Saturday, September 14, 2013

Christina Hollis – Hedgerow Harvest

Coe's Golden Drop
After a practically non-existent harvest in 2012, we were hoping for a better year this year. It didn’t get off to a good start. Only two of my colonies of bees made it through to spring. Both were headed by new young queens, but the foul weather last summer meant neither had been properly fertilized. They couldn’t lay replacement workers, so those two hives soon died out as well.  It meant for the first time in  four years the hum of honeybees was missing from our garden. That was sad enough. Then forestry work out in the wood sent the deer in the direction of our garden.  All the lower branches of our cherry, plum and apple trees were nibbled to death. The lay of the land around  here means it’s impossible keep them out, so we resigned ourselves to having no fruit for a second year running. The orchard at Tottering Towers now resembles a Capability Brown landscape in miniature, with trees pruned drastically to livestock-height. We thought things horticultural couldn’t get any worse - until the rodent population exploded. Our cat can cope with the mice and voles, but with the garden encircled by trees, most of the squirrels can bounce out of his reach. When rabbits finally returned to our neck of the woods, it felt like the last straw. 
Then unexpectedly, things began to look up. We finally shook off the cold, wet spell that lasted from winter right through to midsummer. The sun started to shine, and forgot to stop. Our local beekeeping group managed to raise enough new stock to sell replacement colonies to those who, like me, had lost all their bees.  Best of all, our garden went into overdrive.  The blackcurrant bushes produced about double their normal yield of fruit, while the remaining branches of  our fruit trees are bowed down with fruit. Even the damson tree my sister gave us for our wedding anniversary a few years ago rose to the challenge. Unusually, it didn’t have many flowers on it this spring, but just about every one it did have turned into a fruit. They looked ripe last week so I tried one. Big mistake. The taste was so sharp, it made me pucker up like a Siamese cat in a wind-tunnel. It’ll be a while before they’re even ready to turn into jam.
At the moment I’m busy trying to grab windfall apples before the deer can hoover them up. It’s been such a good year for brambles, the hedges are full of them. Here’s a really simple recipe for making the most of this hedgerow harvest. The amount and type of fruit can be varied according to what you have available. You just need to make sure you have about a pound and a half of prepared fruit in total. 

1.5lbs peeled, sliced cooking apples and washed blackberries
Sugar to taste
4oz flour
3oz butter or margarine
2oz demerara (brown) sugar
3oz rolled oats

Put the prepared fruit into an ovenproof dish with sugar to taste and a couple of tablespoons of water.
In another bowl, rub the fat into the flour. Stir in the sugar and oats. Spread this crumble mixture evenly over the fruit, making sure to cover it completely. Cook in the oven for around half an hour at 180°C, (fan oven 160°C) Gas Mark 4, or until the fruit is cooked and the topping is golden. Serve it hot or cold, with plenty of custard, cream or ice cream.

What’s your favourite fruit dish?

You can read Christina's blog at and see a complete list of her published books at


Mary Preston said...

It's been ages since I've had any, but I do love mulberry tarts. Picking them is fun too & you can very easily spot who is eating more then goes in the basket.

Christina Hollis said...

Thanks for commenting, Mary. I love mulberries but I've only ever eaten them fresh or dried, not in a tart. The squirrels don't often leave us many but it's a good year for them this year, so I'll try and beat the little pests to the harvest. How do you make your tarts? Is it just fruit and sweet pastry, or do you add a custard-type filling?

Pat Cochran said...

It's a tie between Blackberry Cobbler and
Strawberry Shortcake!

Pat C.

Christina Hollis said...

HI Pat, thanks for dropping by. Last week I found a recipe which added ground almonds to the cobbler topping, so I'm going to try that one tomorrow. As for strawberries ... they all get eaten straight from the plants here!

Kaelee said...

We have a berry called Saskatoons and I love them made into a pie. I had not tasted blackberries until I was in my 30's but I love them ~ just fresh from the box. Sadly they don't grow nearby but fortunately it seems that I can always get them and raspberries from the supermarket.

Christina Hollis said...

Hi Kaelee - I've never tasted saskatoons, but garden centres have been offering the plants for sale this year. If they are good pie-material, I think I'll try them. Thanks for the tip!

Mary Preston said...

Just fruit & a very light pastry. Generally just over the top in a criss cross strip pattern.

Christina Hollis said...

Thanks, Mary - that sounds perfect for Monday afternoon's tea. I'm hoping to mobilise my family later to shake down any ripe mulberries the squirrels may have left us!