Feelings of melancholia on the allotment today. Summer hardly seems to have got going, yet there are already signals that growth is slowing and autumn is arriving early in the kitchen garden.
The summer-fruiting raspberries are well and truly over and my autumn–fruiting 'Bliss' have taken over. They are irresistible to blackbirds so I need to be on my guard. What blackcurrants I managed to rescue from the birds have just gone into a summer pudding along with the last of those summer raspberries and some bought Kent cherries. A couple of kilos of raspberries are squirrelled away in the freezer to make a welcome reappearance in winter and a mere 4 jars of 2012 raspberry jam grace the larder. The bumper harvest of last year taunts me with five jars still unopened. I should be grateful; they will taste good despite their age, though they will have lost some of their vibrant colour.
My Invicta and Pax gooseberry bushes started the season so promisingly. The reliable Invicta, smothered in April blossom, was heavy with small fruits by May as the rains poured unceasingly. I confidently predicted a good crop. How wrong could I be. The rain continued, the sun was a fleeting presence and suddenly, just before the fruits could reach optimum size the bush dropped around half its crop. Released from their barbed cage, they provided a feast for wildlife and left little for the hardworking grower. Happy as I am to provide a little food for birds, mice and insects (though never, ever for slugs and snails) 50% leaves me feeling a little robbed this year. The Pax bush is still distressingly small so produces little fruit. Its blushing globes were targeted so effectively by birds that I picked not a single fruit from it this year. The others went into compotes for making easy desserts paired with creams and yoghurts, and a very successful cake. Given that commercial growers have had a poor harvest too, it seems pointless to post a recipe for it this year. I'll keep it up my sleeve for next year.
A few summers of abundance lulled me into a false sense of security. There was so much fruit that I could afford some losses. This year is a reminder not to take anything for granted. Next year I will net my fruit and only let the birds have the last pickings, and I will harvest my first gooseberries small to avoid the waste of a possible major fruit drop.
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Here’s my recipe for Summer Pudding using fruit that’s available right now – cherries, raspberries and blackcurrants – but don’t wait too long or you’ll miss the cherries. Cherries are a slightly unconventional choice but I love them in this pudding. Of course, you can vary the red/black fruits. A few blackberries are a nice addition if you can find them, though they are late this year. Just remember you do need plenty of juice, some firmer fruits and not too many seeds.
(for 8 people)
550g Black Cherries
200g Blackcurrants (or mix blackcurrants and blackberries)
125-150g caster sugar (to your taste)
4 slices of sourdough (or other good bread), crusts removed
Cut the cherries in half and discard the stones. Place all the fruit in a heavy-based pan. Add the caster sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring to disolve the sugar, and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the fruits begin to give up plenty of juices. Tear the bread into rough pieces and place half in the bottom of a 1.5lt (3pint) bowl. Pour in the cooked fruit and top with the rest of the torn bread. Push the bread under the juice. Cover with a plate or something flat which just fits inside the dish and weigh it down with a jar of jam or something similar. Refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Turn out and serve with double cream.