Thursday, 30 August 2012

Purple Plums

Many people have commented on the rainbow of colours, shapes and sizes of the different plums that we have been picking this year.
So we thought it would be nice to show that it is also possible to collect some nice fat purple plums; just like the type that you might expect to buy in your local green-grocer or supermarket.
Unfortunately, when we located these ones, we were not fully prepared. Although improvisation can be less effective, it is often much more fun.
Regardless of any equipment deficit, we came away with enough juicy, ripe, bloomy plums to keep us going for a couple of days.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Squashed Blackberries!

During a quick visit to our shared allotment, the children soon picked and devoured the last of the Summer Raspberries and Blueberries, which had been safely tucked up inside the fruit cage. The Autumn Raspberries and Tayberry bush were looking good and strong and both needed tying to wire frames and stakes.
The real surprise though was the Squash plant, which had been busily growing all over the place. A quick rummage under the dense foliage exposed a couple of fat, weighty vegetables as well as several smaller versions and flowers steadily developing.
After a stint of weeding and cutting, I realised that the place had turned surprisingly peaceful; the children had vanished. I eventually found them delving about the boundary fence, their faces and hands smeared with so much Blackberry juice that I nearly phoned the emergency services.
I persuaded them to gather some to take home and supplied appropriate Tupperware boxes. True to form the kids quickly redeemed more from the hedgerows surrounding the plot than from our attempts at cultivation (I left the squash to fatten further).
We froze most of the sweet, shiny hoard for later on but as a reward the pickers had Blackberries and Bananas with Ice Cream for pudding that night. This is a dish I can wholeheartedly recommend and it makes a refreshing change from the old favourites of Blackberry & Apple pie/crumble; both of which I also find great pleasure in.
About this time of year, everyone should also be keeping their eyes open for Hazelnuts and Walnuts (id Sheet now updated), which will be ripening imminently.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Round and Round the Mulberry Tree

We have just returned from a holiday in beautiful sunny Devon. While there, we were fortunate to notice a Mulberry tree in Salcombe.
At first glance it did not look like there were many fruits on the ancient looking tree but I sent my daughter (the official taster) to check and on closer inspection we realised that a lot of the fruit was just hidden under the leaves.
The red Mulberries are unripe, they look similar to Raspberries but felt harder; they also taste less interesting and are slightly tart. We picked a couple to try but the darker black/red fruits are far sweeter and delightfully palatable.
I imagine that Mulberries are now a fairly rare and I'm sure that with a little research some interesting traditional recipes could be turned up.  I may experiment with the local tree in a Southampton park. One thing is clear though, it would be much easier to pick Mulberries off a bush than a tree.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Wild (Garlic) Walk in the Woods

We will be going on a trip to Devon soon. The West Country is attractive at any time of the year but is especially lush during the summer months.
A Steep Woody Walk
The last time we visited, earlier this year, the weather was dreadful; repeat with thunder, fog, gales and various other forms of general stormy dampness.

We were undeterred and donning sandals and waterproofs we took the scenic route to the beach via the various wooded foot paths that criss-cross the local maps.
Told You it was Stormy
It is not uncommon to catch the whiff of Wild Garlic (Ransoms) as you wander down the delightful lanes that exist in these parts; we found an absolute abundance of it in these woods.
Fields of Garlic
Apart from the bulbs being a traditional deterrent to Vampires; Wild Garlic (leaves and flowers) can be used in all manner of interesting recipes and salads. It can even be used to make pesto to go with your pasta or pizza.

Ransom Quiche (London Forager)
  •   5 eggs
  •   large handful of wild garlic or ransoms (leaves)
  •  handful of grated cheddar cheese
  • splash of milk
  • handful of spinach 
  • a couple of rashers of bacon 
  • small onion
  • pack of ready-made short crust pastry
Chop and sweat the onions, add the bacon and fry till crispy.
Mix the eggs, cheese, milk and roughly-chopped wild garlic (or Ransom) - and season to taste.
Roll out the pastry and put into a pastry case.
Sprinkle the (optional) bacon & onion on the pastry and tip in the cheese mix.
Cook in oven on a medium heat for 40 mins or so.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Rustic Fruit Cage Success

At home, the pea harvest from the compact rainwater irrigated raised bed is going very well. The pea plants are now taller than my children and covered with fresh fat pods; they taste best raw.
However, after a short spell of sunny weather, I thought it was high time I popped down to our shared allotment to check on the progress of the soft fruit in our coppiced hazel cage.
What a lovely surprise greeted me!
All of the Autumnal Raspberries and the Tayberry had shot up. The Summer Raspberries were full of scrumptious ripe fruit.
Strawberry plants were planning to take over the entire floor-space / or possibly the world.
My Blueberry bush was resplendent with a great many bloomy ripe berries, which I hastily picked/ate.
The Squash plants were outside the safety of the cage; they had such a hard time getting started because of the invading slug army. Now they seemed to have finally got a grip and were happily seething all over the plot with gay abandon.
I returned home victorious and contented, with a small Tupperware box of the remaining Blueberries and Raspberries (the ones that I had not scoffed); guiltily licking the smeared juice off my lips before reaching the front door.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Cherries, Green Walnuts & Medlars

On our journey back from our walk at Bolton’s Bench recently, I spotted a big cherry tree by the roadside. I thought it must be worth a visit as I noticed the red fruit despite the rain streaked car windows.
The Cherry Tree
When the children and I returned to check it out, the skies darkened and it started raining, AGAIN! We had our waterproofs with us though and set out to try the cherries regardless.
Green Walnuts
As we crossed the road to where I remembered the tree was, we found two beautiful little compact walnut trees, one of which was covered in (yes you guessed it) green walnuts. I grabbed a couple off the tree to take home, I love their exotic smell.
Sadly the cherries were, although bountiful, somewhat sour and not quite ripe. Also the tree had curling leaves, which seems to have become a big problem for cherry trees this year.
Walnut Catkins in Spring
The disappointment of the cherry was more than made up for by the walnuts though. Many people have expressed an enthusiastic interest in walnuts and these trees are actually fairly common.  I will arrange a Walnut Picknik when the season is right. Keep a keen eye on the blog for dates, places and times.
A Large Walnut Tree
To help with identification I had produced a seasonal tree id sheet for walnuts to go with the others. However, I noticed during my Arthouse Cafe talk that one picture on it was of a plum! This error will be corrected soon and you may want to replace the sheet if you have downloaded it previously.
There is a small walnut tree in Watts Park (Southampton), that’s the one in front of the Art Gallery; location and examining this tree will help familiarise you with the leaf shape and pattern. Interestingly, there is a Mulberry tree in this park too. 
Medlars Also Known as Cat's Bottoms (seriously)
There are also several large walnut trees in Mottisfont for those who are members of the National Trust and on our last visit, I even spotted a Medlar too. Not that I am suggesting anyone goes foraging on National Trust land!