The damson tree at the bottom of my parent’s garden in Aghadowey, normally an abundance of fruit, is bereft of any crop this year.
As summer turns to autumn I usually try to think up different and inventive ways of preserving seasonal fruit for the coming months. The quince tree in my mum’s garden is the same – not one solitary orb.
Last year I got six litres of jelly from the quince tree and there are still damsons at the bottom of the freezer. Maybe there’s some kind of conspiratorial pact – withdrawing their favour so I’ll appreciate them in future. If this is the case it has definitely worked.
Apparently fruit trees take a rest every now and then. Quite right too – I often feel like taking a year out and if you can get away with it why not?
Thankfully, not every tree is experiencing the same plight and bountiful growers have been kind enough to donate excess crop. My apple tree, on the other hand, is practically tipping over this year with ruby red fruit so at least there is the promise of a future barter.
Thanks to the lack of a late frost and a hot and moist summer, plums this year are sweeter than ever. They can be eaten straight from the tree or stored in the fridge. They need nothing, simply bite in and enjoy the chin soaking sweetness.
Serendipitously, the sweet cicely in one of my pots has exploded and the slightly anise and citrus flavour works beautifully with plums in a jam. Wrap the leaves in muslin and press into the plum and sugar mix as it boils.
This year I’ve decided to freeze some plums and make the rest into savoury recipes. Because of their unusual sweetness one of the things I’ve done is pickle them. I’ve included the recipe – a sweet, sour solution flavoured with Asian aromatics is poured over the plums in a kilner jar and then sealed.
Ballylisk is a new triple cream cheese from Armagh. It’s creamy, salty and tangy and as good as any similar French cheese. I’ve accompanied the pickled plums with some slices of this cheese in a salad with beetroot and a walnut and honey dressing. The plums cut through the richness and the whole dish is balanced with earthy beetroots and walnuts and some honey to bring the whole thing together. Perfect for a light lunch with lots of bread.
I’ve also included a recipe for plum ketchup – plums cooked with malt vinegar, tamarind, sugar and spicy aromatics to a thick sauce. It’s great with grilled pork, duck or even lamb.
Plums and coconut are a particularly good flavour combination and favourite of mine. In my other recipe, plums are cooked in a spiced syrup and topped with a souffled rice pudding. Light and fluffy baked rice atop sweet and unctuous plums – if only rice pudding had been like that at school!
If you’re blessed with a great plum crop this year make the most of them – they just might be on a break next year...