Sunday, August 29, 2010


Fine weather at last yesterday, and we were eager to be out, having been cooped up by the rain, and knowing that though the wind and wet would have brought down plenty of the mirabelle plums,  they would also be dirty and bruised and probably wouldn't last long, and there might not be many left now on the trees.

On the way we passed plenty of other usable hedgerow fruits,

such as these wild crab apples.  But we have a very prolific ornamental golden crab apple in the garden that yields more than I can possibly use. The jelly the fruit makes is excellent, deepening to a reddish amber.

Then there were the sloes, glowing blue and thick on the spiny blackthorn branches. These hard, intensely sour wild plum also make a good bright jelly, and best of all the steeped liqueur, sloe gin, which can cheer any winter day. But they can wait, they'll be better for it, and when we go to the Bay of Morlaix in September they will be there in abundance, judging by the amount of blossom we saw there in April, and the insects going to and fro in it.

There were blackberries a-plenty too,

and wilding apples to go with them.

However, I was heading for the mirabelle trees. 

These are not wild trees, or even really indigenous.  These little multicoloured plums were brought to Europe a long time ago from Asia, some legends attribute their introduction to Alexander the Great.  They are particularly favoured in Alsace, and the chillier more mountainous regions, and it certainly seems from this last year that a hard long winter and a late dry spring is to their liking.  Both their flowering and their fruiting seasons are quite short, and in years here when the spring comes earlier but then they are zapped by a late frost, or even when too much rain dampens the blossom and deters the insects, the yield of fruit is poor or non-existent.  This year they have both flowered and fruited late and abundantly.

This hedge of them was planted many years ago, long before we came to live here, by a local farmer or landowner who was said to be fond of the trees, there is another planting nearer the top of the hill.  It's one of my favourite places at all times of year, down a quiet lane, where the field openings offer changing views across the valley, and where, early and late in the year especially, the late afternoon sun falls with a good light.


In spring, the blossom on the trees makes a promising, gentle smoky streak across the green,

and closer to, are delicate and cheering.

Though the season is short, the man planted several varieties, which fruit in succession.

Some are quite a deep red,

some are a lighter, shaded red-gold, and are a larger fruit,

others are the small yellow traditional mirabelles which people tend to know best.

and one or two trees produce these dark purplish plums. I picked these a week or so ago, by climbing, hooking the camera and the dog to adjacant trees ( Mol tends to get bored and wander off among the maize rows, where she then gets lost).

At first I was afraid I was out of luck, much of the yellow and purple fruit was finished, and the windfalls were too rotten and far-gone to be worthwhile.  Other plums remained on the trees, but were out of reach.  But then I found a marvellous bejewelled hoard of red ones, strewn on the ground, a little muddy but very sound, and other corners yielded more of the other kinds.

I gathered several kilos in a plastic carrier bag, the best receptacle as they can be squashy and  messy, which I slung over the stick I'd taken to try to bash or hook them down (fruitlessly!), and carried home, Dick Whittington style, over my shoulder.

I spent a happy afternoon washing and picking them over, then pulling out the stones with my fingers.  By chance I found a good radio programme of Renaissance polyphony to listen to.  Every sense was catered for, and I felt there ought to be a poem in a polyphony of plums...

The larger, more orange-coloured ones were the least ripe, and had a taste a little like nectarines.  The dark purplish ones are sunset orange inside. 

It was most important to get them beyond perishing.  I boiled a kilo of them up quickly with a smidgin of sugar for making jam later,

 the rest being destined for chutney, were mixed in with the statutory pound to a pint (we are between two worlds when it comes to weights and measures, and probably more besides...) of sugar and vinegar, spices added - is there anything more blissful to stick your nose into than a mortar-full of toasted coriander as it is ground? -and left to stand overnight.

So that's the project for today.


Jean said...

Oooh. Gorgeous to look at, gorgeous to think about, gorgeous to taste. Thank you, and enjoy!

christopher said...

Here is the magic of blogging at its best. Thank you, dear.

Zhoen said...

I've heard some of the terms for different plums, but did not know that's what they were. Lovely fruits, gorgeous photos.

Unknown said...

Mirabelle is such a pretty name. I found some in a supermarket once - never again - and made a tart with them. What a fragrant and creative time you have had with all those Autumn fruits!

