A Summer of Superlatives

That’s what we got this year in answer to our springtime ponderings:

April warm, Mai kühl, Juni nass, füllt dem Bauer Scheuer und Fass

April warm, May cool, June wet, fills the farmer’s barn and barrel.

https://anediblelandscape.wordpress.com/2018/04/30/blossoms-bees-barns-barrels/

April was warm and frost free, May was not particularly cool and June was certainly not wet, neither was July, or August, or September… it was just hot, very hot, and very dry, for very long…

Yet the fruit harvest in Franconia’s orchards is a recordbreaker this year (and about three weeks ahead of “normal” ripening times).

But what does that actually mean in these times of far removed mass plastic food production? Who can picture what a “record harvest” might look like?

Let’s have a go.

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Here in Bavaria’s main plum growing area it means : 400 tonnes more plums than usual.

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Here in our district the fruit presses have stopped taking apple deliveries because they are overloaded…

Narrowing it down to facts and figures based on our 2 hectare traditional (i.e. non-plantation) orchard:

8kg redcurrants, 10 kg sour cherries, 10kg nectarines, 11kg mirabelle plums, 26kg blackberries, 57 kg cherry plums, 70 kg grapes, 85 kg Switzen plums…

All of which is in fact the upper end of normal,

and then we get to the apples:

3200 kg to date with about another 1000 kg still to come off the trees. The previous record over a period of six years was 1500 kg.

Still to come are the pears and the quinces, both looking like weighing in at the upper end of normal too.

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So its the apples that have done it: more or less three times their previous record harvest!

We invested in our own stand alone fruit press this year – and not a minute too soon!

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18_08_ waiting for the apple express

Hand-picked, processed and pasteurised by ourselves:

that takes us right back to the origins of where food – and drink – come from!

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Quince Inspiration

It is that wonderfully fragrant time of year again 🙂

Its always a bittersweet task, rounding up my favourite quince recipes for the quince harvest, but the quinces do make a wonderful conclusion to the orchard year!

My firm favourite first up (click on the links for the recipes):

Candied Quince with Ginger

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This is a famous recipe this one is, featuring as it does in The Edible City, a kind of urban kindred spirit to this blog, written by London’s foremost forager, John Rensten, and published this last September by Pan Macmillan.

And what a classy publication this is (and not just because John features my Candied Quince with Ginger!). Beautifully illustrated by Gwen Burns, it features foraged food fit for a feast from a man whose “green vision” I can totally relate to:

Once turned on, your ‘green vision’ will be impossible to turn off: otherwise neglected street trees will suddenly bear fruit, patches of previously irrelevant land will become focal points and the city will reveal a network of free, edible treats, coming and going throughout the year.”

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 My other firm favourites during the quince season include:

 Quince and Honey Sorbet

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Quince Chutney

Quince Confectionery

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and of course

Quince Liqueur

Happy quince season everyone!

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Plum Compote with Earl Grey Tea

What to do with all those fine blue plums, and yes, they really do have a bluey hue to them:

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Well, when in Rome …

The Germans love their compotes so, building up stocks for my pop-up shop at the autumn artisan market, compote it shall be, but with an English touch of course:

Plum Compote with Earl Grey Tea

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1 kg purple plums, halved and stoned

2-3 Tbsp. sugar

Tea leaves of your choice, in a tea bag, e.g. Earl Grey, or Green Tea with Orange, or Black Tea with Winter Spices

  1. Place your plums in a large saucepan, sprinkle with the sugar, place the lid on and leave to sit for several hours, ideally overnight but for at least 3 hours. The sugar draws the fruit’s own liquid out of it, eliminating the need to add any water for cooking, resulting in a far more intense flavour.
  1. Stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Place the tea bag in amongst the plums and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the fruit is soft and falling apart but not completely mushy. Remove the tea bag, taking care not to puncture it otherwise your compote will be full of tea leaves.
  1. Place in sterilised jars, seal and store in a cool, dark place where the compote will keep for several months.

The tea harmonizes exceptionally well with the flavour of purple plums and you can use the compote in a multitude of ways from breakfast through to dinner.

 

 

 

 

The King’s Candles

… or Verbascum, and sometimes mullein, as this genus (Verbascum, of which there are some 350 species…) is known in English.

I do think, though, that the German Königskerze does for more justice to this plant which becomes truly regal when it flowers in July:

14_07_2013 Königskerzen

Favouring dry, sandy soils in the sun (and therefore often to be found flourishing on wasteland), the Königskerze is not only regal, it has a tradition of healing dating back to Hippocrates. The plant has distinct emollient, demulcent and astringent properties and, while Hippocrates reccommended it for the external treatment of wounds, the Königskerze went on to develop a tradition of treating coughs, colds and respiratory complaints.

The flowers have robust, fleshy petals making them difficult to dry and so one of the best and easiest ways of extracting their healing properties is to use them to make an infused honey in readiness for the onset of autumn and winter:

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1) You need to pick the flowers on a dry day, either in the morning or in the evening, not in the heat of the day, and only pick the blossoms fully open. You need to use the blossoms immediately (they will wilt and start to turn brown within hours otherwise) so make sure you have a sterilised jar (I fill the jar with boiling water direct from the kettle and leave it to stand for at least 5 minutes before using) and the honey with you.

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2) Place your blossoms directly into your sterilised jar, enough to fill the jar, pour in the honey, seal and rotate the jar a good couple of times to make sure all of the blossoms are covered in a coating of honey.

