Saturday, 29 June 2013

Anyone for Cherries?

I am a very regular user of the St Deny’s Community Centre, and I had been keeping a close eye on the ripeness of the cherries on the big tree in the front garden. The fruit on this tree often ripens early, a week or two before the other local trees and you need to be prompt if you want to beat the birds to it.
It was Midsummer when we rolled up outside the Junction Inn, with our fruit picking equipment boxes and lucky cherry socks. The first stage was to install the smallest members of the gang on the roof of the car, which we had conveniently parked directly under the tree.
Our friends soon joined us, bringing their own children along to help. We then set about filling up our containers with beautifully sweet, ripe cherries. Of course, quite a lot of the dark red fruit didn’t make it past the hungry mouths of the children (and adults).
It didn’t take long before the local kids got wind of the fact that these red things were not actually poisonous berries (despite my best efforts to convince them) and we soon had a little gang asking if they could help and more specifically to share our booty. Not that I mind, and actually, I positively encourage them to go and find more trees around the neighbourhood, there are plenty.
The regulars of the Junction Inn also seemed quite interested in the goings on. By the time we had finished, I had worked up quite a thirst myself but first, I had to get home with our fruit and get the children fed and up the wooden hill. No prizes for guessing what we had for dessert that night...

Monday, 24 June 2013

Get Busy with the Fizzy

Last Saturday the weather was boiling, my son and I had an hour or two to spare, so we decided to get busy with the fizzy. We set about making Elderflower Champagne - Yum! Oh, and some sweet cordial for the kids too.
Folklore states, that if you stand beneath the Elder tree during midsummer, you might see fairies; this is much more likely if you have already been at the Elderflower champagne! With this in mind, we equipped ourselves with a large carrier bag and walked off down the road to pick a bag-full of blooms from these ubiquitous guardians of the hedgerows. 
The citrusy Elderflowers are one of the quintessential aromas of Summer, along with freshly mowed lawns and thundery rain on hot tarmac. A good friend of mine says that you should always pick your Elderflowers in the morning because they can smell more like cat’s wee in the evening (nice!) – so take heed.
It only took us about half an hour to pick 50 or so heads, then we headed back, buying the other ingredients on the way home. We saw bushes with at least 200 flowers on, so there's plenty left for Elderberry Port later in the year.
While I cleaned all the buckets, pans, sieves and recycled bottles my son was counting and stripping the flowerheads from the stalks and leaves, which should not be included.
In a fairly short time, everything was done, then we just had to wait two days, although my helpers always get a glassful before it’s properly ready. Needless to say, both buckets needed testing and both got the thumbs up from the kids. We made several pints of Cordial and about two gallons of Champagne (it was a big hit last year and we ran out too soon).
The champagne takes two weeks to ferment, till then the kids are making do, on a diet of delicious Wild Strawberries and the Elderflower cordial, which was ready in two days.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Elderflowers and Cherries but a Lack of Plums

Elderflowers are late this year by about a month, but they are blooming with vengeance now.
The time is right to make Elderflower Cordial and Elderflower Champagne. The recipes are very simple but always use pressure safe bottles for the fizzy stuff or you might get a nasty surprise.
The poor Cherry Plums, Damsons etc. have taken something of a hit during the cold windy Spring. They were very abundant last year but as far as I can see they are nowhere near as many in the hedgerows this season.
Fortunately, the Cherries, that had a bad time last year due to the excessive rainfall, look like they are doing quite well; I have already seen red ones in the trees. Apart from the fact that something seems to be eating the tops of the canopies, we could probably organise our first Picknik of the year very soon.
I think that, on the whole, the late spring will help and it should be a good year for fruit.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Wild Garlic, Bluebells and Ransoms

We had a lovely break in Devon during school half-term. All the plants and trees seem to be about a month late this year; due to the coldest Spring since before I was born. Now everything seems to be happening very intensely, as if to make up for lost time.
While we were there we saw enough Bluebells, Ransoms and Wild Garlic to last us a lifetime. You can actually smell them, before you see them, as you wander the sun dappled woodland glades.
My daughter came up with the inspired idea of creating home-made garlic bread, which she promptly did with the help of the Head Chef.
Basically it was hot toast spread with, butter mixed with ground ransom leaves. It seemed a suitable celebration of the return of warm weather and tasted quite delicious.
Even the Elderflowers are late this year but I have now finally seen some fully in bloom. So, it looks like it could soon be time to make some delicious drinks to slake our thirsts during summer Pickniks.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Mansbridge Community Orchard Blossom Walk

The Blossom Walk, through Mansbridge Community Orchard was a great success. It was announced at pretty short notice but plenty of people still turned up and the weather was as good as we could have wished for. Mayflies were flapping lazily over the river and sparrows were flitting out to grab them for tea.
We met on the old stone bridge over the Itchen River. While we were waiting for walkers, we spotted several interesting birds, including a Sparrow-hawk and a Hobby, scanning for prey. On the river we saw a pair of geese with goslings.
We had friends and representatives from many interested parties and volunteers. The Woodcraft Folk have taken a very active interest in the orchard since the outset and have mapped the area and organised a very successful Apple Day event last year. Local photographer Bob Painton was on hand too, with his big lens.
After a leisurely catch up chat with everyone on the bridge, we soon set off and cut through, into Mansbridge Meadow. We then breached the deer barrier and crossed into the fen area alongside the river.
The blossom on the apple trees made them very easy to spot, some were more accessible than others but all of them looked quite splendid. I recommend exploring the area, even if you were unable to attend the official walk. Sometimes, when you get deeper into the woods, it is hard to believe that you are still in Southampton but of course, we were here to check out the fruit trees.
So far this year we have been spending our time keeping brambles and ivy out of the apple trees.  Now, with the help of the bloom we can see even more trees, which we had overlooked previously. Hopefully, we will have a good crop of fruit this year and after the harvest, we can get on with the business of pruning some of the trees.
Several volunteers offered to help with this on-going work and this has been facilitated by a grant from the Airport Community Fund, with which we are buying more tools. The pruning work will increase the amount of light that enters the canopy and improve air circulation, which will help prevent disease and improve productivity.