Blackberry Season

blackberry-jam-and-ginYou will have noticed what an excellent Blackberry year we have, with an abundance of lush, soft, sweet and surprisingly large fruit. Many of us have been busy making jam, juice and flavoured gin over the past weeks.

Here are some Blackberry Muffins, the perfect way to start a Sunday. This takes 10 minutes to prepare and 15 to bake, so it is easy to make in time for breakfast:

100 g white wheat flour, 80 g soft butter, 75 g sugar, 80 ml whole milk at room temperature. One free range egg yolk, seeds from half a vanilla pod or half a teaspoon of vanilla essence, and one generous teaspoon of baking powder.

Put butter and sugar into a bowl, using the hand mixer on low gear to mix thoroughly. Add egg, vanilla, milk and baking soda, then gradually add the flour into the mix. Mix until smooth. You’ll find the mix will be fairly runny, maybe like a thick yogurt. Perfect!

Gently fold in one or two handful of Blackberries or Raspberries. Fill muffin cups to approximately two thirds. We prefer non-sticking silicone or paper cups, but you can of course get the old muffin tray out for the occasion.

Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 10..15 minutes. Use a wooden stick or visual judgement to determine when they are ready.

You’ll find that the Blackberries are very easy pickings along the canal towpath or in the Hanwell Meadows. The plants do a good job at defending themselves and growing back, but please be mindful and avoid damage to plants and surroundings when foraging.

Splish Splosh

Barley StrawWe are fascinated by the ups and downs of the Piggeries pond. In the beginning, we had much too much water, as reported with the Piggeries Report. Water leaks in the adjacent streets were fixed, reducing the water feed into the pond significantly. The remaining feed was still stronger than anticipated given what little rain we had. Surface water drainage in the local area is subject to ongoing investigation, but in a recent and rather unexpected development, the water flow into the pond stopped all together. Now we didn’t have enough water!

Rainfall earlier this week raised the groundwater levels and water levels in the pond again, quicker than we expected.

We remain fascinated, puzzled and intrigued by the ups and downs of The Piggeries pond. Investigation of various aspects of local surface water drainage continues. However, we are most fascinated and most grateful to see just how many people stop by, inquire or simply enjoy the views of the pond and its tadpoles. Most tadpoles have been rescued and were re-housed locally during the recent water shortage.

We meant to create a natural habitat with seasonally changing water levels. In addition, we seem to have created a focal point for visitors of all ages, two and four-legged ones.

Why not stop by the Piggeries Orchard during one of your canalside walks, and watch nature do its thing in the middle of the metropolis?


Dormant Season?

img_20170114_113252854_hdrThey call this the dormant season in reference to stagnant plant growth. Of course this does not apply to you, my dear hobby gardeners and fellow orchardists!

Now is the time for winter pruning. Winter pruning is complete in the Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail for this year, but some of you might have some work left to do around the house, garden or allotment?

Apples, pears, quinces, medlar, figs and mulberry all benefit from winter pruning to improve health, growth and yield, and so do many soft fruit such as autumn-fruiting raspberries, blueberries or currants, and vine. Other shrubs such as fuchsia are also immensely grateful for a haircut this time of the year.

Note, however, that stone fruit such as cherry, plums, apricots and peaches want pruning after bloom, not in winter. Rhododendron and azaleas set next years buds in late summer and are best pruned in early summer, too, right after bloom.

Fine-tuned and optimised pruning is both a science and an art, and we don’t claim to be experts. However, common sense and a sharp pair of secateurs gets you a long way, so why not go ahead? Remove dead wood. Remove broken or infected branches. Remove those rubbing each other, loosen up areas of dense growth by taking our every second or third branch. Remove unruly ones growing out of the trunk too low, especially all those emerging below the grafting joint. Remove vertical water shoots and try to provide air, light, and a sense of shape and order to fruit trees.

