Saturday, 10 December 2011

Medlar Jelly

Just been making medlar jelly, having cooked, strained and filtered all my fruit in several batches. The fruit was well bletted, so I doubt that there was enough pectin left in the fruit to make a good set, so resorted to using a little pectin just to make sure. If making a butter (just pushed through a sieve, rather than a jelly bag, probably no need to add any pectin, as the thickness of the fruit pulp gives enough body to the paste

Medlars (as many as you have as they don't make a great quantity of jelly)
Stick of cinnamon (if liked)
small orange
2 lemons

Add boiling water to medlars, just enough to cover them. Add a small orange, cut into halves or quarters and a stick of cinnamon. Bring to boil, then turn down the heat and cook for another 40 minutes.
Strain the pulp through a coarse sieve into another pan. You can boil up the remaining coarse pulp again if required, especially if you don't have a great quantity of fruit. Take the strained pulp and strain again using a jelly bag, leaving it overnight.

Measure the filtered liquor and add 700g sugar per litre. Squeeze the two lemons, and strain the juice through a tea strainer. Add pectin and bring to a boil (we used one sachet to 2 litres of liquour). When you think it has reduced enough, test it by cooling a drop of jelly on a saucer. When the cooled jelly starts to develop a skin, it is nearly ready, but leave a little bit longer to achieve a good set. (Alternatively, use a jam thermometer to the setting indicated on the scale if not familiar with jam making).

At the same time sterilise jars and lids in the oven until hot. Ladle jelly into jars, taking care to avoid any scum that inevitably forms during boiling. Fill as near the top of the jar as you can, and screw lids on tightly while jelly is still hot.

The flavour is rather like quince, but more robust, with just a hint of tannin, enough to make it dual-purpose as a desert or meat accompaniment. We've found it quite hard to get completely clear jelly, even with a jelly bag some particles seem to get through.

Friday, 2 December 2011


This is the first time we've ever just sat down and eaten medlars as desert properly. Crops up to this point have either been so small we've just jammed them before fully ripe; the last couple of years I haven't picked any due to illness, which always seems to strike this time of year. I have casually snacked on them, but usually with my mind on other things. The box of hard fruit I picked last week had all 'bletted' in that time, and were completely soft and brown.

They really do taste very good. I know that they really defy description, but the nearest thing in flavour and texture is a fresh date (the very soft Iranian kind, rather than the dried variety, which are much sweeter). We eat them with Bamm dates and Brown Turkey figs, and the flavours went very well together. They have a taste of their own, with a slightly winey quality. They are slightly annoying to eat, they cant really be picked apart with cutlery, so the soft contents have to be sucked out, along with the 3-4 enormous stones.

I don't know what the size of crop was in weight, but it filled two fruit boxes.

The variety I grow is Nottingham; which isn't credited with having a good flavour in many books, but looking at the descriptions of the few available varieties at Keepers Nursery, Hamid Habibi considers it to have a good flavour, though prone to cracking (which I've never had a problem with); I would agree that they have a very short shelf-life once they begin to ripen, but then there's probably a limit to how many you want to eat fresh once the novelty has worn off. They do however make a very nice fruit butter (esp. with a little added cinnamon) and a good base jam for adding to deserts like pear frangipane or Bakewell tarts. I recently came across a recipe for medlar tarte, made with butter and egg yolks added to Medlar butter.

The only other thing is that the foliage of Nottingham is rather small and narrow, so the trees lack the grandeur of the Dutch kind, which have large leaves and a nice habit. Still a very attractive small tree, with excellent buttery autumn foliage colour which lasts longer than most.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Low-fat Christmas pudding and mincemeat

Not really orchard fruit-related, but today I have been making Christmas Pudding and mincemeat. I thought I'd share the recipe, my own which I've developed over the years for various relatives who cannot tolerate excessive saturated fats for medical or health reasons. The feedback has always been very good, even from some who profess not to like christmas pudding, so I thought I'd share.

The most important thing in making any Christmas recipes is the quality of the dried fruit. Don't buy the packs of 'luxury' mixed fruit, regardless of origin. The fruit is often slightly rancid, I don't know why but it must be something to do with the nature of the mix. It always has an acidic, almost pear-drops taste and smell. The mixture is also much too fine. I like a variety of sizes to be able to taste a little of each individual fruit in a pudding, plus it gives it a more open and interesting texture, very different from the denseness of a shop-bought one. Look carefully at the fruit; if it has a whitish coating then it has been in store too long and may taste rancid. Always use freshly-bought fruit, don't be tempted to use up anything left over from last year.

