Plum Cordial

I went back to the plum tree with Nicholas before he jetted off to Zurich, and the two of us collected a good eight pounds or so of plums that had fallen to the ground. We worked quickly, to be able to then fetch our daughter at the end of her last day of school. Yes, school was still going on for her last week, the end of JULY, egads. In New York, school would have ended five weeks earlier. Somehow, it doesn’t feel interminable, though. Perhaps because she didn’t start school until the Spring, perhaps because we don’t have the ridiculous humid heat of a Hudson Valley summer, but it was somehow okay to still be going to school in July. Curious, for I had thought it a horrifying thought when we first moved here.

Out of that batch of plums, I made jam and cordial as soon as we got home. Here are the plums cooking away. What a color – red skins that soon stain the yellow flesh inside. RedPlumsCooking.JPG

Cordial is such an English thing. European, perhaps. I remember being confused by it in France when we went as children. My mother traveled there several summers to study and would bring my brother and me with her to experience the culture she loved so dearly. Everyone had “sirop”, syrup made from different fruits, but it was completely unfamiliar to our American tastebuds. It’s standard here in England too, and I decided to make our own from these juicy plums.

After cooking the plums, I put them in large square of muslin and tied it to a cupboard handle overnight. What liquid dripped out, I then added honey to, cooked it up some more, and voilà – cordial.

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Then I had to sort through all the plum matter and remove all the teeny pits (“pips” in England). I may find a use for those too…

The cordial is delicious, a deep red color, and nice blend of tart and sweet. I hope it keeps a while, to enjoy in cooler months.

Westwood Wanderings

Nicholas walks on the Westwood nearly every day. I wish I could say I did too, but maybe half the time I join him. A week or so ago, we went together on a damp morning. Our lane leads all the way to the Westwood, we were shocked to see this at the top of the road. My apologies to any Metals (so sorry, haven’t started speaking about the Five Element patterns yet) who would find this too revolting. Focus on the lovely flowers intstead.

CowPile

A cow had obviously escaped and left her mark. Visions of India came to us, where cows constantly roam and freely leave dung about. There, however, it’s a precious commodity and gets collected right away for use as fuel or to make small shelters like mud houses. This one was sitting for a while, having collected a bit of rain. A month or so previous, our next-door neighbor had told us how just last year there were five renegade cows who consistently escaped the Westwood and wandered down our street, just feet away from the middle of town. Every morning she would somehow shoo them back up to pasture. Looks like another renegade is back, likely having come through this gate.

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Turning around from this spot, an expansive view of six hundred acres of pasture opens. Ahh, the Westwood. It is beautiful, the jewel of Beverley. I can’t believe we live a hop, skip and a jump from here.

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Plums again

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I was walking to Frith Farm today, the Beverley organic one, for my one volunteer day this week. I saw a man picking yellow plums off the tree by the side of the road. I smiled at my own initial shock and proprietary feelings. The plums I had discovered weeks ago were being picked by another! And then I quickly came to my senses and was just happy that more people are picking. I’d feel so obliged to pick all of them myself otherwise, and then what would I do with that glut of goodness?

I moved on, but when I came to the next plum tree, the red one, I just couldn’t help myself. I decided to not worry about being late to the farm and spent half an hour picking up windfalls. What if the yellow plum man moved on to red before I made my way home? Or if it rained before I was homeward-bound? That was likely a motivator, to not miss out on any plums. Strike while the iron is hot, my mom used to say. So I struck. How convenient that there was a large mulched area that both cushioned the plums and made them easily visible.

RedPlum Windfalls

There were SO many! I filled my pockets at first, but then realized I was being silly and got out a bag. What lovely heaviness I carried with me the rest of the way to the farm. What I had in my pockets we shared at lunchtime. And when I got home, I weighed the little beauties in the bag.  Over two and a half kilos, so almost six pounds, my goodness!

