Dozens of plums, hundreds of plums ….

This is Gillian’s orchard. Her apples were more photogenic than her plum trees. Thanks for all this fruit, Gillian!

We don’t seem to eat jam any more.  And gifts of English style chutneys, full of summer and autumn fruits and piquant with the inevitable malt vinegar sit reproachfully at the back of the food cupboard, uneaten and unloved.

There are only so many plum frangipane tarts you can eat, delicious as they are (thanks, Mrs. Portly!) Or plum cakes.

What to do with all these plums we’ve picked?  Open freeze some for winter cakes and puddings?  There, that’s sorted a kilo out.  Now what?

Gathering greengages.

Well, perhaps we could make some chutney after all.  Fired up with chillies and warming spices, they could make a decent addition to a simple winter supper.  Finding a recipe that fits our bill is a task Google was made for.  And here it is, courtesy of a blog new to me that I’ll be following with interest from now on, The Cottage Smallholder.

Hot spiced plum chutney
 
Author: Fiona Nevile
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 3 hours
Total time: 3 hours 30 mins
  • 1.45 kilos approx of sweet plums
  • 500 ml of white wine vinegar (don’t use malt or white vinegar)
  • 4 chunky cloves of garlic sliced fine
  • 175g of dried apricots chopped
  • 600g of white granulated sugar
  • I lemon cut lengthwise into 8 slices and sliced very fine (ours weighed 100g)
  • 1 large pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of coriander powder
  • 7 red birds eye chillis sliced fine, include the seeds
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of allspice powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 5 juniper berries
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp of dried chillies, chopped fine with seeds
  1. The night before you want to make the chutney, stone the plums and put them in a large heavy bottomed saucepan/preserving pan and add the vinegar. Bring to the boil, cover and leave to cool until the next day.
  2.  Add all the ingredients apart from the sugar and the dried chillies.
  3. Bring slowly to simmering point and add the sugar. Stir constantly until you are certain that the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Bring the chutney back to a good simmer and, after an hour or so, add the dried chillis to taste.
  5. Stir every few minutes to stop the bottom burning (this is a labour of love after all).
  6. Eventually depending on the strength of your simmer, the chutney will start to thicken (more like very thick soup than chutney), stirring every 10-15 minutes or so. Test for thickness by putting a spoonful in the fridge for half an hour and take the saucepan off the stove during the test.
  7. When you have a consistency that you like, very gently reheat the chutney and when it reaches simmering point pour into warm sterilised jars and seal with plastic lined metal lids. Leave for a month to mellow.
  8. N.B. Don’t use cellophane jam pot covers as the vinegar will evaporate and you will be left with relics from a Pharaoh’s tomb after a few months.

We haven’t had the chance to taste the fully matured version.  But this seems to be the business.  Hot, fiery, with complex flavours that aren’t overwhelmed by vinegar.

Chutney bubbling away.

And if you still want another chutney, good old Saint Nigel delivers another spicy treat in his cooking bible, ‘Tender’

Nigel Slater’s hot and sweet plum chutney
. 750g of plums (about 1 1/2 pounds)
. 350g of onions (about 3/4 pound)
. 125g of raisins (about 3/4 cup)
. 250g of light muscovado sugar (1 1/4 cups)
. 1/2 tsp of crushed dried chillies
. 2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
. 150ml of apple cider vinegar (5 1/2 fluid ounces)
. 150ml of malt vinegar (5 1/2 fluid ounces)
. a cinnamon stick broken in two

Halve the plums, discarding the stones. Peel and roughly chop the onions. Put the fruit and the onions into a large heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, for about an hour. (DO not forget to stir it occasionally as it may catch if you don’t and you don’t want that to happen!) Pour into hot and sterilized jam jars. Seal. Allow it to mature for at least a couple of weeks.

Now then.  All you have to do is source your plums …. and get cooking.

The backdrop to all our picking activity. Not bad, eh?

Snapshot Saturday: Oooh, ducklings!

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge invites us to share images of those things that distract us from the important business of Getting On With Daily Life.

This is an easy one.  Since about Easter, here in our village, the distraction has been ducklings.  Sweet little balls of fluff that appeared at Easter, rapidly matured towards lankier childhood then … oh!  …. vanished.  A jealous mallard?  A fox?  Who knows?  Another brood appeared soon after.  Here are two of them.

Ducklings on a sparkling pond.