I've never liked adding suet to puddings, it just makes them stodgy and indigestible and highly saturated fat isn't good for any of us. I used to used a little butter to add moistness and help binding, but for a number of years now I've been using dark chocolate as a fat-substitute. The flavour blends well with the spices, and gives a certain darkness of flavour without the burnt flavour. It may sound odd, but it does work well.

This is my usual choice of fruit. You can alter it to your own taste, but this is the mixture I use. When all mixed, I then use half the mixture for mincemeat (makes about 2 1/2 lb) and what is left for the puddings. For puddings alone, half the quantities.

Base Mixture
750g currants
375g pack of Lexia raisins
200g Californian Giant raisins
200g long white sultanas (most Asian/Lebanese shops will have these)
Half a tub of whole candied peel (2 lemon, 2 orange, 2 citron), chopped to about 1-2 cm
About a cupful of crystalised ginger (more or less as liked), chopped
Half a tub of un-coloured glacé cherries (chopped in half)
Rind of one orange, lightly peeled off with minimal pith and chopped
Juice of one orange

Soak this mixture in brandy (or other alcohol of choice) for a few days, stirring occasionally. If the fluid has completely disappeared, add a little more to aid mixing.

Add the following spices to mixture:
2 tablespoons cinnamon
Up to half of a whole nutmeg, grated
1-2 teaspoons of ground cloves (depending on freshness; too much clove flavour will taste rather medicinal)
Couple of shakes of ground ginger

Divid the mixture into two, and set pudding half aside.

Suet-free Mincemeat
Soaked fruit mixture
Juice of 2-3 lemons
2 hard, acid apples (granny smith will do if you don't grown anything suitable), chopped finely
2 large pieces (1/4 bar) of bitter chocolate 70-80% cocoa solids (Lidl's do a very good one), grated
3 tablespoons of Muscovado sugar (or a bit more to taste)

Mix all of the above together, adding a little brandy if it seems to dry. Sterilise several half-pound jars/lids, then fill with the mixture, packing it in quite hard all the way to avoid air bubbles. Fill right up to the top, then pour in a little brandy to fill up any gaps. Best used as soon as possible, though I usually end up using the last of it up months later and haven't died yet...

The chocolate can be omitted for people who cannot tolerate any fats at all, e.g. those with gallstone problems.

For the suet-free pudding

Soaked fruit mixture
3 large slices of good-quality, bread
4 pieces of chocolate (half a bar), grated
Tbsp Marmalade
100g ground almonds
3 tablespoons muscovado sugar
3 tablespoons self-raising flout
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
3 bantam eggs (or 2 hen's)

Put the bread in a cool oven (about 100 degrees) for about 30 minutes, then leave to dry out completely overnight. Crumble into crumbs (either with a mortar and pestle if it's turned to french toast, or in a blender)
Add spices, chocolate and sugar gradually and mix together well. The point of this is that if any of the batter ends up in a lump, it won't taste insipid.

Add to soaked fruit mixture, and mix well, adding marmalade if liked. Depending on how wet or dry it seems, add almonds (more if too wet, less if too dry). It should be very crumbly at this stage.

Whisk the 2 eggs, and stir gradually into the mixture. Again assess how wet or dry, and sift in flour to adjust texture. It shouldn't be either too stiff, too crumbly, or too soggy.

Spoon into greased enamel basins, either one big and one small or 3 small ones (I've just filled one 12 cm and one 16 cm from my mixture). Cover the tops with foil, and place in individual saucepans, or both in a pressure cooker if you have one. Boil for 2-3 hours depending on size, topping up boiling water every half-hour or so (or about 1 hour in a pressure cooker). I don't like the taste of over-caramelised puddings, with a burnt flavour, boiled for 5 or 6 hours, for me it spoils the essential fruitiness of the pudding. Avoid distractions, as it will be a disaster if you forget and let them boil dry. Never be tempted to cook a Christmas pudding in a microwave, the high-sugar content will mean it will overheat in the middle and may catch fire ( I know as my husband tried this once and it did. I've heard other people confess to the same).

On removing, you can top up the basins with brandy if required. I use enamel basins because we have lots, and I like them, but also because the aluminium ones tend to oxidise after a while, which puts me off using them. Glass and ceramic aren't so good as the heat exchange is poor, so they take longer to cook.

