Sour cherries, many, many sour cherries…,
stoned on site and bottled by evening:
You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
Just days after our “Ode to Summer” came the first of the autumn storms, and the Kaiser was down:
Of the variety “Kaiser Wilhelm”, a chance discovery on an estate in Germany in 1864 and named after the German Kaiser Wilhelm 1, this was one of our three “Kaiser Wilhems” and one of the most prominent trees in our orchard.
A prevailing feature in our orchard landscape whatever the season:
He was also one of our high performance trees – 360 kg of apples in any given year was the norm, as was the case this year in what was to be his last harvest, and despite his age:
A variety known for its longevity, we estimate that our fallen Kaiser was heading for a hundred years old when the Beaufort 10, 11 and 12 gales on the evening of 23 September 2018 proved too much, and down he went:
The changed view with the fallen Kaiser will take some getting used to and for now he lies in peace where he fell, letting himself be explored by young hands and feet clambering over his now fallen heights: the future running its young hands over his otherwise lofty leaves and lichens.
A part of the circle of life he will remain, as his wood goes on to house and feed the myriad of other little beings that lived alongside him in the orchard.
And yes, you can get very attached to a tree 🙂
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.
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.
Here in Bavaria’s main plum growing area it means : 400 tonnes more plums than usual.
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.
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!
Hand-picked, processed and pasteurised by ourselves:
that takes us right back to the origins of where food – and drink – come from!
Even in the depths of winter I find ingredients for whizzing up salts of my own creation, and come the magical month of May it becomes a must: Mother Nature has just so much on offer from meadow to hedgerow:
Pick your dandelions on a dry day and leave them for an hour or so
a) for the bugs to crawl off and out and
b) so that the flowers close up again and become tassel-shapped for you to then cut of the petals just above the green bits (that way you leave out the fluffy bits where the seeds start).
Place your petals in a food processor or blender.
Add the same quantity of fine sugar as you have petals (50% sugar, 50% petals). Whizz everything up together until you have a fine, even mix. Spread your sugar mixture out thinly on a large baking tray or similar and either leave to dry in the sun or in the oven at 50°C, with a wooden spoon holding the oven door ajar, for 2-3 hours.
Once the sugar is completely dry, whizz it again in the food processor to break up any lumps and store in airtight glass jars.
Use for summery things… like Summer Butter Biscuits with Dandelion Glace Icing 🙂
Gather your herbs on a dry day: leaves only.
Add the same quantity of relatively fine pure (no additives!) salt* as you have of the herbs (50% salt, 50% herbs). Whizz everything up together until you have a fine, even mix. Spread your salt mixture out thinly on a large baking tray or similar and either leave to dry in the sun or in the oven at 50°C, with a wooden spoon holding the oven door ajar, for 2-3 hours.
Once the salt is completely dry, whizz it again in the food processor to break up any dried lumps and store in airtight glass jars. And yes: this salt really does have nuances of hay and herbs and meadows on warm summer days 🙂
Use for summery things… like savoury cheese scones with labneh (or cream cheese), meadow herbs salt and fresh meadow herbs – here Garlic Mustard aka Jack by the Hedge:
Sugar and salt act as preservatives in the same way: both bind with water molecules, increasing osmotic pressue which subequently draws water out of bacteria, thus inhibiting growth. And so helping us to preserve just some of the ephemeral magic of May!
“IN ANCIENT AGRICULTURAL SOCIETIES, EGGS PROVIDED A VITAL SOURCE OF NUTRITION. BY MID-MARCH, FOOD STORES FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR WOULD HAVE BEEN RUNNING LOW. THE FIRST EGGS OF THE YEAR, LAID BY DOMESTICATED FOWL OR FORAGED FROM THE NESTS OF WILD BIRDS, ADDED MUCH-NEEDED NUTRIENTS TO PEOPLES’ DIET. …”” read more
How to colour your own Easter eggs using natural colourants and motifs: read on
One of the most charming Easter traditions here in Franconia: decorating the wells and fountains with brighly coloured Easter Eggs … read more
Last autumn I made a note of the following winter words of wisdom:
The sheep were eating fresh nettles all summer even though there was plenty of grass & other greenery available. The shepherd says: means its going to be a hard winter.
Other country folk are saying that there are more hazel catkins out than is usual for the autumn: means its going to be a hard winter.
I revisted this winter forecast as the calender moved into winter proper :
Casting a look back at this post from the autumn when country lore was telling us that a hard winter was ahead: no sign of it yet but then we are only a few weeks into winter so far!
The calender now moves into spring and so, how did it look, our winter?
Some (very) stormy gales, a week or so of sustained ice, day and night, but very little snow – not even enough for a snowman this year :
So no, the nettles and the catkins were not signs of a hard winter this time round.
And will hopefully not be the sign of a hard spring as this is the critical season in the orchard: the trees are awakening from their winter slumber as the warmth and the light make themselves felt. Buds and blossoms become more apparent and, once the blossoms open, the last thing we need is frost, not by day and not by night.
Frozen blossoms are dead blossoms and then the (non-)harvest is a dead loss!
This March has had many bright and sunny days so far and my German country almanac tells me:
Ist März schön und hell, kommt viel Obst auf alle Fäll’.
If March is sunny and bright, there will be plenty of fruit alright.
… If it is followed by a frost-free April!
(A smaller bowl inside a larger bowl, fill the gap between them with water and bits and bobs of your choice, leave outside until frozen and then remove the bowls. Prerequisite: outside temperatures do not spike above 0°C for days on end!)