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3) Leave to infuse at room temperature for about 2 weeks. At the end of the infusing, strain the honey into a clean, sterilised jar for storage and/or immediate use either directly as a teaspoonful of honey medicine for ailing children, or to sweeten herbal teas.

Elderflowers and Strawberries

One of the most summery flavour combinations there is!

And one of the simplest ways to enjoy this combination throughout the summer months is to make yourself some Elderflower-Infused Honey

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now, while the elderflowers are in blossom –

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and drizzle it over your strawberries at will.

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Do it, you will be glad you did!

P.S. Works well with all summer berries 🙂

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Cherry Plum Blossom Sugar

Last year was Cherry Plum Blossom Syrup,

 

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this year it’s Cherry Plum Blossom Sugar:

  • pick your blossoms (no leaves) directly into a jar half full of sugar. Try to choose an overcast but warm day to do this otherwise you will have little black bugs wanting to be part of your plum blossom sugar – they do crawl out of the jar again on their own after a while if you do happen on a sunny day but they tend to not be there when it is overcast.
  • fill your jar – generously – with blossoms, put the lid on and leave for 24 hours – in a warm place ideally.
  • then spread your fragrant, sugary blossoms out on a flat surface to dry for about 12 hours (not longer otherwise you will start to lose the fragrance).
  • sieve the sugary blossoms through a sieve or colander fine enough to catch the green receptacles from the blossoms, letting the now dried petals through with the sugar. It is best to use a pestle or similar to crush the sugar lumps as you go along.
  • store your fragrant cherry plum blossom in an airtight jar and use for fragrant sprinkles (cakes, desserts) and flavourings (milkshakes, smoothies, ice cream, yoghurts)…

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Earth Mother in the Winter Kitchen

I admit it, preserves and preserving bring out the Earth Mother in me and I have been known to disappear into the cellar on occasion just to sneak a peak at my rows of jars glistening in gorgous colours…

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But I am not a hoarder and so I do use them up. With snowmen and winter pruning being all that is going on in the orchard at present, all that mellow fruitfulness preserved during the preserving season is keeping us supplied with ready-made (almost) meals through the winter:

Full-Bodied, Fruity Red Cabbage

with

Spicy Plum Chutney

 Plum Sauce with copyright

+ red cabbage 

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= a winner in our house from the autumn through to the spring.

The chutney has all the flavours you need for a a really fruity, flavourful dish of red cabbage (whether for a festive table or  for weekday suppers to accompany some full-bodied sausages):

  1. Thinly slice your red cabbage, chuck it in a saucepan together with a jar of Spicy Plum Chutney, give it all a good mix and simmer slowly over a low heat (not too hot otherwise the chutney will catch and burn on the bottom of the pan) – the liquid from the cabbage, together with the chutney, provides enough cooking liquid – do not add water as it simply makes the end result insipid.
  2. Simmer, covered, for about an hour, then remove then lid and increase the heat a little to then boil the liquid down (you’ll be surprised how much water there is in red cabbage!) About another half an hour of cooking and you will have a pan of glistening, fruity  red cabbage.

This recipe also works well with

Quince Chutney

which also makes a fine

Fruity Winter Beetroot Salad:

Chutney 

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+ beetroot (steamed or roasted)

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is all you need.

Spicy Plum Chutney and/or Quince Chutney dressing

(dilute with a dash of olive oil and/or red wine, fruity vinegar or similar according to taste)

on a winter salad of leaves, nuts and citrus

 

Comprising almost 50% onion and garlic,

my Quince Chutney also makes a great addition to meatballs and vegetable fritters

and I have used it in sauces and risottos  as a replacement for sautéed onions.

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And last but not least, spreading either

Spicy Plum or Quince Chutney over a flammkuchen base

before adding the rest of the toppings is a really good idea – believe me!

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Twelfth Night in the Orchard

The Twelfth Day of Christmas, or Twelfth Night, depending on which strand of this ancient European tradition, marks the end of the “Mittwinterfest”, or Yule – celebrating the rebirth of the sun as we (slowly) turn the corner towards the light half of the year again…

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It is an ancient festival featuring countless legends, rituals and symbols, not to mention the many omens – each of the twelve days of Yule are said to predict the weather in the corresponding twelve months to come, for instance. In the Germanic and northern European tradition, the twelve days of Yule therefore had to be a time of peace, as well, and a time of no work so that there would be less work to be done in the new year. Spinning and weaving, in particular, were forbidden and all the flax had to be spun before the start of Yule. Only the Goddess Frig (Frigg, Freyja), the Germanic goddess of love, was allowed to weave together the threads of destiny for the coming year… No work involving a circular motion was permitted at this time either, because the wheel of time was at a standstill during Yule and so every other wheel had to remain motionless too…

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The English tradition of wassailing in the orchard on Twelfth Night has its parallels in other European traditions as well when the remains of the Yule festivities (bread and cake) were laid at the foot of the fruit trees as offerings in return for a good harvest. The English tradition sees the fruit trees showered with cider while bread and cake are hung from the branches. The tree trunks were sometimes beaten with sticks in a symbolic act intended to encourage the sap to flow, while the villagers would sup on mulled cider and serenade the trees with the Wassail song:

Old Apple Tree, we wassail thee

And hoping thou wilt bear

Hatfuls, capfuls, three bushel bagfuls

And a little heap under the stairs

Hip! Hip! Hooray!

(Source: Orchards, by Claire Masset 2012, Shire Books)

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We refrain from beating our trees from sticks, but the mulling and the cake … and perhaps the serenading … do feature while the winter pruning is going on!

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