For a 100% fat-free pudding, you can omit the chocolate and nuts. For a gluten free Christmas pudding, perhaps use something like Chestnut Flour in place of the breadcrumbs/flour, something I might try myself next year just as an experiment.

Unidentified 'wrong' variety

Well the day arrived when the mystery apples finally started to turn a little yellow and less bullet-hard than they had been. They came from graft wood sold to me as Ard Cairn Russet, a very sweet, slightly dry russet. Clearly the striped red fruit are just about as different a variety as you could get.

The flavour was pure bitterness. We peeled the second one, in case the bitterness was mainly in the skin (as can happen with a lot of red apples, esp. if poorly ripened) but the taste was equally disgusting. The only explanation for this is that it must be some sort of cider variety, probably a bitter-sweet, as there was very little acid in the flavour. The nearest for appearance is Foxwhelp, although this is a bitter-sharp. I suppose we will never know, especially as the dreadful Deacon's Nursery who supplied the wood have refused all communication on the matter of all these wrongly-supplied varieties.

Meanwhile, my in-laws now have a sizeable, heavily bearing tree of entirely inedible apples. If it's not biennial bearing, I'll try making cider from them next year.

Looking for identification guides for ciders reminded me to go to the excellent Gloucestershire Orchard Group, which has an excellent directory of cultivars local to the area, as well as a lot of other information.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Wolvercote Wonder

I counted the number of this fruit on a metre of cordon, it came to 30, all medium-to large and unblemished. I've picked the reddest and shiniest, leaving about 10 that look less ripe.

Tried one which had ripened prematurely due to squirrel damage. Flavour and texture pretty much a generic red summer apple, soft sweet with a slight perfume. I think these will need to be used quickly, will be best on the cusp of ripeness while there is still some crispness and a little more acidity.


Medlar tree has gone butter yellow and looks lovely. Medlars still firmly attached and hard, will leave them a while longer before turning into jelly.

Winter Nellis, evaluation

The very good crop Winter Nellis have all ripened quite rapidly, it's been hard work keeping up with them. The first couple tasted horrid for some reason, bitter and slightly tannic. I don't know why as the rest have been very good. They need peeling as it is one of those varieties inclined to bitterness of the skin, but the flesh is soft, sweet and juicy with a musky flavour; there is usually some tinge of bitterness but just enough to add compexity. What I'd describe as a 'fondante' variety, soft and sweet, when you almost forget you are eating pear and not a sugared sweet.

Golden Russet

I have a new favourite apple. This is the first year that this cordon has fruited, but it has been worth the wait. Superb flavour; crisp, juicy sweet, with a light Egremont flavour. Fruit size is larger, quality good. I imagine they will be good keepers, if we can stop ourselves eating them all. The only problem is that this variety spurs very, very sparsely, and not at all on upward facing branches. Basically, it isn't simply isn't happy as a cordon, it needs to be grown as a bush or standard to accommodate enough of the sparse wood to produce a decent crop. And basically, I need to find more land to grow varieties like this in greater quantity, and to ensure a supply of home-grown apples through until March/April.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

History of pears

Interesting few paragraphs on the history of pears:

About 1730, pear breeding, for which Belgian religious establishments and curés were to become famous, started with the work of Fr Nicolas Hardenport, priest of his native town of Mons. In that year he made an extensive sowing of pear seeds, with the hope of raising better varieties. Now, patience is a prime requisite for those who would raise fruit from the seeds; especially does one who works with pears have to be patient. The old jingle runs: He who plants pears Plants for his heirs.
 The worthy curé possessed this virtue to a superlative degree—he waited thirty years before he was satisfied with the varieties that came from his seed bed. From that time on, for a dozen years, he introduced each year one new kind. Among those attributed to him are Glou Morceau and Passe Colmar—two types still grown to-day. His new pears were a genuine contribution to the world's fine fruits; but even greater was Fr Hardenport's contribution, in that it stimulated the raising of pears in Belgium.
Thereafter, quite a number of the Belgian clergy took up the same pursuit. When the order of Urbanistes was suppressed, in 1783, their garden was abandoned. In it were found several new pears, results of their hybridizations. One that is still grown is called the Urbaniste, in their memory. In 1809, Abbé Dequesne of Mons launched the pear Marie Louise, a variety still grown; and about 1830, Mons. Deschamps, Abbé of the Orphan Hospital at Enghien, raised the famous pear, Beurre d'Arenberg.
 In time these new varieties found their way into the propagating beds of nurserymen, and thence into public and private gardens. Some of them travelled a rather fortuitous route. In England is grown a pear called "Vicar of Winkfield." This was first discovered at Vithers-en-Breune, in 1760, by a French curate who was blessed with an eye for good fruit. Later, it was introduced from this parish into England by another clergyman, the Rev. William Rahm, vicar of Winkfield in Berkshire. 
from The Winter Diversions of a Gardener 
by Richardson Wright