This time, they’ve managed to grow up.  They sit around the pond in bored huddles in the manner of teenagers everywhere.  They’re still charming enough to be distracting when they put their minds to it though.

But those moorhens who moved in.  They’ve been nothing but a worry.  One day, a chick broke its foot, and distressed us all by somehow rolling and dragging itself forward across the grass as its mother looked on with apparent indifference.  Since that day, we’ve had occasional sightings of a lone parent, a lone chick.  But the family seems to have scattered.  This has been distracting too.  But not in a good way.

Is this the moorhen chick who broke its foot? We’ll never know.

‘Au cas où’ you need some wood, or a bag of fruit.

We’ve been getting in touch with our inner Ariègeois(e) today.

Our foraging country in the Ariège

We spent six years in France, living in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the Ariège, a département where almost everybody still had firm roots in the simple self-sufficient lifestyle of their forbears.  Nobody that we knew would have considered installing, as David Cameron recently has, a faux shepherd’s hut in the back garden.  Instead, most people had a serviceable shed, built of bits of this and that and adapted to personal requirements.

Nobody that we knew ever bought firelighters for their wood burning stove.  Instead, we’d all hang around as the weekly market packed up, rescuing the wooden fruit boxes, now empty of peaches and pears, which when broken up provide perfect kindling material.

Everyone we knew never left home without an ‘au cas où‘ (‘just in case’) bag, to fill with wild mushrooms, or walnuts, or sloes, or chestnuts, or apples, or any free food that came their way.

Foraging in the Ariège…..

That’s been us this week.  We don’t need a garden hut.  But we have got a wood-burning stove.  And today we’ve been re-purposing the wooden casing that our delivery of logs came in.  It’s soft wood, so we know we can only use it sparingly on our stove.  But it’s there – and we will use it.  So here we were, sawing it into manageable lengths, sorting and storing it.

We’re the odd-bods who gather the discarded fruit boxes at Ripon market. We’ve been breaking those up today too, for kindling.

 

Malcolm does a fine job of sawing up some wooden pallets.

And yesterday, our friend Gillian had us over to raid her plum trees.  We came back with a pail full of greengages, and a pail full of czars. Today was the day when we started to convert this ripe fruit into chutneys and cakes and hooch and crumbles.  Our French friends would definitely approve.

 

Snapshot Saturday: Elemental Parys Mountain

As soon as I saw that this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge was ‘elemental’, my mind flew back exactly a year.  This was when we were in Anglesey for a week with the boys.  This was when we visted Parys Mountain.

What an extraordinary place it is.  Its landscape is brutal, ravaged, yet strangely compelling, stained and despoiled by centuries and centuries of mining .  The copper ore found there was exploited as long ago as the Bronze Age.  The Romans knew it.  By the 1780s it was the largest copper mine in Europe, and the ore mined here was used to sheath the wooden hulks of the British Admiralty’s war ships, protecting them from seaweed, barnacles and shipworm.  Eventually, as the copper seams became exhausted the site was largely abandoned.  An industry that once employed up to 3,000 people was by 1840 giving work to a few men, underpaid, undernourished and ravaged by typhus. The site is stained by leaching ores and acids and pools of chemical waters.  A few grittily determined plants make their home here.

 

There’s still copper .  They’ve recently discovered zinc, lead, silver and gold.  Work at this extraordinary place continues.

‘Here we go making mulberry gin….’

My morning sortie to gather a bowlful of mulberries for breakfast (actually, forget the bowl.  Mulberries go directly to mouth) has suddenly got much harder.  Autumn’s in the air as I traipse across the dewy grass.  The mulberries are fewer.

The mulberry tree still bears fruit.

This isn’t just the fault of the weather.  We have some new residents in the garden.  A family of moorhens: mum, dad, and five chicks.  They like mulberries too.  The windfalls that used to be mine, all mine, are now theirs, all theirs.  But who could begrudge such charming tenants?

 

Anyway, I suddenly realised that if we were going to have our much talked-of mulberry gin in time for Christmas, we needed to act.  We had a houseful of helpers.  Not just Malcolm, but Emily and her boyfriend Miquel, over from Barcelona.

Out came the bowls.  Out came the small steps.  Out came the team.  We stripped the tree of any berries that were ripe enough to fall into our hands, as the moorhen chicks cheeped and protested from their lair in the flowerbed.

Emily concentrates on the task in hand.

