Outside the Backdoor

Observing what can happen in your own garden even in suburbia!


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September brings …

Warm September brings the fruit;  Sportsmen then begin to shoot.

You may be relieved that I am not going to write about shooting here.  A far too controversial topic for a garden blog!  Far more interesting and rewarding to talk about fruit.

Raspberries in the garden (c) Elizabeth Malone

Last summer I found myself blackberry before starting work!  It was one of the joys and surprises of working from home, heading out for a walk before the endless screentime and Teams meetings, and in July coming home with a bag full of fruit!  However, it was early July, far too early for blackberrying.  Whilst this summer will no doubt be remembered for being wet and grey, it has produced fruit closer to the time of year we used to expect.  Blackberrying this year has definitely been an August pursuit.  Both this year and last, it has been a joy to see blackberrying being passed down the generations.  On various walks we have seen people of all ages filling the ubiquitous plastic bag with berries and heading off literally red-handed!

Out and about blackberrying (c) Elizabeth Malone

This year we are also lucky enough to have an abundant supply of blackberries at the far end of the garden.  This is a mixed blessing.  Twenty years ago we spent many hours hauling out bramble from this overgrown and chaotic area of the garden.  Now it seems that some of it is back, delighted to have been exposed by some judicious pruning of a giant laurel.  We are hoping that we can contain it and manage it in such a way that it will continue to bear fruit in future years without taking over the entire garden.

Washed and drying! (c) Elizabeth Malone

Last year was the first time we added bramble jelly to our jam-making repertoire.  We were inspired by a commercially bought jar and thought ‘we can do this!’  We already had the jelly strainer and stand from our crab apple jelly making so all we needed to do was delve into our ancient but trustworthy Good Housekeeping recipe book which is full of ideas for jams and jellies.  In our eagerness to ensure a good set, it would be fair to say that the first batch came out a little, eh, stiff!  It tasted delicious but it was firm enough to support walls!  We have learned from this and the batch made last weekend is a lovely light, easy spreading consistency!

Deep, dark blackberry juice dripping (c) Elizabeth Malone

Blackberries and raspberries have certainly been the winners on the berry front this summer.  The less said about strawberries, the better – too wet!! Although we worried at the start of the raspberry season as it was so wet and we found that the berries were turning mouldy before we had time to pick them. A more pleasant benefit of the rain turned out to be a surprisingly good crop of cherry plums which were the first fruits this year to make us get our jam making it ready.

Jam ready for potting up (c) Elizabeth Malone

Cherry plums are small, dark red on the outside but glowing orange on the inside. They are also extremely sharp! Too sharp for even enjoying in something like a crumble. Believe me, we have tried it! If you enjoy you jam with a slight tang to it, cherry plums are for you!

Now as we head into September we are starting to watch the crab apple tree with interest. Fruits that seemed quite small only a week ago, are now starting to look a good size. The longer you leave crab apples, the more juice you tend to get for the jelly making process. That said, there are limits. Into October is good, but by November the fruits are falling off the tree and are better suited for bird food or potentially wiring into an Advent decoration. But let’s not even mention the ‘C’ word just yet!

Crab apple ‘Laura’ in fruit (c) Elizabeth Malone


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In praise of Laura

Laura is a bit of a star!  Laura is our crab apple tree and, no, we have not named her!  Laura is simply the variety … but it has caused confusion on a number of occasions!

Crab apple Laura in fruit

We chose and planted Laura about 8 years ago having been inspired to plant a crab apple tree by a friend’s jelly made from the very popular John Downie crab apple.  We weren’t entirely sure if we wanted to make jelly and we were also concerned that at John Downie could get too big in our garden.  So we decided to research alternative varieties.

Crab apple Laura in bloom

Laura in bloom – Copyright John Malone

We wanted to keep our options open with regards to the jelly making but we also wanted attractive blossom in the spring and ideally autumn colour – not much then!  For jelly making, you need to plant a variety that will produce sensible sized fruits.  You cannot, for example, easily make jelly from a tree that produces crab apples the size of a grape!  When we discovered Laura, she sounded perfect with dark red fruits about the size of a ping-pong ball.  The lovely thing about dark red fruits is that you also get dark red jelly!

Crab apple jelly

Laura has really flourished and every spring we enjoy her stunning deep pink and white flushed blossom and summer by summer she is getting more and more prolific so that we are literally picking bucket-loads of fruit!

Our jelly is made very traditionally using a recipe from a 1960s Good House Keeping cookery book but also following their hot tip which is to add about 3 cloves to the fruit when cooking.  Any more than that would be overpowering but this just gives a slightly warm note to the overall flavour.  I also highly recommend purchasing a jelly straining kit such as the one from Lakeland.  The first year we tried this, I attempted to set up some Heath-Robinson style affair and, goodness me was it messy!  My other hot tip is, do not forget to put your bowl underneath the strainer before pouring!!  (Yes, that is the voice of experience …)

Of all the trees in our garden, I think it would be fair to say that it is Laura that gives us most pleasure.  We enjoy looking at her, we enjoy eating the end product, and she has been a very easy plant to care for with just a little pruning required to keep her in tip-top shape and to ensure she continues to fruit well.

Crab apple Laura in Spring

Crab apple Laura in Spring – copyright John Malone

Should you be inspired to acquire Laura for yourself, she’s not easy to track down but a quick Google search shows that she is currently available from Ken Muir and Pomona Fruits amongst others.