'Wolvercote Wonder' Apple

Today I noticed a bird had pecked a hole in one of the apples on the wild-sown variety I've been trialling (referred to as the 'Wolvercote Wonder' by my other half, in homage to the Borsetshire Beauty). When the birds think fruit is edible, generally that's a sign that even if not ripe to human standards, the fruit needs picking.

I decided to trial this variety on the basis of a few over-ripe, but wonderfully colourful, large apples I found near the railway track about 3 or 4 years ago, a chance seedling from a core thrown from a train, as the land has been scrubby pasture as long as anyone can remember. My memory is that they were very promising, but memory can play tricks of course. This was the first year that my scion was large enough to flower, and the crop was profuse. I thinned them a little, but the fruit size seemed good, and they have all reached large-medium size, about the size of a Gala, and a wonderful deep pink with blue-ish bloom. The bloom started fading about 10 days ago, now they are a wonderful, glossy mid red, one of the most attractive apples I've seen. On a length of cordon of just over metre, there are 25+ fruits, all of good size.

The fruit isn't quite at peak ripeness, the non-blushed side is still green. First bite very crisp, almost to Granny Smith standards, with a densely fruity flavour like Gala. No complexity of aftertaste. Skin a little tough, better peeled, flesh a little chewy once the initial flavour rush has faded possibly just because they aren't fully ripe, but very promising so far. And perfect timing for us, as we have just about run out of other apples, the Rosemary Russet is not quite ready and can be kept until March anyway; November-December apples are just what we need.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Baked or roast quince

RoastI left a box of quinces outside the gate for anyone who cared to help themselves. Later we discovered who it was, when invited to house-warming drinks. Another neighbour thanked us for them, and said she'd used them all for making Nigel Slater's Roast Quince. I have to say I'm immediately suspicious of these sorts of recipes, usually fussy and over-complicated. I have to say all of these sound quite nice (unlike the hideous pear and chocolate crumble that features in Slater's Guardian column this week - what a hideous way to treat Comice pears).

This is our recipe, which differs a little.

4 quinces, peeled, quartered and cored
Large glass of quince wine (or other fragrant desert wine of your choice)
2 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar
1 tsp of powdered ginger and another of cinnamon

1. Poach quinces in sweetened wine for half an hour, or until slightly soft (we put them in the microwave for 10 minutes, turning them in the bowl occasionally.
2. Transfer to a roasting dish, reserving the fluid,
3. Add the fluid to the brown sugar and spice, stir to dissolve (over heat if necessary)
4. Spoon this syrup over the fruit and place in oven pre-heated to 170 C
3. Bake for 40 minutes, turning and basting occasionally with the syrup, until very soft and tender (we turned down the oven to 120 C and left it for a bit longer).

The result is quite unlike anything you will have tasted, the same concentrated quince flavour as Membrillo but with the a unique texture; the caramelised crust reveals a rather chewy coarse, granular, centre with just a hint of the astringency of the raw fruit.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Two more unidentified varieties

Some unidentified apples from my in-law's garden. The apple was supposed to be an Ard Cairn Russet, this tree was the first apple I grafted, from wood bought from the dreadful fruit nursery Deacon's. The tree is about 10 year old now, and this is the first year it has had a heavy crop to evaluate. I'd already had several other trees and graft wood varieties bought from Deacon's turn out to be completely wrong, here is another one to add to the list. The fruits are medium-sized, very hard and greasy, obviously a very late variety. My father-in-law picked them all far too early (he has early stage dementia so can't really be reasoned with) so they may shrivel before they ripen properly.

I've been going through the catalogues, can't find anything that is a particularly good match for appearance/lateness, Winter Pearmain comes the closest, (based on description in Joan Morgan's The Book of Apples).