They smell amazing. Fruity of course, with a tropical note that brings delight and a feeling of freshness. Jam-time.

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And you can bet I’m going back to the yellow plum tree once I preserve these lovelies.

This Week at the Farm

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This week I volunteered at both farms – Wednesday I was at the Dr.’s in Nafferton and there was quite a crew! I met three new people there, a young woman from Poland who has lived in this area for a number of years and is currently studying horticulture, an American PhD student who has lived at the farm previously but I’d never had the pleasure of making her acquaintance, and a young man from New Caledonia but currently studying in France, staying there for over a month to improve his English. A fifteen-year-veteran English volunteer and I rounded out the company of volunteers. What an international crowd.

The focus for the first part of the day was berry-picking. The two Americans searched for raspberries and strawberries, but the birds had gotten the last of both. Ditto for black currant, rats! I was so glad to have gotten a large order the weekend before. Black currants are our fave and I so miss having our own New York back-yard Ribes patch. Gooseberries we found a fair number of, but only on the lowest branches. I managed to get stuck quite a few times with the thorns and wished I’d worn gloves. I next joined the Polish and English women to hunt for red currants, and crouching under the bushes proved fruitful indeed – we filled a number of small containers with the luminescent little jewels. The last morning task was to pick jostaberries. These bushes were under netting, and there were hundreds of berries to be had. I’d never seen jostaberries before, a cross between black currants and gooseberries. We had, actually, planted one in our backyard patch about two years ago, but I must have neglected it, for it never took. Well, these were plentiful indeed, and I both saw and tasted many. I thought they looked like small plump grapes. The dark, ripe ones were quite sweet and very flavorful – but not nearly as piquant as either of their parents. What a lovely morning, save for getting stuck by gooseberry thorns (my thumb still feels sore, three days later).

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The afternoon was less eventful. I always move more slowly after lunch. I did enjoy speaking with the fellow from New Caledonia. My French felt rather rusty with him, somehow, but we exchanged information about living in England and about some English expressions while we planted two types of radishes and some arugula.

After a day of agricultural-rest, I went with my English niece to the Beverley farm for the afternoon. The sky was dramatic and the usually-constant wind was there but mildly so. We removed over-mature winter purslane and transplanted both new purslane and baby orach seedlings into the large raised beds. It felt luxurious and calming, working there, especially when the sun came out. The neatness of the raised bed area was somehow relaxing, and the purple of the orach delightfully envigorating.

Then we got to weeding in the main beds. The little celery plugs I’d planted some weeks ago have doubled in size and the main farmer discussed philosophy with me as we cleared out most of the chickweed, thistles and other weeds encroaching on the young celery’s space. Niece-y was deep in conversation with the other volunteer, a young man she’d actually known in sixth form (like 11th and 12th grade for us Americans) but hadn’t seen in years. All four of us then had “fun with mesh”, transferring bed-long metres of mesh netting from one bed to another and anchoring the edges down with logs and other pieces of wood. It actually was fun. The people are lovely, and the farm beautiful. Truly a blessed afternoon. And while walking home afterwards, Niece-y and I found wild plums. What a bonus.

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Wild Plums

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Today I had a fabulous Full-Circle moment. I vividly remember a time from when I was about ten years old, in Staten Island, New York, where my grandmother lived. We were on a busy street in a mixed commercial/residential area and all of a sudden my grandmother exclaimed happily that the mulberries were ripe. We set to picking berries off a tree right outside a dentist’s office. I wondered if the dentist wouldn’t mind, was conscious of the traffic going past us and worried about what the car occupants would think. But my grandmother didn’t give any of that a second thought – she was intent on enjoying picking the fruit and not letting it go to waste. Nobody else was interested in the berries. For some reason, I often remember that day, how focused my Sicilian-born grandma was about harvesting the ripe goodness of the season, and I admire her for it.