The rest was easy.  Wash the berries.  Half fill an empty bottle with gin.  Poke berries into bottle.  Add sugar.  Argue about whether to follow the recipe that suggests adding a handful of roasted almonds or not.  Decide to leave almonds out today, but add them to the next batch.  Screw cap on bottle.  Shake.  Place in cupboard with note to self to shake bottle daily for a couple of weeks, then wait for months.  That’s it.  Tidy up.  Before Christmas we’ll strain off the gin, re-bottle it … and look forward to sampling it on Christmas Day.

How many people does it take to fill a mulberry gin bottle?

Or … if you’re on our Christmas present list, you might get a bottle too.

Mulberry gin in the making.

Snapshot Saturday: the texture of tulips

Last week, we were at the Bowes Museum.  This place, with its unusual history and exhilarating present deserves a post all of its own soon.

It happened to be the first day of ‘Turkish Tulips’.  This exhibition though, isn’t displayed in a dedicated space in the museum.  Instead, the artworks chosen have been sited next to existing displays, situated on a grand staircase, or even smuggled into other exhibitions on display. It’s brilliant.  These juxtapositions illuminate both the permanent collection and the works chosen for the exhibition.

Look at this.  We found it in a room of paintings largely from the 17th and eighteenth centuries.  Well, maybe this photo doesn’t convince, but in real life, in glowing, luminous detail, it did. It’s a Dutch 17th century still life, right?

Five tulips in a Wan-Li vase, Rob and Nick Carter, 2016.

Well, no.  It was created not by a Dutchman in the 17th century, but by a British couple, Rob and Nick Carter in 2016.  This is no oil painting on board or canvas, but an image on an iPad.

 

Stop.  Look.  Take your time.  Watch as those tulips, with their waxy-textured petals and burnished stems gradually lose their lustre.  Their colour fades.  The stems become limp. Later still, those once glossy petals take on the texture and appearance of crisp autumn leaves as the exhausted stems slump slowly to the ground.  In some 25 minutes you have watched the life and death of a vase of tulips, filmed over a ten day period.

That film might have been speeded up.  But we, as viewers were slowed down.  And having taken the time to watch this captivating film, we were ready to give other works in the same gallery our fuller attention too.

This is my response to this week’s WordPress photo challenge: textures.  As photos, mine don’t really pass muster this week.  Taking a photo of an iPad image in a public gallery is not really all that easy though.

 

The multi-tasking Handlebards

This is the scenery near Leyburn in Wensleydale. This is Bolton Castle.

Bolton Castle, Wensleydale.

Imagine sitting in the grounds of this 14th century castle as evening draws in, a picnic beside you, to watch The Handlebards’ version of Shakespeare’s  ‘As You Like It’.  You know this will be no ordinary performance.  The Handlebards are four female actors who cycle the length and breadth of the kingdom, with all they need for the tour crammed into two bicycle carriers. At each performance, they take every part in Shakespeare’s comedy of bizarre mistaken identity, family breakdown, love and lust.

So far so good.  But this is England in July.  We’d had two days of almost incessant rain.  In a downpour, the Handlebards cycled the 26 (mainly uphill) miles from Ripon, where they’d performed at the Workhouse Museum.

The Castle has a Great Hall.  Performing here rather than on a soggy greensward seemed a better idea in the circumstances.  And it was.  During the evening it rained.  And then rained again.  The audience never noticed a thing.  We were too busy admiring the way four women became twenty or more people.

A simple, but infinitely adaptable stage set.

To become a man, all they had to do was don a codpiece adorned with a tennis or cricket ball.  A selection of hats served to distinguish one character from another.  Bicycle handlebars identified the wearers as sheep. Your character needs to disappear stage right to enter stage left as someone else?  Easy.  Leave the person whom you were addressing in charge of your hat, and s/he will continue to talk to it.  With the flourish of a stick, a youth became faithful, ancient Adam.  Orlando and his family were all twoubled by an inability to pwonounce the letter ‘r’.  And so it went on, as one inventive twist or piece of slapstick followed another.  Shakespeare would have loved it.

This is the only photo I have of the Handlebards, and it’s out of focus at that. They take a bow as we give them a more than enthusiastic standing ovation.

I’m now a Handlebards groupie.  And the fun doesn’t end here.  In other venues, having travelled there on other bicycles, a troupe of male actors is giving similarly irreverent treatment to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.  We’re on the mailing list.

The rain let up a bit in the interval. Here’s the view.