Sunday, 29 September 2013

Greengages and Plums


Yesterday I managed to get a 5kg box of greengage plums in order to process for the pantry.  I love greengage plums; I have done ever since I was a child. My mum used to get hold of fruit where she could and bottle fruit as did my Nan.  So I grew up with two important family members utilising this skill as a matter of course.  So I think the seeds for me were sown back then.

I have found that a lot of our food staples revolve around tomatoes, plums, pears (other fruits although more seasonal) and apples.   The backbone of the pantry store as they are quite frequently used with other ingredients and preserved to give a slightly different product.

Plums paid a big part in my growing up and in the run up to the fruit ripening my Nan would have us filling old jam jars up with a splodge of old jam with some water on top and then these jars used to be hung from the branches as traps for the wasps encouraging them to the jar rather than to attack the fruit.  So there was always a method in the madness.

When I think about things in passing I realise that I have been very lucky as our family always involved the children in everyday jobs and we learnt things without realising we were being taught. We were made to feel involved and secure and there was always plenty of encouragement in a safe and loving environment.  Food was a serious business for my family as the more that was preserved the better the family would survive the winter months and the garden and smallholding made a real difference when wages were limited

I was taught how to harvest the fruit by my grandfather and father from a very early age on the Victoria Plum Trees. My grandfather lifting me up on his shoulders; showing me how and then encouraging me to pick the precious fruit and then pass it down to him for placing in the basket.  Always being careful not to go for fruit that had holes in or were mouldy because of them being potential wasp traps.  However these damaged fruit needed to come off the branch as otherwise the stem would not bear fruit the following year.  My granddad or dad used to get these pieces of fruit off the tree.I was taught how each piece of fruit needed careful handling in order that it would store through the winter months (more so apples in this respect) although the plums were given great consideration and care as they were more fragile.  The fruits of our labours were always bottled, made into jam, chutney and Nan's home made plum wine). 

My Grandparents had about five Victoria Plum trees  which were a great favourite although there was a variety called Black Diamond (of which they had three trees).  The Black Diamond variety is a beautiful jet black plum with the most beautiful golden flesh and is so delicious.  Its an old variety but it does periodically pop up in some plants man's lists. They were my grandfather's favourite plum.  One day when I have the land I hope to get a couple of these as well as some Victorias so that I can harvest my own fruit.

There was however an oddity in the Plum and Pear Orchards a plum tree that my grandfather had bought my Nan by way of an apology and that was the Greengage.  She had the tree a long time we believe somewhere between 35 and 40 years (a lot of the trees were over 60 years old in the orchards and still fruited prolifically even though my grandparents only ever spraying if they had to not as a matter of course). They practised natural methods of growing fruit with one veg plot being dug and left fallow to allow the soil to be rested one year and using the alternative plot the following year.  Now these processes are called organic. 

The Greengage never fruited; well it did just once before my Nan passed and that was in the last summer of her life; it was if the tree knew she was getting frail and wanted to give her some pleasure and there was plenty of fruit to go round the family and gave my Nan a lot of joy.  That fruit was gorgeous.  

I therefore try whenever I can to get hold of plums and Greengages and then to put these down for the winter months as it makes a very nice jam and helps make the difference on the pantry shelf.  Normally I just make jam ready to pop into pastry tarts or slather on thick chunky toast for breakfast in the morning or to fill a Victoria Sponge or Swiss Roll, but this year I am also going to bottle a few in syrup like I did with the Victoria plums which came out very successfully. It also makes a very quick pudding on a cold winters night with some custard  or as an accompaniment to a home made rice pudding or semolina pudding.  All good winter "stuffers" to keep the internal combustion engine functioning properly; all good honest food that I know the provenance of and where it came from in other word no "nasties".

I also intend to pop some purple plums down as well as they make a fantastic oriental style plum sauce which is lovely slathered over a rack of ribs or on roast duck or belly pork. Plums of any variety make for a lovely jam but you can always make the fruit go further and by giving a slight different flavour by adding apples as well. 

 Where the Purple Plums are concerned however I must confess that  I also have an ulterior motive to bottle some purple plums in syrup and then turn them into Sugar Plums for the Christmas Festivities. Old fashioned sweetmeats for the Christmas table.  Now that will be something different, sugar coated or dipped in chocolate.  Yum.

The site has not been updated for a long time but has been left for information purposes.  It is worth having a look at the other Christmas projects too as there are some lovely ideas there especially if you want to get back to a more traditional  family Christmas.

So now I have to play but the end results will be worth it as there is nothing more satisfying than seeing bottles of preserved fruit and pasta sauce, chutney, jams, curds, mincemeat  and pickles stacked on the shelves. 

However there is one serious drawback - the more bottling I do the more I need to do and the more recipes I find and I just have to try them out.

So I am off to process the Greengages and the second batch of Victoria Plums I have a feeling I am going to be missing for a little while.

Catch you later on.



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Meet the Moggies

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