Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Vine to Wine

While doing our walk over Peartree Green and also at the Apple Day we met John and Pixie; they mentioned that they had too many grapes growing in their Southampton garden. They wanted help harvesting their hoard of fruit before it dropped all over the garden.
They did warn me that there was a lot and so I popped over. It was only when I saw the size of the vine did I realise the scale of what was required, but I set about picking as many as I could, before having to pick the kids up, after their swimming lessons.
I managed to fill my big bucket and as the weather was nice we set about crushing and pressing the fruit that same afternoon. It was a sticky job but a very tasty one non the less.
We added Uncle Loz's white allotment grapes, while we were at it. They were a bit sweeter than the dark ones from our friend's vine.
I pasteurised several bottles and set the rest off to brew into wine, it is bubbling away merrily now but there's no way of telling what it will taste like until it has finished fermenting. I am already very pleased with my cider this year, it's definitely my best batch so far.
We also put a couple of pints of grape juice aside to turn into Grape Jelly. I haven't tried this yet but it looks very promising.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Pear and Walnut Chutney

Not the "Supermoon" - Pear Tarte Tartin
We had a surfeit of foraged Walnuts and Pears clogging up my shed and the kitchen. I was aware the Walnuts would keep but knew that the Pears would need to be used up quite soon and, no matter how delicious it is, there's only so much Chocolate Pear Upside-Down CakePear Tarte Tartin & Pear and Mulberry Crumble that can be consumed before bringing on fear of a heart attack! 
Chocolate Pear Upside-Down Cake
I made a winning Chunky Pear and Walnut Chutney back in 2011, but it was a bit too chunky for sandwiches. This time I chopped everything a bit finer and made twice the amount. It looks quite different and spreads nicely and importantly it actually does taste just as good my original attempt.
Peeled Apples, Pears and Onions
  • 1.2 Kg. Pears
  • 225g Cooking Apples
  • 400g Sugar
  • 450ml Cider Vinegar
  • 225g Onions
  • 120g Walnuts, Chopped
  • 1 Orange
  • 275g Sultanas
  • 1.5 tsp. Cinnamon (ground)
  1. Peel and core the pears and apples. Cut them and the onions into small chunks. Put the fruit and the vinegar together into a large preserving pan and stir. Slowly bring the mixture to the boil and then reduce the heat to simmer gently for 30 - 40 mins, stirring it occasionally to prevent any sticking.
  2. Meanwhile, thinly grate the zest off the outside of the orange and set this aside. Also, gently toast the walnuts in a non-stick pan over a low heat, until they become slightly paler. 
  3. Place the sultanas in a bowl and the squeeze all the juice of the orange over the sultanas and leave to soak. 
  4. After the fruit and vinegar has reduced, add the sugar, sultanas, orange juice, and zest into the preserving pan and heat gently while stirring until all the sugar has dissolved. Finally, add the toasted walnuts and the cinnamon to the chutney.
  5. Simmer gently for a further 30 - 40 mins stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  6. Spoon the chutney into pre-sterilised jars, seal and store in a cool dark place. 
This delicious chutney should be properly ready in about a month and should keep for a year. It will make a uniquely zesty, home-made, Xmas gift and will undoubtedly add a little spice to your food during the Winter months.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Apple Day @ the Orchard

Cider Press in the Foreground - Conker Contest in the Background
We are delighted to report that Apple Day at the Mansbridge Community Orchard was a massive success. Thanks to everyone who turned up, joined in and helped make it a truly fantastic day.
Slicing & Dicing
The sun was shining, the trees were loaded with apples, lots of new people (57!) of all ages turned up and joined in. Everyone had heaps of fun and drank/left with gallons of scrumptious Apple juice.
the Apple Conveyor Belt
The basic process goes like this...
Another Load Arrives
Volunteers pick apples and bring them back to the base, then other volunteers cut and mince the apples, using the "scratters" (fruit mills). The pommace (crushed fruit) is then poured into the presses and squeezed, squashed, crushed and compressed until the delicious juice pours out into buckets. This juice is then fed back to the volunteers to keep their energy up and the surplus stashed in various bottles, and containers to take home.
Good Work Girls
This is not going to be a long wordy post, there is no need, I will let the images and films do the talking.
Juiced Rewards
Operating the Big Press
Returning with Another Healthy Hoard
the Evil Quince Pimp Wuhahaha!
Marching Back from the Trees
Team Work
Fun For the Young Too
Sensible Transportation
This Young Man Likes Apples!
Not Pyramids, Sunset Over Southampton Roofs as I Washed the Kit
Now, it must surely be nearly time for Sweet Chestnuts...