The other one is from the enormous and ancient pear tree growing on the wall of my in-law's 17th century farmhouse. It only started to produce fruit a few years ago, after I gave them a Conference to see if a pollination partner would induce it to produce fruit. This worked, and some steady work on pruning the monster has gradually brought it back into producing healthy fruit (rather than scabby little things of the first few years).

The tree is probably at least 70 years old, probably older. It's grafted on to Pyrus communis stock. I have read that can have a negative effect on fruit flavour/quality, but without grafting some onto a quince stock, I can't really make a comparison.

The fruit is loosely pyriform, sometimes highly irregular. It has a slightly musky flavour, and a slightly bitter flavour permeates the flesh as well as the skin. Some of the qualities remind me of Gorham, but the season is far too late, they are rock hard through most of October, just beginning to soften now. The descriptions sound like Vicar of Winkfield but it's rather earlier and more highly russetted than the latter. I will have to get Bunyard out and go through all the old varieties again I think.

Pear foliage

pearFoliage of Fondante d'Automne


Monday, 24 October 2011

Sloe gin

Came across a good patch of blackthorn with a good number of sloes, quite a rarity around here. Having seen branches drooping with ones in south Gloucestershire a few weeks back, at a time when we couldn't stop, I was glad of the find. There are lots of blackthorn bushes in the area, but they crop very lightly or, more often, not at all. I think the free-draining gravel soil means that there is little lime available, which stops the kernel forming properly in stone fruit.

I managed to pick about a kilo before the dogs got too bored, more than I needed for the nearly full bottle of gin that has been on the shelf for rather too long now.

Most recipes seem to agree on 1 lb of sloes to 75ml bottle of gin. I prefer to infuse the fruit without sugar, adding after the liquid has been decanted around Christmas time. I don't bother to prick or freeze the fruit, they were very squashy and the cell walls will break down with time.

Here's the recipe written properly
450 g (1 lb) sloes
75 ml gin or vodka (cheapest possible)
300-400g (12-14 oz) sugar

1. Rinse a clean demi-john with campden tablets.
2. Add fruit, sugar and gin, fasten down with a solid bung.
3. Leave for three months, checking and giving a shake once a week or so.
4. Drain fluid into clean demi-john. Taste and add more sugar if necessary, and leave to dissolve for a few days. Decant into a sterilised bottle.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Medlar wine


I've been meaning to try this for a few years but have never quite gotten round to it. The recipe is loosely based on my
quince wine recipe, but with additional spices and some dried fruit to give it body, should the medlar flavour not quite be as mellow as expected.

2 kg (4.5 lb) medlars
enough boiling water to cover
100g sultanas
half orange, including peel
A generous knob of root ginger (2" approx)
half a stick of cinnamon
600g (1.5 lb) caster sugar
250 g (.5lb) muscovado sugar
Desert wine yeast (I'm trying sherry)
2 tsps of pectolase

1. Pick over medlars discarding any loose matter around calyx.
2. Place fruit and spice in stainless steel pan and cover with enough boiling water to cover fruit. Bring to boil and then remove from heat. Leave fruit infusion to steep for a few hours.
3. Strain off liquid through a coarse sieve into another steel vessel. Add sugar and bring to boil. Leave to cool, until luke-warm.
4. Pour more boiling water over the fruit in the first pan, and bring to the boil again. This will be used to top up the volume in the demi-john as required.
5. Make up some sterilising fluid using campden tablets, and rinse a clean demi-john, bung, funnel, fine sieve and airlock in preparation for the cooled medlar infusion.
6. Pour infusion/sugar syrup mixture into the sterilised demi-john, using a finer sieve inside a large funnel to catch any smaller bits of fruit. Remove sieve, leaving funnel. Open yeast sachet and sprinkle about half into bottom of funnel, then do the same with pectolase. Then flush the powder through as you top up the demi-john to just over 3/4 full using spare medlar infusion (or orange juice if preferred). Swirl around a couple of times to make sure the yeast/pectolase is well mixed.
7. Rinse airlock/bung in campden solution again (I like to use campden solution in the airlock) then twist into neck of demi-john as firmly as you can.
8. Place overnight in bowl in sink, or unless you have some idea how vigorous the fermentation may be (it can vary quite a bit, but generally wines with high acid/tannin content seem to be the most likely to 'boil over').
9. Place in cool, dark place for a few weeks until fermentation has ceased, keeping airlock topped up. Once you are sure it has finished, it can be decanted into a clean demi-john and aged for a few more months before bottling.