Sabine said...

What an inspiration! Thank you! I have just been warned by a friend that she will bring over a pannier bag full of mirabellen next week. Now I feel ready for jam making.

J Cosmo Newbery said...

So lucky! I wish our surrounds had such bounty!

Lucy said...

Thanks all, and welcome.

The next couple of hours were spent with all the doors and windows open to vent the smell of evaporating vinegar, and chasing out all the bees and wasps lured in by the same, along with the smells of sugar and fruit!

However, there are now seven glossy labelled pots of jam and chutney on the counter top, so it was all worthwhile. Now I have to be patient about eating up the old stuff before cracking them open. I always want to eat new jam right away.

Rouchswalwe said...

Chutney! A friend and I were just talking about hunting up recipes and trying our hands at making some chutney.

Dick said...

Wow, you are indeed well-served with natural bounty where you are, Lucy! We're just getting into growing and processing our own and we're struggling to harvest our two plum trees fast enough. But there's very little beyond blackberries in the hedgerows.

Glorious pics as usual.

Roderick Robinson said...

Was the polyphony from a French radio source? I never paid much attention to French radio (other than France Inter as a language familiariser while driving to work in the UK), having been influenced by an article by The Independent's French correspondent. He was leaving France after about five years and was listing the pluses and minuses on either side of la Manche. In fact looking forward to switching on and hearing non-pop music instead of endless chat. There seems as if there might be a grain of truth in this but is it fair?

Fire Bird said...

mellow fruitfulness. mmmm

Lucy said...

Hello and thanks R, D and BB.

BBC radio 3 is one of the one's I can still get quite well on my old Phillips FM radio, and that was where this was. In addition I can get any British or other radio station I want, including Listen Again, using the computer as a digital radio, though the sound isn't up to much for music. Consequently I confess to not knowing much about French radio stations at all. There is a classical station located very near R3 on the FM band, which I sometimes stumble on and listen to for a while. But there is an awful lot of chat even on that, some of which is quite hard to follow. Most of the other stations I catch sound fairly awful, the regulation amount of French pop and a lot of very inane wittering.

The only good thing is the anglophone pop they play tends to be about 30 years old and hence my era, plus quite a bit of old reggae which is still very popular here - names I remember as being hot tickets at the student union and open-air gigs in places like Brixton when I was a youngster pop up on roadside billboards here playing in clubs and salles polyvalantes around the countryside! Old reggae bands never die, they just get sent to France, evidently. I'm never tempted to go, but it tickles me to see them anyway.

Lucy said...

Hello FB, missed you there, me old close-bosomed friend!

Roderick Robinson said...

Thanks for that. Radio3 is what counts and it is presently booming away downstairs for Mrs BB as she no doubt simultaneously embroiders a cushion cover and reads something experimental way beyond me. In embracing French culture my one stumbling block has been the music, always excepting the Ravel Pno Cto (played by Michelangeli) , a tiny bit of Messiaen and the National Anthem. My appreciation of pop ceased about mid-Paul Simon so I am unqualified to pronounce on French pop except to say I'd run a mile, or a kilometre. When a government has to step in and enact rules about minimum transmission periods for indigenous music the suggestion is that such stuff is (a favourite French adjective) débile.

I take it the quality of R3 is acceptable; if it isn't you might consider installing a Yagi array, if only for the exotic name. And the kudos gained from the subsequent post. I fear I'm semi-monopolising again.

Anil P said...

I lived your sojourn in your words and pictures of very delectable plums; the abudance of fruit variety you describe is pleasantly surprising.

I liked that pic of the smoky streak.

20th Century Woman said...

I actually began to salivate while looking those luscious pictures of those luscious fruits.

Dale said...


Crafty Green Poet said...

wonderful post, what lovely plums, the trees are beautiful and the fruit looks incredibly tasty

Anonymous said...

Such a feast for the eyes; the colours in the bowl of plums are just gorgeous - I could look at them all day! I've never heard of these fruit before, but I've spied the odd tree in the hedgerows of Ireland with these large reddish/purple fruits and wondered what it was.. I think I've found the answer :)

Sheila said...

Oh, my goodness! This was absolutely amazing. Thank you for sharing these beautiful, beautiful pictures and the fun of walking along with you!