Prolific growers such as autumn-fruiting raspberries or vine benefit from a hard cut-back, leaving only a pair of eyes above ground (raspberries) or off the leader (vine).


Something Fishy

dsc_1753Apple season is still going strong! Even though our very own Hanwell & Norwood Green Orchard Trail apple has been taken weeks ago, the local gardens and markets are still full of the good stuff.

In culinary terms, most people will think of apply jelly, juice, compote, pie, cake and crumble. Oh yes, and cider.

Allow me to to point out that apples make the perfect partner with oily fish.

A salad of pickled herring with red onions, fennel, dill, apple and soured cream is a delight. Kippers (Smoked herring) or smoked mackerel go well with apples, pink grapefruit, fennel, soft-boiled quail eggs and a spoon of mayonnaise or salad cream. A poached mackerel combines well with a sharp grated apple and a little soured cream.

Coming to think of it, I think the humble apple is one of the most versatile home-grown cooking ingredients we have available, probably ranking second right after the egg.

Finger Lickin’ Picnicin’ Time

DSC_0581You are most graciously invited to join our

Autumn Orchard Picnic

right in the heart of the Hanwell Meadows on

Saturday October 22nd, from 13:00,

by the sheep in Jubilee Meadow! [click for map]

Everyone is looking forward to see you again, or to get to know you and meet you for the first time. What better way to meet and greet? No hard labour involved!

All current and future members are most welcome to join us. It is the perfect opportunity to meet the orchard and orchard folk, introduce yourself, make new friends and cast off your fear of fruit trees.

Bring something to eat or drink to the sharing table if you like, but please bring no more than your party would consume. We want to avoid wasting surplus food, so please be prepared to take leftovers back home.

Bring a blanket, a friendly dog, a bunch of children, a neighbour and a friend. Bring a kite or a game, bring a smile, bring your spouse! Maybe even an umbrella!

We are of course particularly interested in all things Orchard. What did you make this year, which recipe do you have to share? Tell the tale of your finest apple pie, share the magic of your family’s secret sloe gin, boast about the silky smoothness of your rosehip jam! Did you make cider, or vinegar, or juice or cordial from apples, Elder, Blackberries or plums? Did you turn old apple trees into wooden plates, create chainsaw carving sculptures, or are you expert at fruit tree care with spare time at your hands? This is the time to bring, show and tell.

Visitors with limited mobility are advised to contact us beforehand. The meadows are a natural environment and can be difficult for wheelchair users, but it has been done before!

Elderberry Two-in-One

elderberry-double-trickSome of you were inspired to make Elderflower Cordial back in June, but I reckon you’ve left some flowers behind, didn’t you?

Why leave the fruit to the pigeons now?

Here’s the perfect double-trick for foraging enthusiasts: Elderberry Jelly and Elderberry Gin!

It’s a two-in-one trick. First, pick Elderberries off the tree, then wash, removes anything which moves and remove the stalks. Then pulp them in a juicer or blitz and separate juice from husks with an overnight muslin job.

Make Elderberry Jelly from the juice with Jam Sugar, following standard jam making practise (or following instructions on the Jam Sugar pack). Note it is normal that Elderberry Jelly will not set stiff, it will stay at the consistency of thick honey.

Then take the husks, add a large tablespoon of sugar or two. Put into a large jar, remove the air with Gin, seal, put in the back off the shelf and forget until around Christmas (then filter through a muslin and enjoy responsibly).

Always when foraging please forage considerably with consideration for your own health, the environment and private ownership. Only take what you are certain is yours to take and good for human consumption, leave it unless 100% certain.

Ouch Ouch Ouch

DSC_0221Thigh prickin’ finger lickin’ Blackberry pickin’ time is here!

And there’s more to come given the good weather being forecast for the coming week, with access newly cleared in some locations.