Not sure what this will be like, having never tried it before. I used firm, un-bletted medlars as an experiment but would be better/safer to use fully-ripened ones. The infusion tasted quite light, spicy and pleasant, but with a highly tannic after taste, probably because the fruit wasn't ripe eonght. I think I'll leave the rest of the crop 'ripen' a bit more before making jelly or a further batch of wine. I'm hoping for something more akin to a sweet sherry-type wine, with a rich colour and flavour. Time will tell.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Pear and Ginger Upside-down cake

This is a variation on the Eve's pudding recipe which makes a very attractive cake.

100g butter
100 g vanilla sugar
50g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
2 bantam eggs (or one large egg)
2 tsp cinnamon
1tsp powdered ginger
half tsp salt
crystallised ginger
1 large, ripe pear (or 2 small pears)
Quince or apricot jam

1. Cream butter and sugar to a soft paste.

2. Beat eggs, and whisk gradually into butter/sugar.

3.Add salt and spices to flour and mix together. Add ground almonds and mix well, breaking up any lumps of almond.

4. Gradually introduce flour/almond mixture into the batter, and fold in until well mixed.

5. Chop up 5 or 6 cubes of crystallised ginger into small pieces and add to mixture.

6. Take a non-stick cake tin, and grease well. Half and core the pear(s), then chop into slices. Arrange these to make an attractive pattern in the tin. Arrange cubes of crystallised ginger to fill in any gaps. Spoon on the cake batter, making sure that it fills all the gaps between the fruit, without disturbing them. Try to get it so that it is fairly level across the tin, so that it cooks evenly.

7. Pre-head oven to 170° C. Place in oven and check after 20 minutes. If the top is looking browned, cover with foil and reduce the heat to 130° C.

8. After 10 minutes, try the knife test to see how well it's doing, and if it is not ready, return it to the oven and continue checking at 5 minute intervals until it is cooked through.

9. When done, remove from oven. If the top has 'caught' in places, these can be sliced off with a knife, and any bumps levelled out so that it will sit evenly when inverted. Next place a plate or board over the tin, and turn it over. Measure 2 or 3 tablespoonfuls of jam into a mug or old jam jar, and melt in microwave. Pour jam on top of cake, and spread out gently to glaze.

Approximately 345 calories a slice, when divided into 6.

Last pear picking

Decided to pick all the remaining pears today, to avoid potential damage from elements, and the last persistent squirrel. Will keep the Winter Nellis in open boxes, as they will ripen gradually from now, but might wrap the Josephine de Malines and Santa Claus in paper to try to prevent too much shrivelling in store, as these can take quite a while to start ripening.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Autumn colours

autumnScabby leaves of pear, Santa Claus and strawberry leaves.


GrenadierThe 2 boxes of Grenadier windfalls are coming to the end of their useful life. At this stage, they are quite palatable for desert use, flavour is full and fruity, though the texture is a bit crumbly. A shame that we inherited a tree that comes at just the wrong time for us.

Pitmaston Duchess

PitmastonThis is the first time this variety has produced fruit, and it has come as a bit of a disappointment. I picked the three fruit, one of which was very large, the size of a Swan's egg, as soon as there was the slightest hint of yellow on one. I left them for 2 days in store, then notice that one had virtually liquefied in that time. We ate the other, which was nothing to write home about. Hopefully I've caught the last one in time, but I can't say I'm impressed. Comice is a similar size, and a much better flavour for both cooking and desert. I grafted 2 maidens originally, both have been very weak growing, susceptible to canker (one succumbed), so it doesn't score well on any count (plus it's a triploid, so not a good choice if you only have one other pear variety for pollination). The tree is only about 4 feet high, so I think I will 'top' it with a more vigorous variety, that might benefit from a weaker-growing interscion.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Santa Claus


I've been assuming the damage on my Santa Claus was due to scab, as (unlike what is says in the catalogues) I find the leaves and shoots very susceptible. This only happens to the ones in my back garden, the front tree (part of an arch) never has this problem on the fruit even though the rest of the tree is scabby. I think I'll pick them soon, they are still very hard at this stage and take a time to ripen but I don't want leave them too long and find they rot from the core (cropping has been light so far so I haven't had much practice with them).

