Hedgerow Harvest, Damson Gin, Plum Vodka and Prunes

The trees and hedgerows are certainly laden with a bumper crop this year.  I remember last year having to reach high into the trees for a few damsons, but this year there are so many.  Whether they are fully ripe yet I’m not sure, but I’m just too impatient to wait any longer and panicked about someone else beating me to it and stripping the trees bare.  Little hope of that this year I think.  Anyway, I left them in the kitchen for a couple of days in the hope they would ripen as swiftly as the huge amount of plums we gathered last week did.IMG_20130906_175944

Last year I made damson gin and also a lovely damson, cardamon and vanilla jam recipe from Alys Fowler’s book. Opened the last jar for my toast this morning to help me decide what to do with this year’s damsons, but realistically there is only so much jam one person can eat (rest of family not keen) so will save that one for next year.  Husband prefers the alcohol!

There are also some lovely apple trees by the brook near to our house, but sadly, the remaining sweet apples are hanging way out of reach across the water, those on the bankside having long gone.

Anyway, after a couple of days I have popped the damsons in the freezer ready to make some damson gin.

This morning I gathered another 8-10kg of plums from the allotment so have spent the afternoon sorting them into varying degrees of ripeness, popping some into the dehydrator, some into some vodka, and leaving the rest to ripen.

Damson Gin Recipe:

450g damsons

200g sugar

70cl gin

Wash the damsons and either prick the skin or each or pop them into the freezer for a couple of days before using.  This will help break the skins for the juices to mingle better.

Sterilise a large jar (see previous blackberry vodka recipe for instructions on how to do this).

Add the damsons, sugar and vodka. Close the lid and give it all a shake to mix the sugar.

Come back to give it a shake every day or so to help it all mix together.

It should be ready to drink after about 3 months.  You can leave the damsons in or sieve out if you prefer, but best not to leave them in for more than 6 months.

Plum Vodka

You can of course do pretty much the same with plums – in either gin or vodka.  This is what I did:

Wash approx 500g plums and half to remove stones (you can probably leave them whole but ours were large plums and I wanted to check they were all maggot free).

Preparing to make plum vodka
Preparing to make plum vodka

Mix with 200g sugar and 70cl vodka in a sterilsed jar.  Shake every day or so to mix as with the damson gin recipe above.  Strain the plums out after 2-3 months and store the vodka in a sterilised bottle.  You can of course then eat the plums too.

This is the 1st year we’ve tried this one so fingers crossed it’s a good one.

Plums and vodka before shaking
Plums and vodka before shaking
After initial mixing
After initial mixing

Prunes 

I posted about making prunes last week so this is just an update on how they came out.  Most of the instructions I could find said they would take anything between 12 and 36 hours.  I think ours were almost certainly at the upper end of that – they seemed to take all week.  The end resultIMG_20130906_175507 is pictured.  They ended up a little on the hard side as I went off to work leaving my husband babysitting.  When I came home he had not remembered to give our son a bath or even to give him dinner, but for some reason thought to turn the dehydrator on for another 6 hours!

Anyway, I have this time quartered the plums in the home they will be ready a little quicker as I’m at work more this week so can’t keep an eye on them readily.

I also picked a few more blackberries today so have tried bottling for the first time.  Little nervous about all the comments on the web about botulism if you don’t do this properly so started with a very small amount, to see if it works, and if it’s worthwhile.

Bumper crop of fruit sadly not matched by our allotment vegetables – we have already run out of garlic, having pulled that, and the onions, up too late so that they had started to go rotten in the ground.  So many weeds I can hardly spot the beetroot, carrot and parsnips that are still in the ground.   On the plus side, the leeks are all doing pretty well in their raised bed, where they are relatively weed free.

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Plum Jam Recipe

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So here’s the recipe for plum jam.   Easiest jam I’ve tried, and as the plums are high in pectin needs no special sugar or anything.  I even managed to make it without burning the pan.  Scale recipe up or down as required – I find it easier to manage smaller quantities as I don’t have a proper jam pan. I sometimes add ground ginger and/or an apple.

Amounts below make 2.25kg. (5-6 jars depending on size)

1.5kg plums – washed, halved and stoned

300ml water

1.5kg sugar, warmed

Place water and fruit in a pan and simmer till tender.

Add sugar (warm for a minute or 2 in microwave first) and stir in until dissolved.

Boil for 15-20 mins until setting point is reached.

You can test for setting point by putting a small amount of the jam onto a cold saucer – after a few moments it should wrinkle slightly when pressed with your finger. You can use a jam thermometer if you prefer but personally I’ve never had much luck with these.

Once setting point has been reached , skim off any surface scum and pour carefully into warm sterilised jars and seal whilst hot.

Plums, plums and more plums

Well, the plums have certainly arrived unlike last year.  I foraged some growing by the brook near our house last week and then found the 3 trees at the allotment heavily laden too.  Sadly, many of the first fully ripe ones picked turned out to be well occupied by plum tree moth maggots, and the brown flecks a quick Google search told me was the excrement of said maggot.  Think I’d rather not have known! Especially as I’ve probably used similarly afflicted plums in jam before.

Anyway, seems the key is to pick them slightly underripe and ripen at home as it only seems to be the ripe ones that are affected so today picked 2 carrier bags full of slightly underripe plums, plus enough ripe ones to stew for tea and try out in the dehydrator.ImageImage

For drying out to make prunes, which my son absolutely loves, I used the fully ripe plums, all cut in half so I could discard any maggoty ones. They’ve been in the dehydrator for a couple of hours so far but seems they could take as long as a couple of days as they are rather large, so will see how they turn out.

Rest will be left to ripen a little more while I decide what to do with them – freezer, jam, may try bottling but I’m going to have a go with some blackberries first as haven’t tried this before and only have a couple of small jars left after all the blackberry vodka I’ve got filling the kilner jars.