A fruitful harvest

2 bowls of Victoria plums and a basket of apples

August has brought us a bounty like we could not have imagined. All our hard work in the garden earlier in the year is now starting to pay off and the kitchen is full of the fruits of our labour – quite literally.

It felt for a while like the tomatoes were never going to ripen. We faithfully checked them daily, convinced that the wet summer was to blame for the fact that they stayed resolutely green. Even my sister, on a visit one day, went up to have a look at them. The Calamity Cat went with her and they had quite a chat about it, apparently. Calamity assured her that tomatoes were overrated anyway – she wasn’t keen, apart from when they were used to make a sauce for beef pouches of Felix.

Then, suddenly, we started to spot patches of red on the plants. We now have a wide variety of shapes and sizes – big ridged beef ones, round salad ones, oval plum tomatoes and small, extra sweet cherry tomatoes that I love to eat straight from the vine like the fruit they are. I have plans to make my own passata at some point – I’m just waiting for some new jars to arrive from Amazon.

2 clear plastic containers holding large and small tomatoes and several strawberries
A range of our tomatoes – and a few strawberries too

I have used all the jars we had in the pantry already, making jam. The fruit trees in the orchard have gone crazy this year. Although it is still relatively early, both the cooking and eating apple trees are covered in apples and we are picking up and using windfalls daily. Last year, I tried storing the cookers, wrapping them in paper and storing them in the summer house. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a success. All the apples either went mouldy or turned into dried up husks. This may have been because I totally forgot about them and didn’t try to use them until a few weeks ago or it may be because I just didn’t store them in the right place, who knows. What I did know was that, this year, I needed a different strategy.

I duly Googled “freezing apples”. Last year, I cooked and froze a lot of apple sauce and, while that was useful, there is only so much apple sauce you can eat, even in our favourite apple crumble. So, this year, I resolved to freeze the apples raw to maximise their use. It took us quite a while to peel, core and slice them, before dunking them in lemon juice and laying them out on baking trays to pop them into the freezer. The results were pretty good and I am hoping they will keep us well fed throughout the winter. The only problem is that, a week later, we have just as many sitting in the basket, waiting patiently for us to do something useful with them.

Sliced apples in rows on greaseproof paper
Ready for the freezer

So, my next plan was jam. Last year, I was disappointed that we had no plums on the tree, as I love them. It has certainly made up for it this year, though. We picked around 2kg, made the essential plum and apple crumble with a few and then I got adventurous with the rest.

I have made plum jam before, many years ago now, with plums given to me by a friend and it was fairly successful. I decided this time to make plum and apple (I didn’t want the apples feeling left out, after all). The recipe said to boil the fruit and sugar vigorously for twenty minutes. After an hour, where the jam stubbornly refused to set, I was tearing out my (by then very sticky) hair. The whole kitchen was sticky, for that matter, not just me and my hair. In the middle of it all, Calamity decided it might be fun to bring a live mouse into the house, and we had to spend some time trapping it in a bucket and returning it to the relative safety of the hedge at the back of the garden. It was a cute little thing, looking more curious about its adventure than anything, but it did distract me for a while.

Calamity clearly knew the best way to encourage jam to set – to walk away from it. On my return to the kitchen, I discovered that it was definitely looking better. More in hope and optimism than confidence, I switched it off and we started to spoon it into jars that we had sterilised in a very hot dishwasher.

Plums and apples cooking in a large pan
Is it ever going to set?

Several burned fingers later and with the kitchen even stickier than before, we had jam! We were a bit nervous when we opened a jar at breakfast the next day, I admit, but it was very tasty. Perhaps a little runnier than shop-bought, and definitely not as sweet but all the better for it. And it had used up all our plums – hadn’t it? Hmm, a week later and we had to go back up the ladder to pick more. I think we have even more this time so all plum recipes gratefully received!

5 jars of home made jam, with green and white labels
Hooray! We have jam!!

Along with the fruit trees, the rhubarb keeps on giving and we are rescuing at least a few strawberries from predators (in spite of the netting, they are still being eaten by something), so we have enough fruit to keep us going for a while. The only disappointments have been the blueberry which is a stunningly beautiful bush but any fruit has been swiftly found by the birds, and my much-loved and wanted gooseberry bush. Not only have we had no gooseberries, the entire bush looks like it is being systematically eaten by some sort of insects. I suspect we may need to replace and re-site it at some point.

And then there is the veg. But that’s a different story …


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