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_2018 sacks filling up 18_08_18

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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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Cherry plums versus mirabelles

To blog on or not to bother?

I have decided to carry on bothering.

Because, in recent years, much of what I have assimilated and implemented in the place where I am has come from a very broad band of bloggers.

People who bother to blog. In whatever language. All of them blogging out of conviction and only the very thin minority blogging for remuneration of the financial kind.

I owe much to bloggers and have become convinced of the role (to be) played by alternative media in presenting  another side of any story. Because there are always two sides to every story. Which does not have to mean subscribing to either version but at least they point toward the third version: your opinion/independent thought/questions asked. Call it what you will, it is a real rarity where I am, both in time and place. George Orwell, Aldous Huxley: say no more.

And say no more I shall on this blog because I shall continue to keep politics out of it. Apart from the fact that the production and procurement of food have long since become a political act. Whether you realise it or not.

I digress.

As a promoter of pomology past and present it is time to set the record straight on cherry plums and mirabelles. I know, right up there on top of everyone’s priority list…!

The thing is, I keep hearing (town) folk here banging on about the mirabelles being ripe. In July.

And when I (the foreigner with still slightly accented German who is supposed to be a translator by profession, and not a wannabe fruit farmer – very unGerman, diverging from the trodden path…), presume to tell them that its the cherry plums that are ripe now, in July, I get told: “well, they look like mirabelles”.

Aaah… no.

Cherry Plums (Prunus cerasifera)

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Ripen as early as the beginning of July, occuring in both red and yellow.

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The very first of the stone fruit to blossom in the spring.

 

 

 

Slightly milder than mirabelle plums, their stones are smaller and yellow cherry plums are far more uniform in colour than mirabelles. Cherry plums are great for snacking on or for use in summer fruit salads. They make a very good purée, too (much less acid than some of the later plum varieties) and I also juice them as the basis for mulled beverages in the autumn and winter.

 

Mirabelle Plums (Prunus domestica subsbp. syriaca)

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They ripen only in late August, early September and have distinctive “red cheeks” where the sun catches them.

Somewhat stronger in characteristic flavour than cherry plums, mirabelles are a good preserving fruit (although also great eaten straight from the tree on a later summer’s day), and very popular with schnaps distillers. Which I am not, so my mirabelles end up in bakes and purées – where they are reminiscent of their prunus relative, the apricot (Prunus armeniaca).

Mirabelle Tart (2)

 

Fruit and Spice

…and all things nice is what this winter fruit cake is all about.

Actually, it is more like your classic Anglo-Saxon gingerbread in texture, made with pureed fruit (apples, pears, quinces or plums), preserved in the autumn and full of mellow fruitfulness. The fruit puree is what makes the cake wonderfully light and moist.

And the glazed walnuts on the top are reason enough on their own to make it!

Those lucky enough to live in my vicinity will find it in my (German language) pop-up shop this winter, the rest of you will have to make it yourself – here’s the recipe:

Winter Fruit and Spice Cake

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Pureed fruit

(apples or pears or quince or plum all work well)            300g

All-purpose flour                                                                        300g

Baking powder                                                                              2 tsp

Salt                                                                                                   1 tsp  

Cinnamon                                                                                       1 1/2tsp

Ground cardamom                                                                       1 1/4tsp 

Unsalted butter, softened                                                          120g

Rapeseed oil                                                                                   120ml

Light brown sugar                                                                         300g

Large eggs                                                                                        

Crème fraîche                                                                                 80ml

  1. Preheat oven to 180° C and butter and flour a ring tin (26 cm).
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices together in a bowl.
  3. Beat the butter, oil, and brown sugar together until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well in between each egg. Add the crème fraîche and fruit puree, stirring to combine. Fold in the flour mixture.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared ring tin. Bake the cake until golden and cooked through, 55 to 65 minutes. Let the cake cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to cool completely.
  5. Allow to cool before glazing, if desired.

For the glazed walnuts and browned butter glaze:

Walnuts                                                      about 12 whole walnuts

Unsalted butter, soft                              6 Tbsp

Icing sugar                                                  150g

Milk                                                                2 to 3 Tbsp

Pinch of salt

  1. Place the butter in a small saucepan over a medium to low heat. Let the butter melt completely and begin bubbling. Add the walnuts, turning them to cover them on all sides in butter. Continue to cook for a couple of minutes until the walnuts are lightly browned and the butter begins to smell nutty and darkens in color. Remove the walnuts and set aside. Remove the butter from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  2. Beat in the icing sugar and a pinch of salt followed by enough milk to make a smooth, pourable glaze. If the glaze breaks or curdles, add a bit of warm water to help it re-emulsify. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, arrange the walnuts on top and allow to harden slightly before slicing

 

“Those fine blue plums…”

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Those fine blue plums which hang by such millions by the waysides and […] used for those nice large plum tarts or cakes, of half a yard wide, which they bake in tins, with the plums cut in halves and stuck with the split side upwards all over them.”

