Fruit and Nuts
September brings the very pleasant days of early autumn.
The apple harvest is gathering pace and the very early
varieties, such as Exeter Cross have already finished.
It's easy for other fruits (and nuts) to be overlooked.
My plum tree (variety unknown) is fruiting now. It's
only about 10 years old and has been prolific for the past 5
years. I have to support some of the branches so that
they don't break under the weight of fruit, which is sweet and
juicy. I need to put a tarpaulin on the ground to catch
the windfalls. The only care that it gets is some
summer pruning to encourage it to develop a good structure that
will allow light and air to the fruit.
The plum seems to cope well with the Devon hill climate, except
that it doesn't like waterlogged ground and I lost a young plum
tree in the wet winter a couple of years ago.
As usual a tree like this can suddenly provide you with a glut
of fruit. I haven't gone through the process of drying
plums but I've found that freezing them works well, after they have
been halved and stoned.
Plum, or maybe plum and apple, chutney is worth making.
Plum pie, or maybe the traditional plum cobbler are also possibilities. I've
also discovered that up in the 3 Counties they used to brew a plum
cider, called plum jerkum, so I can see that be an innovation
for Snoring Dog Cottage
The damson (a sub species of the plum) also does
well around here and can produce bumper crops.
The trees seem much more straggly than the fairly upright
plums. Their seedlings turn up along every fenceline where
the birds take a rest and where they have escaped into the wild or
hybridised they might be called 'bullace '. Too small and sharp for good
eating, the damson goes for jams or brewing and distilling. My old damson trees have
straggled all over the place, often borne down by the weight of
fruit. They seem to be very susceptible to wind damage,
usually when the wind comes from an unusual direction. The
timber twists in the wind without breaking. Sad though it is
to lose a tree, the damson wood is very hard and the hottest
burning I've come across. Good for saving for a yule
log, or maybe a turner or carver might like some.
I have no experience with another related fruit, the cherry,
though neighbours here have had a record crop this year.
Generally you are always competing with the birds for that
particular fruit. There is a sweet cherry, called the
mazzard, which is particularly associated with
North and West Devon and if you visit the village of Landkey try to find the mazzard orchard or
'green' of 65 trees planted in 2000.
I'm also not having much success with a Conference pear tree,
though to be fair it's not in a very suitable site. Pear
trees grown as espaliers against sunny walls seem to do
Crab apples are another possibility for the garden. Their
blossom and fruit are very pretty and they are a good pollination
aid for apples. They also don't need a lot of space. I have
varieties John Downie for pink/red fruit and also Golden
Hornet. The birds will love these fruits.
Neighbours have tried growing ancient fruits such as quinces and medlars with mixed success. I'm thinking
of trying kiwi fruit and, in a polytunnel, peach.
The widespread reference to 'nutting' in folksong suggests that hazelnuts from coppice woods could have been an important
part of past diets. Nowadays some folk suggest that
increasing the nuts in our diets is a good way to feed ourselves sustainably. Transition
Town Totnes has had a nut tree planting project for some
I've planted a variety of the native Hazel called 'maxima' - the cobnut. I must admit that I'm not
expecting a great crop because of the attention they get from grey squirrels. George Monbiot has
suggested that we eat more of these pests.
Chestnuts have also been an important food
source, certainly on the European continent and in the U.S. and
chestnuts have been included in woodland
agriculture projects. In the Devon hills chestnut trees thrive but they don't produce
large nuts. I've experimented in germinating French, Italian
and Chinese chestnuts sold in the shops but I think the trees
prefer warmer, sunnier climate.