and distinctly different flavour and colour.

With my remaining Medlars, I produced Medlar fruit cheese or fruit leathers (as the recipe named them). Personally I don't think they bear any resemblance to cheese or leather, they are sweet, deliciously moist, very fruity, and they also keep remarkably well.

Sunday 10 October 2021

Foraging and Qigong Walks - National Park City Status

Autumn is always a busy time, and we have already harvested over 100 kgs of apples, that's around 40 litres of juice (quite enough cider for the year), but we will be picking a whole lot more soon. 
I recently lead two, very enjoyable, foraging walks around Southampton, one in Mansbridge and the other on Peartree Green targeting National Park City status for our lovely city. 
I will also be leading a morning, Walk with Qigong, for beginners, on Sunday 17th October, on Southampton Common.
Qigong (pronounced chi – gong) is a system of breathing, mindfulness and movement exercises that underlie many Chinese martial arts. It is similar to Tai Chi and has proven health benefits – it is enormously helpful to those in sedentary occupations, helping with posture and back strain, it is a fantastic method of stress and anxiety reduction, and has overall health benefits of improving cognitive skills such as concentration and attention, flexibility and balance.

We are fortunate to have many beautiful parks in our city. Practising Qigong outdoors enables us to mindfully connect with nature; spending time in green spaces is increasingly recognised as positive for wellbeing, and it also benefits eye health, particularly for those spending long hours looking at screens.
If interested, click on the link below for further details and to purchase a ticket. This is a funded event, so very reasonably priced.

Saturday 17 July 2021

Pandemic ll the 3rd Wave

 We Live in Interesting Times, Still!

We still take lots of lovely walks; the Devil's jumps' are a series of Bronze Age burial mounds, on the South Downs. They align with the setting sun at Midsummer (if it's not too cloudy). So, this was my Father's day walk/picnic.

However, simple fruity foraging trips are just as bountiful and popular as ever.

In the normal order of things we began collecting Elderflowers as soon as they arrived, the season tends to be short-lived, so we got out of the traps early, when the weather was suitable. I have made extra Elderflower Champagne this year (4 gallons), because we always run out. Two of these gallons are an experimental batch with an added tint of raspberries, which I think sounds very tasty. Only time will tell.

My friend Matthew also joined us picking Elderflowers too. Matt makes really good beer, and following my attempts last February, we collected a good crop of nettles and he produced a lovely strong & smoky ale. Next he wanted to try an Elderflower Ale.

It was a good year for cherries, and I gathered a good crop from my front garden tree. Small sparrows seem to have been pecking away under the nets, so I will need to adapt my protection next year.

At the allotment the summer raspberries have had an exceptional harvest, which made up for a poor show from my Loganberry and Tayberry bushes. The thornless Blackberry is going to be so impressive that I will soon need a bigger freezer.

I am looking forward to doing some work with the Scouts and other groups and  hoping to organise some public foraging trips, to promote the Southampton parks, in the late Summer or early Autumn. Who knows?, we may even be able to run our traditional Apple Day in October.

Tuesday 15 September 2020

2020 an Interesting Year

It has so far been a year like no other but I'm glad to say that some things have remained constant.

We had an unseasonably hot spring which, along with my nettle beer, helped me through lockdown. Fruit-wise, the warm spring gave us a great crop of soft fruits, from which, my daughter created some truly spectacular deserts to cheer us all up.
The summer period contiued to be hot and dry for long periods and this seems to have hampered some fruit trees due to lack or water. Many apple trees had ripe fruit a month or two before they would normally.
As part of our frequent walks, we got out to gather Mulberries and make yet more delicious things, I have added some more recently to my cider - I successfully did this last year, as an experiment, to great effect.
I also gathered enough Elderberries to make a gallon of port/wine, so perhaps I will be able to test its alleged antiviral properties, in a highly un scientific manner.
At the moment, it looks like our normal, public Apple Day event at Mansbridge Community Orchard, will not be able to proceed due to government restrictions on gatherings but we been doing plenty of pressing, with Apples and Pears, at home in our garden.
Of course, more fruit means better cakes, provided you have some great cooks in the house. If you don't have great cooks, you can always learn some new skills yourself. In difficult times, it is important to adapt; change is normal, be agile, be creative, keep fit & healthy, build resilliance into your bodies and family systems...