grow it cook it preserve it eat it wendy pillar blog gardener grow your own in dorset

Too much of a good thing - September 2015

Is it possible to eat too much fruit? I fear so! With bumper crops of peaches and nectarines I've been eating both flat out since mid July, along with blueberries and cherry plums. Now they have just about run out, but the plums, melons and grapes have arrived. The early apples are here too. I know I'm not going to get a whole lot of sympathy with this problem, but a problem it is as I am really beginning to feel sugar-overloaded, and fruit like melons (even though a very poor crop this year) don't keep and are difficult to preserve.

Preservation is the key, but I decided not to preserve fruit in either sugar or alcohol this year. I still have several jars of nectarine jam from last year, and several other jams too. Processed sugar is so incredibly bad for you, and there's so much natural sugar coming out of the garden in fruit form, that it makes no sense to buy it in for preserving. Peaches in brandy used to be a mainstay for the winter, but recently alcohol has begun to badly disagree with me, and sadly it makes sense to give it up altogether.

That leaves freezing and drying, along with bottling without sugar. Berry fruit like blueberries, blackcurrants and raspberries I tend to pick straight to the freezer as they freeze so well and can be added to my breakfast yoghurt all winter. However, I have three freezers, and they are all full to bursting. Admittedly one is still full of beef from the cow we slaughtered two years ago, and the dog food gets a drawer, as does our monthly delivery of organic chicken from Angel Cottage, but the rest is almost all fruit! Picking small quantities of blueberries into a freezer bag I can tuck them into small corners, but space for large items has long gone.

I have discovered fruit butter in a big way this year. Basically, you cook fruit long and slow without adding sugar until it is a very thick puree that can either be frozen, at a fraction of its original volume, or bottled. Poured boiling hot into hot, sterilized jars right to the top and sealed up quick, it will keep in the fridge until at least Christmas. Bottled into proper preserving jars and water-bathed it will keep in the cupboard much longer, but I can rarely get the enthusiasm up to deal with all the boiling water, steam and scalding hot jars of water. The fridge is now full to capacity though, so canning it will have to be from now on. This year the tomatoes have done so poorly that there has been no glut, despite my 30 plants, so they have not added to the freezer pressure. Any late run on them will have to be canned.

It was never the plan to have quite this amount of oversupply. Produce is not supposed to become onerous, preserving it a chore. Yes I can give it away, and I do, but I work near full-time hours in the garden, on top of a full-time job, and I'm not quite generous enough to do it for the benefit of the neighbourhood in general. Very few people appreciate the value of home-grown produce compared with supermarket stuff. I tried selling it at the gate, but that turned out to be largely giving it away to less likeable people.

The idea is to have lots of different types of fruit (I grow almost 40 species, and several varieties of many of those), in small quantities in a succession throughout the year. Last year I took out most of my blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes, and the volume of this year's crops of these two has been more sensible. And I have just given the peach and the nectarine trees a major prune - involving the chain saw! They were dominating the polytunnel, taking up a lot of work in thinning and picking and overwhelming me with fruit. They are sure to come back, but I'm pretty sure next year there will be no glut! Plus the apricot tree will get some light, and there is room for other crops in between. The policy from now on with all my fruit trees and bushes is to keep them pruned to a sensible size, thin the fruit well, and get small crops of high-quality fruit. No more fruit mountains!

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