Apple cordons

I think I'm close to admitting defeat on some of my apple cordons. All of my pear cordons are easy to prune and more or less prolific, but some of my apples are really a waste of space. I was advised that M26 is the best rootstock for apples, but I think it is far to vigorous, M27 is a much better stock for supported forms. M26 is a pretty useless stock all round, as it's far to weak and spindly to use as a half-standard form, it needs permanent staking and the branches simply can't support and weight of fruit and are prone to breaking.

Some varieties of apple are fine on cordons, ones that spur freely with compact growth (Sunset is the best in this respect). Most apples are too vigorous and the pruning required to keep a trained form manageable just encourages yet more top growth. With the exception of just a few, most apples fare best with only light pruning to shape.

The more vigorous of my M26 cordons make shoots growth in excess of 3 feet which is just a bit too thick to prune with secateurs; using a lopper results in ugly wounds, and personally I dislike having to resort to a pruning saw. It's a sign that something isn't working.

I will give them one last chance and ringbark the worst offenders next Spring, but I will also graft up some M27 versions of these trees and either make a new cordon, or grow them as bushes now that I have some more space (or both). If ring-barking doesn't work, I think I'll take them out and plant pears in their place.

Golden Russet

This is the first time since this cordon was planted, about 12 year ago, that his variety has produced fruit. It has very sparse growth, with few spurs, and this branch has only come into cropping because it has been bent down in a W rather than a V -shaped cordon. I'm looking forward to trying it as I could do with a late Season russet, as I don't find the Rosemary russets keep their flavour well past Christmas. Looks like roughly a kilo ofunblemished fruit. But as a cordon, it is a disaster, as it it's neighbour Egremont Russet. Both far to vigourous and shy to spur.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Summer pruning!

Made a start on so-called summer pruning, starting with Winter Nellis. I like to prune extension growth away at this time of year as it lets more sunlight in and means fewer leaves end up falling around the trees. Summer pruning should never be done until terminal buds have formed, signalling extension growth is finished for the year, so can be pruned back to the fruiting spurs, apart from long growth required for training in or as graft wood next year. The prunings will go straight on the bonfire.

Sunset - review

SunsetThe real 'star' of this season has been our crop of Sunset, which have ripened superbly well. I'm really impressed by the quality of the fruit, crisp, sweet and aromatic. They seem to have coloured rather more than in previous years, perhaps this explains the lovely flavour. It's sometimes described as a Cox 'substitute' as it is very easy to grow and prolific. This isn't really fair as it's a different kind of apple, juicier and sweeter, but equally good and very heavy cropping. I'll be sad when they are over.

I don't know why I haven't recorded the crop weight of Sunset before, it always produced well, I'd estimate between 3 and 5 kgs

Red Comice - review

RedI think I've been a bit disparaging about Red Comice as a desert pear in the past, so I'm prepared to eat my words. They are superb, the skins are thin and without bitterness, the flesh is like a normal Comice, but rather richer. I think I should have picked them a tad earlier, as some are going a little floury and soft in the middle, but still superb.

Winter Nellis - crop

Excellent crop of 5 kg this year. Although classed as a very late pear, I find they start to ripen quite quickly when picked, unlike the other late pears which do keep well into the New Year.

Friday, 23 September 2011


I'm probably not the only person with a number of mouldy windfalls this time of year, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on what to do with them.

First, leaving them to rot on the ground isn't a terribly good idea. Although it's nice to leave the odd windfall for the birds, it's horrible having a hundredweight of rotting fruit lying around. Fruit can rot anaerobically and produce botulinum toxin which can be fatal for any poultry or birds that ingest it; it can be very slippery to walk over and will attract wasps. If the fruit is affected by pest or diseases, then leaving the spores or larvae lying around just means you will get more of the problem next year.

Ideally any fruit that is diseased should either be burned (not always possible and a potential nuisance to neighbours) or otherwise responsibly disposed of. I put mine in the food waste bins provided by the council. It's virtually the only time we ever use this service, as most other food waste goes to chickens or dogs. Council composting facilities are much better than those that can be achieved at home; they either use large, sealed containers which can be rotated to get even composting at high temperatures, or anaerobically digested to produce electricity.

I really don't like putting large amounts of fruit on my compost heap. Many is the time I've come across a layer of vinegary slime in the middle of otherwise peat-like compost, from a mixture of fruit that just hasn't rotted properly even when chopped up and mixed with straw / manure. If you are going to compost a quantity of windfall fruit, I'd suggest first putting it through a garden shredder, then mixing thin layers in between damp straw to stop it becoming slimey.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Crop: Sucrée de Montluçon

SucréeJust under 4 Kg from my super-productive little stepover this year. I left them on the tree as long as I could this year, and this is the first time they have ripened sufficiently (I usually end up using them under-ripe as cooking pears). Fully ripened they are slightly perfumed, soft, coarse and slightly granular but very sweet, nearer catalogue descriptions. Skins were quite tough and papery though. Ideally this variety needs a long season in addition to a warm location, and picking should be left as late as possible.

