Jamtastic: Making the Most of Autumnal Fruit
Posted on November 21, 2018
When the nights have well and truly drawn in and any venture outside is unimaginable at night without at least a coat and a pair of gloves, there is still one thing to remind us that the final glowing embers of late summer aren’t quite a distant memory just yet.
A stroll along the canal, a walk through the countryside or a visit to a friend with a bountiful garden might have meant spotting a familiar autumnal sight: fruit trees laden with ripe apples, plums or pears and hedgerows bursting with berries and currants.
Long hours of sunshine over the middle period of the year concentrated in a small, sweet, edible form, now presenting itself in considerable abundance. For someone who knows of a local fruit tree round the corner or is lucky enough own one themselves, the problem isn’t getting hold of some of this juicy, ready-to-eat produce but what on earth to do with it all after it ripens in the space of a few weeks.
Letting it just thud to the ground or shrivel up on the branch to go to waste just doesn’t seem right (unless you’re part of the local wildlife who will munch on them gladly) when it could be put to such good use. Here are a few ways of getting the most out of your autumnal fruit haul and seeing that free food doesn’t go the same unfortunate way as too much of our shop bought groceries: in the bin.
Cooking fruit down with sugar and storing it for a later date is an age-old technique, but one that remains timelessly popular and worthy of use from toast to teacakes and pancakes to puddings. These methods might be pushing the boundaries of what constitutes one of your five a day, but converting a humble plum or blackcurrant to something more decadent and luxurious to dollop on your breakfast or drizzle over dessert is as noble a use as any - especially if it means keeping nature’s produce from going to waste.
Liz Gouneea from Pip & Peel in Sheffield makes and sells a range of preserves at various regional markets and offered us some of her own insight: "Always use fruit that is ripe but not damaged as it will give you a greater depth of flavour for your chosen preserve."
The classic jam is simply chopped up fruit boiled down with a little water, sugar and additional pectin if needed, resulting in a semi-firm mixture that still retains some semblance of the original ingredient. Slightly underripe fruit is ideal for this method as it will bring about a slightly fresher taste and naturally contain more pectin.
The more elegant jelly starts off similar to jam but is then strained through a special cloth to extract a clarified, concentrated juice. This is then boiled off to thicken, resulting in a firmer set texture to its more rustic sibling when scooped out of the jar. This is a great option if you’re cooking up a treat for someone who isn’t all that keen on the real fruit pieces but still likes to spread something sweet on their breakfast toast.
A compote, on the other hand, is fruit stewed down but not always jarred, instead used directly on food dishes as an extra flavour component on both desserts and main dishes; think crumbles, pies and pasties. That doesn’t mean to say you can’t freeze it for later use though!
Lastly, the often confused conserve is merely a jam made up of a mixture of different fruit, occasionally including other ingredients like nuts. There are no rules with this so it may well just be a case of working with what you have or what takes your fancy at the time. The key is to simply get creative and enjoy the ‘fruits’ of your labour.
Liz told us her preferred use for different source ingredients: "I like to use quinces to make jelly, damsons for jam and plums in jams and chutneys. Apples have a huge variety of uses - a lot go into my chutnies and herb jellies, and I also cook down leftovers and freeze the puree for later use in puddings and cakes."
While simple, it is a great tried and tested approach and there’s nothing wrong with experimenting with extra fruit, herbs or spices to bring in a wider range of taste combinations. A little wine or liqueur in the mix wouldn’t go amiss either.
In Sheffield and other surrounding areas, there are organisations and projects who promote community food redistribution:
Grow Sheffield: Abundance collects, shares, cooks and processes fruit which may otherwise go to waste from across Sheffield. Volunteers will pick the fruit and then distribute it within the community to places like food banks, lunch clubs and support centres. They also cook, preserve or juice any left over fruit. When volunteers pick from trees in private gardens, they leave 10% of the fruit for wildlife and when they pick from public trees, they leave a third so there is still some available for the community.
Leeds Urban Harvest collects and processes surplus fruit seeks to promote the pressing of autumn apples into juice for general consumption and reduce the amount of waste produced each year. Organiser Roland told us: “We wanted to demonstrate that something good can come from waste and are now hiring out equipment for people organising their own collection and pressing days.”
Another excellent - though less well trodden route - for a bumper autumn fruit crop is to opt for pressing into juice, to be either drunk fresh or, for the more adventurous, fermented into cider, perry and similar.
Roland from Leeds Urban Harvest says: “We try to help people see the potential in their waste apples, show them how fun it is to make apple juice and develop their skills in pressing.”
For juice that will be drunk as-is, it will need to be pasteurised for longer keeping, whereas fermentation requires a wider array of equipment for straining and bottling, but a small home production outfit is within the realms of possibility.
Sharing is caring
Lastly, if you’ve really run out of ideas on what to do with your bumper crop, head on over to your neighbour or a friend’s house and give them a welcome gift. This is a kind and thoughtful gesture and a good way to make sure your final haul doesn’t go to waste. People with children can put a piece of fruit in their school packed lunch and there may be someone living on your road guarding a killer recipe for the perfect jam. Who knows, you may end up getting some of it back in a sealed jar.
As Liz says, "I love this time of year for not only the abundance of fruit and vegetables, but for all the berries on the trees and in the hedgerows - not only for us to use but also for the birds and small animals to to save for winter." We'd tend to agree.