Blackberry Jam, Blackberry Cordial and Blackberry Gin. Blackberry Wine, and Blackberry Custard Cake. Blackberry ‘n’ Yogurt, Hot Blackberry with Vanilla Ice Cream. Blackberry Sorbet, Blackberry Ice Cream. Blackberry with Duck Breast, with Salat, with Goats Cheese, or on a Blackberry Crepe.

What are you making?

(As always, please forage with care and consideration for your own health, the environment, and private land. Forage considerably, but with consideration!)

Who Do You Think I Am?

aptyeI know you have been walking around your garden and favourite orchards, looking with pride and fascination at the emerging fruit. It is set and swelling nicely, watered beautifully by mother nature and desperately looking for more sugar-making sunshine, and I can hear you wonder which variety is this apple? 

Here at the Hanwell and Norwood Green Orchard Trail, we begun adding new labels to our fruit trees, stating variety, a very brief description (where available) and the year of planting. You’ll see those labels emerge over the next few weeks, and possibly change as we experiment with methods and materials for durable, inexpensive and eco-friendly labelling.

However, as some members point out, you can also help yourself with this fabulous self-help fruit identification web site for apples and pears: Check it out!

We think it is a jolly good site and hope to put it to the test some day later this summer by helping label the unknown varieties of Blondin Park Community Orchard. Please get in touch if you are knowledgeable in tree and pear varieties, or if you are otherwise interested in identifying fruit varieties.

Cherry Bread Pudding

DSCN2336This isn’t a bread pudding as you might know it. It is translated from my German home dialect, pfälzisch, and is really called Kärscheplotzer but trust me, Cherry Bread Pudding is close enough.

We eat it hot or cold, as pudding, sometimes with vanilla ice cream or custard, mostly just so. We eat it for breakfast, elevenses or for afternoon tea. Back in my German home region (die Pfalz), this is traditionally eaten with a garden vegetable soup for Saturday lunch. It’s delicious at any time, in any form, and right now is the perfect time. The cherries are beginning to ripen and the shops are full of them, if not your own cherry trees!

To make a generous portion for four, you need

1 stale loaf of crusty white sourdough bread or ciabatta, 400 g
80 g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod or equivalent amount of vanilla essence
3 happy free range eggs
1 pint whole milk
Butter, Cinnamon
Plenty of fresh cherries, preferably pitted. Dark sweet or Morello cherries will be fine.

Cut the bread into chunky pieces. Make sure to include the crust!

If the bread is fresh, spread it out on a baking tray and pop it into the oven at 70 C (150 F) for 45 minutes.

Mix the sugar, vanilla seeds or essence, a pinch of cinnamon, eggs and milk in a mixing bowl. Add the dried bread chunks and let soak for one or two hours (longer if the bread is bone dry). Gently turn this over occasionally but try to preserve the chunkiness.

Butter a suitable sized Pyrex or similar baking dish, about 50 mm (2”) deep. The batter mix should now be very wet without much running liquid left. Discard most surplus liquid if necessary, then add the cherries.

Pour the mix into the baking dish. Add a few small butter shavings on top. Optionally, sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar, then bake at 210 C (410 F) for half an hour. It’s ready when the surface colours and gets nice dark golden edges around the crusty bread pieces.

Let it cool down a little, then enjoy.

Hunters And Gatherers

DSC_0183Locally grown soft fruit is not quite ready yet, and cherries, apples, plums and pears are a long way away. But here’s something you can forage for around the perimeter of most orchards or back gardens right now:

Elderflower Cordial

250 g fresh and ripe Elderflower
1 l water
1 kg sugar
1 unwaxed lemon
1 tblsp citric acid or lemon juice

Mix sugar and water, bring it to the boil. Let it cool down a little, then add the finely sliced lemons, additional lemon juice or citric acid to taste. Now add the unwashed flowers, stir, then cover and let rest in a cool place for 2..3 days.

Now filter the liquid through a muslin cloth and discard the solids. Bring the syrup to the boil, reduce to the desired thickness, then transfer into sterilised bottles.

As always, please forage with care and consideration for private property and the environment.