Crop: Glou Morceau

glouA tidy 3 kg of these this year, from quite a young cordon, in about 4 year now I think. In previous years I've mostly cooked them as they stay quite hard for so long, but will let these ripen to evaluate them properly this year. A small late mid-season pear with fine texture.

Frass on Quince

I noticed lots of insect frass on the calyces of a couple of quince this year. Quince are famous for having few pests or diseases, so I was a bit annoyed to find this as well as quite a lot of scab. However, on close inspection the damage is mainly on the exterior, extending only a little way into the fruit at the calyx end.

I'm not sure what did the damage, I couldn't find anything among the frass or inside, but I think whatever it was, it's an opportunist bug of some kind rather than a serious specific pest of quince. I'll need to keep an eye out for it, as even this small amount of external damage will rapidly turn to brown rot in store.

New Variety

This is my new variety found in the field beyond the house growing near the railway track several years ago. The windfalls were pretty far gone, all very over-ripe but the appearance and taste seemed good, so I popped back a couple of months later and took a scion. Only a months later, the tree was destroyed as part of the A34 bridge replacement. It's taken several years for the grafted scion to produce fruit.

So far so good. The crop is heavy, a good size without too much thinning. The fruit extremely healthy and has attractive even pink flush all over, which should turn bright crimson later. It will be quite a late one, ready late Oct-Nov but not a long keeper if my memory serves me right. It will fill the gap between the mid-season varieties and the those that ripen in the New year. Fingers crossed it tastes as good as I remember!

I regularly look for self-sown apples along side roads and tracks. Most are healthy and vigorous and edible to some degree but usually have some flaw that lets them down (tough skin, lack of sweetness, lack of size etc), this is the first I've thought worth grafting to evaluate further.

Crop: Bishop's Thumb

pearHad been picking an eating these without thinking, so I thought I'd weigh the last few and estimate the crop. We had at least a dozen on the half-grown arch in the front, so I think the crop was at least a Kg. I left some too long on the tree, which meant the odd one had gone brown from the core, but those that were just right had a magnificent 'fondante' quality, very sweet and soft. The flavour would have to be described as 'bittersweet', there is a hint of bitterness but it doesn't detract from the overall flavour. The texture is soft and rather coarse, the antithesis of a 'butter' pear but I find they make a nice contrast in a mixed pear platter.

Quince Jelly

QuinceNearly all the windfall Quinces bubbling away in a large pan. Recipe to follow.

Crop - Vranja

A very heavy crop of Vranja. However, the quality was rather below par this year. As the set was very heavy, the average size was smaller than usual, but the northern side of the tree was very badly affected by brown spotting which I think must be pear scab (as the pears were also affected to a greater extent than usual). The black spots are mostly surface deep, but on a couple of fruits they do extend into the flesh with cracking of the exterior as in pear scab. I thing the peculiar season probably encouraged this (very high temperatures early on made for some very soft growth which couldn't withstand more humid conditions later on). However, I think I need to open up the centre of the tree to increase ventilation, as it has become horrible congested in the last couple of years.

Quince - Sobu

This is my second half-standard quince tree, Turkish variety Sobu. The reason I added another quince variety despite having a large, productive tree of Vranja is that I hoped it would be of a higher quality, for cooking and exhibition. Certainly for the latter, the fruits are large, smooth skinned and a regular shape. The only problem is that they don't ripen on the tree, but stay green until they drop. I think in future I will need to pick in early September and bring inside to ripen/yellow in time for Autumn shows. The other slightly annoying thing is the amount of 'bloom', impossible to pick without damaging. However, it does 'polish' off very easily.

One of the probles with some quinces is that they remain very woody next to the core, which can be quite a large proportion of the fruit, so the best quality ones have a small core relative to flesh which makes preparing them before cooking much easier.

I cut one open, and it was quite easy. The core is small in relation to the flesh area. However, this one had bruised internally without showing any sign externally.

The tree has only been in about 3-4 year, so cropping is very light, half a dozen fruits of varying sizes.