a plum deal

still life plums and roses

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, 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.

plums

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.


eating greengages

wheat stubble

 

Phew. Harvest has finished. After days of checking every weather forecast and stopping and starting between showers, the wheat was finished at the weekend and the beans yesterday. This morning, while this year’s harvest was loaded onto lorries to go to the central co-operative grain store, next year’s oilseed rape crop was sown in the cleared fields as the cycle starts off again. On a rather smaller scale, Beth and I have been out along the hedgerows picking blackberries for Slamseys Blackberry Gin. There is one field where the blackberries ripen at least a fortnight ahead of the rest of the farm so it’s good to make a start. A rather less frenzied harvest than the wheat harvest.

 

greengages

 

In the garden the plums continue to ripen. The cherry plums have all been eaten, the damsons are almost ready and although there are still Czar plums on the tree, we’ve lost enthusiasm for eating them because the greengages are at their peak.  Who wants to eat a boring plum when the greengages are ready? This has been a bumper year for greengages and looking out from the kitchen window, I’ve noticed that everyone walking from the yard makes a detour to pick and eat a few greengages en route to the back door. I could eat greengages for breakfast, lunch and supper and not tire of them in their short season. Sweet, juicy, delicious little greengages.

I’ve been making loads of greengage compote and greengage crumble; some is eaten straight away and the rest frozen. Sometimes I cook the greengages swiftly on the hob with a little water or roast them in the oven but more often than not I use my mother’s technique for dealing with greengages or plums. Because sometimes mothers know best. Simply put a kilo of very ripe greengages into a bowl, pour over boiling water and leave for a minute. Then tip the fruit into a bowl of cold water and slip the skins off. Cut the fruit in half, pop out the stones and lay the fruit in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with a dessertspoon of sugar, cover with cling film and put in the fridge for an hour or two for the sugar to draw out the juices. I vaguely remember Mum’s instructions were to leave them for longer, but I don’t plan far enough ahead for that. Kind of cooked but not cooked.

When I was explaining what I was doing to one of my daughters who’d wandered into the kitchen, I told her it was just like skinning tomatoes. “Who on earth skins tomatoes?” she asked in a scathing tone. Well, sometimes I do. I like sandwiches made with skinned tomatoes, white bread, plenty of butter and a little salt and pepper. Skinned tomatoes are best because when you squash the sandwich, the bread soaks up all the copious juice. What do you mean, you don’t squash your tomato sandwiches? Didn’t you ever take tomato sandwiches on a school trip and pull out a warm, soggy and flattened sandwich? I rather liked them and always thump my fist on a tomato sandwich to recreate the effect.

greengage sandwich

While we were having this conversation, a lemony Madeira loaf cake was cooling on the table and it was but a short step before I’d cut two slices of the loaf  and made a Greengage Sandwich – greengages, crème patisserie and Maderia cake. I thought about cutting off the crusts but decided that was a step too far. Much better than a Victoria Sandwich (mainly because there’s almost as much filling as cake).

Almost as good as a squashed tomato sandwich.