As we slip into late summer, the light in the evenings fades a little earlier each day and hot sunny days alternate with grey rainy days. On the farm, the cycle of seasonal rituals continues; harvest has finished and the oilseed rape for next year’s harvest has been sown, while in the garden the plums are ripening fast.
Plums seem to straddle summer and early autumn as each variety ripens in succession. In our garden, the deep purple Czar plums are coming to the end as the greengages reach their peak. Anyone walking past the greengage tree seems unable to resist reaching out to pick one of the gloriously honeyed globes although this year we pick with care as we have wasps. Last year we had so many greengages that I made jam but this year the trees have been less fruitful and the wasps have eaten as many as we have. Luckily my mother’s tree was laden with fruit that we’ve been able to share; fresh greengages eaten by the handful on a warm summer’s day are one of life’s delights.
But now, as the weather becomes more changeable and a warm pudding is sometimes more welcome, the earliest damsons are starting to ripen. Although the damsons on our Merryweather tree are sweet and juicy, I prefer to eat them cooked, though that may be because they don’t compare with the greengages. On cooler days, I shake the branches, catching the falling damsons that I know will be ripe and cook them in a crumble where the deep purple syrupy juice bubbles up through the crust. Plum Flapjacks make a treat to hide in the cake tin and jars of Spiced Damsons are lined up on the pantry shelf ready to add to eat with cold meat in a few months’ time.
At the far end of the garden, the fruit on the gnarled old damson tree will be the last to ripen. These damsons are too sour to eat but they make a very good jam and a particularly fine damson gin. Perfect for the cooler autumn days that lie ahead.