A WINDFALL! The heady excitement of the word and all the lovely surprises that might be contained in it! That is, if you are talking of the version that might gloriously occur when your annuity matures (I reveal my monopoly-inspired understanding of finance), or someone rich but distant dies and leaves you one.
However, strike these stirring notions from your mind, because what I really mean is this:
No, this kind of windfall
Fruit that’s fallen from the tree. In our garden I suspect the wind was not so much to blame as a few heartily thumped footballs, but nevertheless they’ve taken the proactive route to harvesting by making their own way down.
These bruisers are not beautiful enough to merit a place in the fruit bowl: anyone who ever had children knows that “Just eat around it!” is a meaningless and limp plea on a par with “But spinach is a super-healthy food!” and “If you feel so angry you need to hit someone, try a pillow instead of your brother”. But we mustn’t waste, and I need to do something with them. So they, along with their plummy neighbours, have been the main focus of my attentions for the past month, a really demanding item on my To Do list with a finish-by date of yesterday and an accompanying crowd of fruit flies as incentive.
Lest we forget… there is peeling and stewing to be done
The plums came first, about a month ago, when we noticed that some of the branches had snapped off and the leaves had all turned brown. The fruit clustered like outsized bunches of grapes, and all seemed to ripen at exactly the same time. We sorted and sifted into Fruit Bowl and Other piles. The Fruit Bowl pile was fit for giving away to neighbours, and for health-bullying tactics at home. I overheard Tim pounce one morning on a house guest, “Ali! How many plums have you had today?” It was only eleven and she’d already had four. I needed to devise a plan of action before our friends started avoiding us.
Wary of potential maggotty surprises, I dutifully sliced and de-stoned the first few kilos of Other pile, stewed the fruit and started packing it all away in the freezer, for a day in the future where we might again actually welcome the prospect of plum crumble.
Amazingly, there were no internal grubs apparent, so the next step was jam. Having never attempted it before I had always backed away from the seeming-insurmountable challenge of sterilising jars. But by then Mum was staying with us, and so it turns out that sterilising jars actually just involves putting them in a low oven for 20 minutes. Buoyed up by the simplicity of it all, I decided to make my own once she’d gone. It really is incredibly easy!
My next set of jars came from The Mighty Pound just around the corner, a most amazing emporium filled with homewares like you wouldn’t believe, including duvets, drill bits, artificial flowers, suitcases and plastic chairs, pretty much none of it tasteful. But all very useful.
Off for a spell in the oven
Then I cooked up the whole plums in a little water until soft, stirred in insane amounts of sugar (equal in weight to the plums) and boiled until it was all getting sticky.
The jars were ready and the jam had reached its crucial setting point, so I slopped it all into the pots. Little greaseproof hats topped them while they cooled, and then later in the evening I screwed on the lids.
Slapdash paper circles due to looming swimming lesson deadline
Other recipes I made with the plums included Spiced Plum Cake for Tim’s birthday, Plum and Frangipane Tart, a Plum Fool, Plum Cobbler, Chinese Plum Sauce (featured in the background of my jar shot above), and Preserved Plums, which do look rather impressively gift-y. I might have made more of these, surely a Christmas present staple, but as dramatically as it all began, the tree was empty. Suddenly, it wasn’t all about plums any more.
We’re not lookers, we’re cookers
It was apples. And we’re not finished yet.