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.

blackberry tart

simple pleasures for August

abandoned secateurs

Clearing the decks.

The flower garden has peaked and is now filled with blooms in varying stages of decay. There are plants to cut back and seed heads to gather or shake around the flower beds.

artichoke

Enjoying the transition to late summer.

The artichokes are turning from regal purple to autumnal brown

rhubarb

and the rhubarb is slowly wilting as its leaves are coloured with bright reds and yellows.

blackberry and lemon posset

Picking blackberries.

The first blackberries of the year have been picked from the short stretch in Great Forest field, where they ripen a week or so before the rest, to eat by the handful or use in new recipes.

iced plum gin

 

Drinking Iced Plum Gin.

We picked the first plums of the year, though not from our garden where the plums are still hard as rocks. Most of them are destined to make Slamseys Plum Gin but I managed to divert some to the kitchen for compotes and a rather tasty granita. For some reason, I’d never made granita before, which is rather foolish as it’s simple to make and tastes great, especially in a shot glass with Plum Gin poured over to make a sort of adult slushy drink.

What are your simple pleasures for August?

Are you looking forward to spring or making the most of summer days?

Essex huffer

meals in fields

During harvest, meals become moveable feasts both in location and timing. At regular intervals through the day, empty flasks and cold boxes are dumped on the shelf in the grain store to be replenished.

Food has to withstand the rigours of bumping up and down on tractors as they rush down rough tracks and be easily pulled from the cold box and eaten while waiting for the next load. It has to be chunky and filling; indeed, glancing in the cold boxes you might be forgiven for thinking that you’d slipped back a few decades. I might start off with imaginative offerings but I soon fall back on old fashioned foods like Scotch Eggs, slabs of fruit cake and hefty huffers, firmly compressed to hold in the fillings.

Everyone seems to like something sweet in their cold box, even if they normally declare an aversion to puddings and cakes. One of Celia’s Butterscotch Bars* is always a hit and this year I’ve fiddled with the recipe a little to create a Harvest Bar packed with extra fruit and nuts, which I pack for the late evening shift when everyone needs a little extra oomph.

Sometimes I use a mixture of plain and milk chocolate chips, sometimes just plain. The nuts tend to be a combination of whatever packets are started; last time I used 100g pecans and 40g almonds but I’ve also used walnuts, Brazil nuts and unsalted cashews.

Harvest Bars

harvest bars recipe

  • 250g butter
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teasp vanilla extract
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 200g chocolate chips
  • 140g roughly chopped nuts – such as pecans, walnuts, almonds
  • 100g raisins

Blend together the butter and sugar, beat in the egg and vanilla extract.

Stir in the remaining ingredients and spread out evenly in a baking tin approximately 30 x 21 cms that you’ve lined with baking parchment.

Cook for about 45 minutes at 150C fan oven for firm bars or ten minutes less if you want squidgy bars. In the AGA – 10 minutes in the roasting oven with the cold shelf in and then 50 minutes in the simmering oven.

Leave to cool in the tin and then cut into bars or squares.

Are you a follower of recipes or do you tweak and alter? Some people get very upset when someone changes their recipe, which I find hard to understand.

Also, any suggestions for slightly more exciting meals to take to the fields would be more than welcomed (especially by those eating them).

*Such is the popularity of Celia’s Butterscotch Bars that I have passed on the recipe to many others and one of my sons has declared that they are on his list of “Last Supper” foods.