'Tis the season of mellow fruitfulness'
While we were wondering around the gorgeous Ariege countryside we spied a family group attired in the unmistakeable hippy attire of chunky hand-knitted jumpers, stripy tights and handkerchief hemline skirts (and that was just the men-folk) topped off with tangled, long flowing tresses. Not an unusual sight in these parts but this particular group were studiously stripping roadside bramble bushes and had gathered a sizeable quantity of blackberries (mûres). “We should do that” said Jeff, “I could make a pie” (stop tittering, he was being serious). “Good idea”, I said, “I'll make jus, sorbet and jam”. And so began the foraging / wild food gathering / food-for-free regime.
To date our shameless pilfering from the wild larder on our doorstep has included sloes which have been teamed with half a litre of Bombay Sapphire to produce, we hope, sloe gin ready in time for Christmas. We have collected several kilos of blackberries and these have been enthusiastically consumed with crème fraiche, stewed and sieved to make a gorgeous, pungent jus which has been liberally poured over melon, nectarine and lemon sorbet. This is in addition to 3 jars of jam of varying sugar content, so that we have a supply of full-on sugary stuff for Jeff and extra-allégée for me. Jeff did indeed make an apple and blackberry pie but it wasn't very photogenic, so you'll just have to believe me here.
The most exciting find to date has been a wild plum tree (prunus domestica for those of you who care about these things) which has yielded the most amazing, sweet plums (called prunes here!). When I told Jeff of this tree laden with mouth-wateringly tasty fruit he said “Are you sure they're edible?”, followed shortly by “how do you know the tree doesn't belong to anyone?”. Well, a quick visual comparison with images in Carol Klein's books and a search of the internet pacified him on the first point and the location of the tree being between the voie verte and the road with no houses visible in any direction placated him on the second. So we have visited this tree twice and I have consumed large amounts of the fruit stewed and made 2 jars of jam. I would like to say that those of you who are coming over to visit will be able to sample some but, in reality, this is highly unlikely as it is absolutely divine and will certainly not last long.
I'm imagining that some of you reading this will be somewhat surprised by the subject matter of my blog so far and are probably wondering where the born-again jam-making domestic goddess has been hiding for the past few years. I have to thank my mother at this point. Not for secret recipes learned at her knee or anything like that, but rather for the gift of a bread maker with a jam making cycle. This incredible machine is in daily use producing either jam or bread. I know, I know its not the same as stirring a jam pan, scraping off scum and wondering if its ever going to set. No. It's fool proof (I think I've proved that), clean, and cranks out consistently good jam. Everyone I speak to in the village is busily engaged in fruit gathering and jam production and in a recent conversation with our lovely neighbour, Aimé, I mentioned my wonderful machine. A look of doubt mingled with slight contempt for the English woman-who-uses-a-machine-to-make-jam crept over his face. Ah well, its going to take a little more than excellent jam to fit in around here.