To gather blackberries you must be prepared for scratches and nettle stings. Lime flowers are usually within reach, though wild cherries are not. Sweet little hedgerow plums also come with nettles and sloes grow on the blackthorn.
Walnuts, once you’ve found them, are often in easy reach of the upright human, but the trouble comes later. To prepare them for pickling, the unripe nuts in their green shells – as seen in our last post – must be pricked all over with a fork before steeping in brine for five days. Pricking the nuts releases the juice, which is a very effective fake tan, or rather a fake 50 a day smoker’s tan, such as is rarely seen today. I could wear gloves, if I could find XXXXL size that would not split as I pulled them on. So I’ll go with the deeply unfashionable nicotine addict look.
And I shall join Mrs Turnstone, who gathered walnuts with me, and others who did not, in enjoying the nuts in due season. (Happy Christmas in advance!)
Yes, the power tools are out in force, forcing Mrs M and me to retreat indoors; there a more homely modern technology could be heard: click, click, click at irregular intervals. Jar lids closing on a vacuum as they cool down.
Not, sadly, apricot jam; this year’s crop was appreciated for its scarcity. The glut was of cucumbers and runner beans, so I dug out my favourite piccalilli recipe and adjusted quantities accordingly.
This lacks the day-glow of commercial varieties, but just needs to be introduced to a couple of rashers of bacon to feel fulfilled in life!
This year we made more like 200 jars of apricot jam than 20; never was there such a fruiting in all the years the tree has been with us.
I wondered about the stones: was there a quick and easy way of cracking them open to get at the kernels, used in Italy to make amaretto. Events got in the way of that, but when Mrs T cleared out the shed she found that the wood mice had carried a great heap of stones into a dark corner and feasted on the amaretti. No biscuits or liquor for us, but who could begrudge the mice their treat?
I don’t know why this has been sitting in drafts for weeks, when it’s illustrated and all. Foraging seems a long while ago, with most leaves down and a wind trying to blow them and us away these last two days.
A month ago in Yorkshire, Mrs T and I took a walk which included a stretch of easy going along the old railway above the cliffs. Someone, sometime in the past, must have tossed an apple core from a train onto the bank. The fruit are small; green but with russet patches, and sharp. Maybe someone had been there before us – someone with shorter arms than this writer’s, as the half-dozen fruit I harvested were high above my head.
Added to blackberries and sloes, we have a Yorkshire marinade for Christmas. A good set and sharp enough to counter the sweetness of the goose.
Our local Saint Mildred, a Saxon princess who had a continental education and rejected the idea of a political marriage to become a nun, had her feast this week. She reminds me to harvest the walnuts.
It’s harvest time because right now they have not yet grown their woody shells inside those green carapaces. Off the tree they come to get pricked all over with a fork, then left to steep in brine for a few days before drying off for a few days more.
The juice has stained my fingers to the complexion of a chain-smoker, if only for a few days. But when the nuts are fully dry for pickling they will be as black as the habits of the Benedictine Sisters who live in Saint Mildred’s Abbey at Minster-in-Thanet. By Christmas the nuts will be sweet-and-sour and spicy.
Only the first and third of those adjectives apply to the sisters at Minster!
Saint Mildred from a window at Preston-next-Wingham, Kent. John Salmon
I think George could hear it over Skype – the click as the vacuum pulled down the security button on each jar of Mrs Turnstone’s bramble and elder jam. Before long we will be looking for more clean empty jars as we clear the cupboard under the stairs of all we’ve accumulated over the year.
My 5lb of wild plums must wait to be cooked till I’ve raided the sugar aisle in the supermarket. They came from Ash Lane Crossing. All along our stretch of the old South Eastern Railway the company seems to have planted plum trees in the crossing keepers’ gardens. They survive even when the cottage is long gone, as it is here or at Hamford, where the plums are big and sweet and purple, asking to be pickled. An expedition for another day.
The summer and autumn jams and preserves are already being passed around, extending the common table to family, such as Mrs Turnstone Senior, and friends, like the group we met up with in Wensleydale. One family, one feast, one table, at the root of it all.