This was William Howitt’s description of what are known as “Zwetschgen” here in southern Germany, in his book The Rural and Domestic Life of Germany, published in 1842.

Known in Bavaria as “Zwetschgendatschi”, those nice plum tarts half a yard wide are still as ubiquitous today as the fine blue plums (oval-shaped Switzen plums) from which they are made…

… but there is only so much Zwetschgendatschi you can eat in one (late) summer and so these are some of the other options I turn to for all our fine blue plums:

Spicy Plum Chutney

Recipe here

Plum chutney

Buttery Plum Dumplings

known in the vernacular as “Zwetschgenknödel

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Prep. Time: 15 minutes + 15 minutes resting

Cooking time: approx. 30 minutes

Serves: 4

Floury potatoes                                                      400g

Flour                                                                     130g

plus extra for dusting

Egg                                                                       1

Salt

Ripe plums                                                             12

Brown sugar                                                           6tsp

Ground cinnamon                                                    3tsp

For the buttery coating:

Butter                                                                    150g

Polenta                                                                  70g

Brown sugar                                                           50g

Whipped cream to serve

1. To make the dumpling dough, wash, peel and boil the potatoes. Mash so that there are no lumps left and leave to cool.

2. Add the flour, egg and a pinch of salt to the cold mashed potato. Knead into a smooth dough and leave to rest for about 15 minutes.

3. Wash the plums, slice them open lengthways, remove the stones and then place them, cut side up, on a plate.

4. Mix the brown sugar and ground cinnamon togetherand place half a teaspoon of the cinnamon sugar in the hollow of each plum.

5. Shape the dough on a floured surface into a roll about 5 cm thick. Cut the roll into 12 slices.

6. Place a plum on each slice of dough and wrap each plum in dough so that it is fully enclosed. You don’t want too thick a lump ofdough, though, otherwise your dumplings well tend towards soggy.

7. Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add the dumplings and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove the cooked dumplings from the water and drain.

8. To make the buttery coating, melt the butter in a large frying pan (the dumplings will need space in the pan to crisp up so do this bit in batches if your frying pan is not large enough).

9. Place the drained dumplings in the frying pan with the butter, sprinkle with the polenta and brown sugar and fry over a medium tohigh heat until brown and crispy on the outside, moist and fruity on the inside. Serve warm with a dusting of cinnamon and generous portions of whipped cream.

And if you do want to have a go at Zwetschgendatschi yourself, you will find a German recipe here: http://www.bayerische-spezialitaeten.net/…/bayerischer-zwet…

Bayerischer Zwetschgendatschi

Bayerischer Zwetschgendatschi

or an English version in Elisabeth Luard’s European Peasant Cookery, Grub Street Books (paperback 2007), page 468.

http://grubstreet.co.uk/product/european-peasant-cookery/ (and no, they are not paying me to write this…)

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Made in the Orchard: Cherry Plum Blossom Syrup

My season of floral flavours continues: cherry plum blossom with its intensely sweet fragrance, picked in muted spring morning sunshine with much buzzing of busy bees who clearly love the blossoms as much as I do, captured in a bottle (or in a thermal flask first…) – on site in the orchard.

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Most of my harvesting of whatever sort takes place by bicycle and to ensure maximum cherry plum blossom freshness I prepared my simple syrup

(sugar to water 1:1, in this case 300 ml water to 300 g sugar for about 3 good handfuls of cherry plum blossoms stripped from the twigs)

before setting out, poured it boiling hot into the thermos flask and took it with me to the orchard. I left the syrup – lid off – to cool down to lukewarm while I picked the blossoms (strip them off the twigs into a bowl and leave the blossoms to stand a while to give the bugs a chance to crawl away – give them a helping hand out of the bowl to spend things up).

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 Once bug-free, I tipped the blossoms (within half an hour of picking) into the now lukewarm syrup, lid on and left it in my bike basket.

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 Twenty four hours later it I opened the flask: an intense floral almond essence was my reward!

Strained

(through a sieve lined with a disposable, bio-degradable cloth nappy liner that never got used – honestly – they make brilliant filters!)

into bottles to be savoured.

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And what am I going to do with it?

 Anything that would otherwise require almond essence for starters… first up is going to be Bakewell Tart with cherry plum jam and cherry plum blossom syrup…

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