Now’s the time to turn your attention to the fruits of your labour
For most of the year, whether in our own gardens or out and about, we probably pay little attention to the fruit trees and shrubs. When there’s roses to prune and lawns to mow, these plants are pushed to the back of our minds, and, save for revelling in a little blossom in the springtime, seem to stay that way. That is, until autumn kicks in. When the calendar flips from August to September there’s usually a noticeable shift in these trees and shrubs in the form of the produce you’ll discover. Suddenly, you’ll spot apples, pears, plums and blackberries galore in gardens, fields and hedgerows. And, the good news is, they’re yours for the picking (with permission, of course!)
Read on to find out how to make the most of the fruits you find during this harvest season
Pick your apples and pears
September is the start of the apple and pear picking season, so if you have trees bearing these fruits on your land, you’ll want to get out and check on their progress. Depending on the type of apples and pears you’ve grown depends on when the fruits will be ready to be harvested. Early ripening varieties are best left to ripen on the tree and should be picked selectively, depending on how ripe they are, whereas varieties that ripen later can be picked in a larger quantity for storing.
It can be tricky to know when to pick your fruit, but you want to get there before the gusty autumn days beat you to it and you lose it to the ground. Try gently holding the fruit in your hand and twisting slightly. If it comes away with ease then it’s ready to be picked; if it’s a little more stubborn then it might need a few more days of ripening. The optimal temperature for storage is around 10 degrees celsius, so rather than popping the fruit in the fridge, choose somewhere like a cellar, or a brick shed or outbuilding. Wooden sheds vary greatly in temperature, so won’t be ideal for keeping your fruit fresh!
The best way to store apples is to wrap each fruit in newspaper and then keep them stored in boxes. Pears on the other hand prefer to remain unwrapped, and they can be stored in boxes too.
If storage isn’t an option and you want to tuck in now, then there are lots of delicious ways you can enjoy your apples and pears, from warming crumbles to garnishing cocktails. To keep your fruit trees thriving, use a tree mix, which will help in promoting long term tree health.
Plant blueberry bushes
Blueberries aren’t just a superfruit and tasty breakfast accompaniment, they’re also great additions to the garden - in the autumn the shrub’s leaves will turn a gorgeous vibrant red, and in the springtime it’ll produce pretty white flowers. Then, come summer, you’ll have the juicy berries to enjoy!
The shrubs are best planted in autumn, and they’re ideal for smaller gardens, growing to around 1 metre in height. But, the key thing to be aware of before popping your plant in the soil and hoping for the best, is that blueberries are fussy creatures - they need to be grown in acidic soil and like to be watered with rainwater. They also need to be grown in a sunny spot. Not asking for much, at all… We have a specially formulated blueberry mix, which is an ericaceous compost, blending fine and coarse peat with pine bark to create a low pH, free draining growing media. Add this to a pot, or to the ground before planting your blueberry bush.
Turn your damsons into dessert
Damsons are often a fruit that get ignored and left hanging on trees because unlike their much sweeter plum cousins, they’re much sharper and therefore harder to eat. But, they aren’t just destined for damson jam recipes - they actually taste delicious in a crumble, adding the same level of tartness you’d expect from rhubarb. We’d recommend combining damsons with apples to bring down the sharpness - and if you’re able to pick the apples from your own garden, even better!
Here’s our recipe to try:
Damson and apple crumble - serves 6
For the fruit layer:
● 700g damsons (remove the stones)
● Three apples, peeled, cored and sliced
● 60g soft light brown sugar
● Knob of butter
● 50ml port (optional)
For the crumble topping:
● 250g plain flour
● 150g unsalted butter
● 150g demerara sugar
● 50g ground almonds
● 50g chopped walnuts (optional)
● Pre-heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
● Add all of the fruit to a saucepan and heat on the hob over a medium heat until the fruit starts to soften and the damsons start to release their juices. Add in your port, or if you’d prefer, you can just add a couple of tablespoons of water. Once the fruit is done, place in a dish and set aside.
● To make your crumble mix, rub your butter and flour together until the consistency is like breadcrumbs, but not as dry. Then, add your sugar and nuts, stirring gently to avoid clumping.
● Once your topping is mixed, sprinkle it evenly over your fruit.
● Place in the oven and bake for around 35 minutes until the topping is golden. Tip - you may want to place a baking tray under your dish so if any juices decide to escape, they don’t stick to the bottom of your oven...nothing ruins the crumble experience like having to clean the oven afterwards!
● Leave to cool for a few minutes, then serve with custard, cream or ice cream - the choice is yours!
Get ahead with gifting
The other great thing about having a glut of fruit, is you can use it to make homemade gifts for Christmas and beyond. You could try making damson gin or vodka, which is just three ingredients - the fruit, the alcohol and some sugar! Plum wine is another gift you could make, especially for those who are lovers of the Japanese version. It’s a little trickier than just adding the plums to alcohol and does require some fermentation, but will surely delight the recipients.
Fruit can also be turned into a multitude of sweet and savoury preserves - jams, chutneys, jellies and pickles are all ways to use up those excess fruits, and not only will they make excellent personal gifts, they’ll also taste great served with your Christmas dinner.