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Favourite Fruits

We pick a lot of Apples every Autumn, this year I weighed them all and we have already gathered well over 200 Kgs. A lot of these are varieties that are either not especially good for eating or perhaps not good for keeping, but I always keep a special memo in my mind of my favourite trees. These beauties are the best tasting apples that also keep well in our Apple store and we will still be using them well into next year.
The newest gem I have discovered was rescued from a small hedgerow tree in Segensworth. They have a lovely pastel colour, a slightly waxy skin burst with tangy flavour when you eat them.  They are very juicy,  with a fresh aromatic taste. The flesh of these tasty Apples also has a pink tint. My greengrocer friend said it looks quite like a Discovery Apple. I think the tree is quite a discovery...
The Hedge End Red and Yellow is an iconic red and yellow fruit with some interesting shapes and frequently knobbly exterior. Despite the bumpy appearance, upon biting into these fruits one immediately realises that you are in the presence of something special. A soft and delicate skin and a beautifully textured, crisp, sweet, crunchy flesh. The perfect combination of sharp and sweet; truly scrumptious.
Another Hedge End fruit is the imaginatively named (by me) Red and Green. A firm, crunchy Apple with a distinctive red and green stripy skin. These mature slightly later than some and they keep very well through the Winter. Unfortunately the tree has grown very tall, and it is hard to reach the fruit, even with our pickers. The birds seem to enjoy pecking them too and this is no surprise when you bite into their firm flavoursome flesh. They are so treasured that I will even keep the ones with small pecks and cut the nibbles out prior to eating.
We have also been harvesting at our allotment, we collected enough sweet corn for a quick snack, enough squash to feed an army and my son has managed to grow enough grapes to make a few bottles of wine (he probably would prefer grape juice I guess). Our own little Apple trees is finally coming through with the goods too.

Thursday, 1 October 2015


Earlier this year I found a couple of mature Walnut trees in a hedgerow fairly close to my workplace. I thought I should check out how they were doing, so I jogged on down in my lunch hour and was very surprised to see that some of the nuts were already falling.
I stuffed my pockets to bursting before setting off back to the grindstone. This little trip led me to think about Hazelnuts and the following day I was merrily filling a bag with these delicious, nutritious little gems. On the weekend I took the children with me and we made like squirrels, gathering them by the hundreds. When combined we had actually collected about 3.75 Kgs of nuts. 
If the Walnuts that I found seemed early, I think that Hazelnuts are later than normal this year. Seasonal shifts, as well as individual tree differences, make the ripening of fruit and nuts a naturally inexact scienceThe ordinary variability of ripening times is one reason why my system of walking around the local area every lunch hour has proved so effective. Not only do I get some respite from the repressive office environment and get some regular exercise, but because my routine is necessarily repetitive, I get to notice the subtle changes in the natural world over time.
Keen observation is the most important weapon in the foragers arsenal. Initially you have to be able to recognise the species of trees that are going to be of interest to you. You should be able to do this whatever the season, so Winter becomes just as important as Autumn. Then, as your targets come into flower or fruit you can check them on a regular basis to see how nature's bounty is maturing.
Generally, this year is shaping up to a great one for the various fruit and nuts that we collect. Apples are abundant, Hazelnuts are prolific and I'm pleased to report that we are collecting, cooking, preserving and storing prodigious quantities. Our Apple store is already crammed with my favourite local Apple varieties. I had to make space for a couple of gorgeous new kids on the block but I'm never going to complain about having too many Apples and nuts. There is an endless supply of tasty recipes to work from and, after all, many of them will keep until Spring or even longer.

This ever popular event will be held at 2:00pm on Sunday October 11th. If you have any spare apples, bring them along for crushing into juice. Octavia Road Open Space is basically a field and wilderness area, so wear suitably robust clothing, wellies etc. This is a free community event, run by volunteers and all are welcome but everyone one is responsible for their own (and their children's) health & safety.