Greengages . . . . at last!
I love greengages.
Until recently I hadn't seen greengages for more than fifteen years. Now you may say that I didn't try very hard but time was when they would have been in every greengrocers. I suppose that is part of the problem - there are very few greengrocers left. A great many of the old trees have been grubbed out and we are left with very expensive fruit from France.
When I was a teenager I used to work in my Dad's greengrocers shop in the school holidays. It was always busy in the mornings but quieter in the late afternoons and I used to sit on a stool reading. In the Summer heat the wooden box of greengages in the window were ripe and perfumed. In the quiet I could actually hear when the skin would split with ripeness - and would just have to eat them! They were absolutely delicious and I have never lost my love of them. Sadly I fear that if I did find them in a shop they wouldn't be ripe as almost all fruit is sold unripe these days.
Not so the greengages that I tracked down in North Norfolk recently. Straight from the orchard, perfectly ripe, looking - and tasting - just as I remembered.
I busied myself immediately with sorting through the boxes, freezing the whole fruit for later makes, put some jam on to cook straightaway and putting the really ripe fruit to one side. I was so hoping that the jam would cook to a pale green and not turn red - and I wasn't disappointed. A beautiful limey yellow shade perfectly reflecting the whole fruit.
Beautiful, golden Greengage Jam - delicious
I have long wanted to bottle some fruit in Eau de Vie - I had sent for a bottle from some cider makers in Cornwall and the bottle had been stashed away awaiting the right moment. This was it - I opened the bottle for the first time and took a tentative sniff, the beautiful soft scent of cider concentrated into a spirit would be perfect for the greengages. I had some smart jars which would make nice products for gifts. You need sound fruit for bottling - well for preserving full stop - but I chose the fruit with perfect skin with no blemishes. I cut them in half, removed the stone and packed them as tightly as possible into the washed and heated jars. I made a simple syrup of water and sugar - half sugar to water - heated to dissolve the sugar. I poured the Eau de Vie into the jars to about a third full and then topped up with the syrup.
Just a question of fitting the lids on loosely and then waterbathing in a pan of boiling water for around 40 minutes. Have the water over the top of the jars if possible - when ready, lift out with jar tongs and tighten the lids. Don't worry if the level of the liquid has dropped - it is just that the fruit has poached in the hot bath and takes up less room. The air will have been forced out during the process and the contents will now be vacuum packed. Leave to cool overnight and then wash the jars off with warm water before labelling. Store out of strong light and enjoy spooned over a rich rice pudding, ice cream or as a delicious crumble.
The really ripe, squishy greengages I cooked without adding any liquid, lifting out the stones as they rose to the surface. Once they were all soft I poured them into the food processor to blend in the skins. I had the shelves in my food dehydrator lined with baking parchment all ready, I poured the fruit pulp onto the paper and smoothed it out into a rough rectangle. The pulp was about the thickness of a slice of bread ( not a doorstep! ) Into the dehydrator for a few hours to emerge as a beautiful fruit leather. No added sugar, just the natural fruit. A great healthy snack for children or for walkers as it is light and won't spill. This can be done in a very low oven but I would recommend that you treat yourself to this piece of kit - it really extends the number of ways that you can preserve food.
Greengage Leather - top: the pulp ready to go into the dryer