I have since channeled that focus many a time and gathered my own roadside bounty. Today was one of those days, so similar to my decades-ago experience in Staten Island. But here I am on a very different island, and I was with my niece rather than with my grandmother. Niece-y and I were walking along a very busy road just before 5pm and I spotted some wild plum trees. I’d seen them previously, but this was the first time the fruit looked ripe. So many beautiful little orbs of goodness! They had all been the same pale green color a week ago. Today we found that one tree turned out to have purply-red fruit, and the one right next to it a deep golden yellow. Oh, joy! It’s funny how happy it makes me to collect windfalls and see what I can reach on the trees. I suppose I feel connected to my grandmother, and I, too, hate to let things go to waste.

Some of these honeys will go in to a clafoutis, perhaps, and if I go back and there are enough of them, jam shall be in the future.

Chickweed Pesto

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I do enjoy chickweed. The plant is delightfully lush yet delicate, it grows abundantly in early summer, and both leaves and young stems are so delicately crunchy. I could munch (and have done) on fistfuls of it while weeding in the garden.

How much better it might be to call it by its Latin name, Stellaria. Don’t you find that much prettier than “chickweed”? A plant named after a star, the star-shaped tiny white flower that comes in bloom soon after the plant matures. Not that I mind the idea of eating weeds – they are so easy to grow, ready far before any crops you might plant, and many of them taste quite good.

This Summer I have the pleasure of working on an organic farm in Beverley, East Yorkshire. I was able to bring home piles of chickweed, and I sure did have some fun with it. I ate a lot in salads, but also wanted the rest of the family to enjoy the many minerals and vitamins in and thus health benefits of Stellaria media. My girls love pesto, so chickweed pesto was on the menu. Thank goodness I sprang for an old Moulinex food processor at the “car-boot sale” in Walkington several weeks ago – a huge bargain at three pounds.

Ingredients:

~3 cups freshly picked young chickweed leaves and stems

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons almond flour

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

zest of half or whole lemon

Method:

Wash the chickweed leaves and stems and shake dry, then cut roughly in to sections several inches long each. Cutting the stems into shorter pieces prevents the chickweed from getting wound around the blades of the food processor. Pulse in food processor a few times to reduce it in size, then add the garlic and almond flour and salt and pulse again to blend. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until pesto reaches the consistency you desire. I like to leave it a bit chunky for both taste and texture. You may wish to add a bit more olive oil, or salt, or garlic, as your taste buds dictate.

Serve on top of crackers or on cucumber rounds, underneath a poached egg, or any way that catches your fancy.

I made extra batches – one to put in jars in the fridge, covered with a bit of olive oil to create a seal to prevent spoilage, and one batch that I portioned out into baggies for the freezer for future use.

 

Buttered Chickweed

Washing Chickweed

Ah, chickweed, wonderful Stellaria plant, how generous you are to grow so abundantly in the soil around us. I’ve eaten chickweed before, but I’ve never had quite so steady and large a supply of it as I have this season in England. I’m volunteering at an organic farm in Beverley, and that is just the sort of place to get large amounts of the best chickweed possible.

My first meal, besides eating it out of hand right there in the fields, was to make buttered chickweed – simple and SOOO good.

Just wash two huge handfuls of the plant and put it in boiling water. Cook it for about two minutes, then scoop out the blanched leaves and stems and let them rest and cool on a large cutting board.

While they cool, melt two or more tablespoons of butter in a frying pan and add a small onion that you’ve chopped finely. Sauté the onion in the butter for about two minutes.

While the onions sauté, go back to the chickweed and cut it up into nice small pieces, about an inch long. Add the chickweed to the pan with the onions and sauté a minute or two more. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ohmigoodness, this was incredibly delicious! I didn’t have any nutmeg, but a dash of that would be excellent too, methinks.

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The resulting broth left in the pot from blanching the chickweed is also good, so don’t toss it out. Some herb books recommend making a chickweed broth to help strengthen children and convalescents. It tastes mild and has many minerals and vitamins.