Displaying items by tag: cherries

    If you didn't read my last post about "what would you wait 14 years for?" then you probably don't understand just how unprepared we are for this harvest. We harvested 6Kg yesterday, and another 3Kg today, and we haven't even done the "low hanging fruit"  yet. (I actually mean that quite literally).

    So what do you do when your cherry tree has easily produced something akin to 50-100Kg of fresh, viable cherries? Obviously eat as many fresh as possible, but no one can eat such a glut, without severe repercussions (and I do speak from experience). However, eating everything is impossible, especially when it's only going to be good on the tree for another week or so. Oh, did I mention that front yard of strawberries is producing 20-50 strawberries per day? (That should continue until the new year) Our blackberries, loganberries, raspberries, figs, nectarines, peaches and apricots are mere weeks away from harvest too. Christmas time is indeed a busy time of year! Even without the Christmas "spanner in the works" and all that it includes.

    Enter the food preservation frenzy!

    Just "Jammin"

    Ok, we're highly experienced when it comes to making apricot jam. However, cherries are a new addition to our schedule. Making jam in on one batch, I call it a "jam session". However, when making it in excessive quantities, in multiple batches, sometimes concurrently, other times, in rapid series over days, or even weeks, I have to make some sort of fun out of it. To my pun-tastic and groan-worthy-joke-oriented mind I like to call such an undertaking: a "Jam-boree"... usually because we get some friends over to help, and it always makes things more fun! Pipping cherries by yourself for hours on end... not so fun... unless you're listening to all the songs your partner doesn't like, and nibbling a scary amount of the freshest cherries you've ever had. Let's face it, I picked them after all!

    Messy bench showing many cherries in varying stages of being cleaned, stalked, pipped, and prep'd
    Top Left: A view from atop a ladder, amongst the cherry branches. You might think that all cherry picking is the same, but it's not. The further from the ground, the slower going it becomes. You have to keep climbing down to move the ladder, instead of just walking over and reaching up for the lower branches. Wind in branches can really knock you around when you're on a ladder, and move more and more as the branches thin out. This can make grabbing the cherries you want quite difficult as they sway in and out of reach.
    Top Right: Cherry preservation happens to be very messy and involved. It's totally the cherries fault.. Note the pot full of cleaned, stalked, and pitted cherries right up the back. That's all me. :-)
    Bottom Left: This is a 50cm wide colander with cleaned and stalked cherries.
    Bottom Right: Reducing the cherries and sugar into a delicious jam can take quite some time. I recommend keeping a better eye on it than I did... noting the jam on the edges.

    In light of the massive surplus of cherries, and other fruit bearing down on us in the coming weeks, I bought 20Kg of sugar, 10 packets of pectin (also known as "jam setter".. which is branded and erroneously spelled "Jam Setta"... <cue spelling error-based cringing here> which if you're interested, helps to ensure a nice thicker consistency to the end jam. Making jam is simple, making jam well is not so easy. Making a good jam is a balancing act between batch sizes, the speed of reduction, and how far you reduce it down. If you don't reduce it enough, you get a syrup. If you reduce it too far, you get fruit-flavoured toffee. All of them are delicious, but the applications for the final extreme-end products can be severely limited.

    What we've learned about jam making from hard-won experience:

    1. Larger batches in "one big pot" will take forever to reduce. If you don't consistently and frequently (by frequently I mean almost constantly) stir it, you'll burn the jam on the bottom before you know there's a problem. It is a major pain to clean up a burned jam pot. Wren and I highly recommend you limit it to 4L at most in one pot when you're just starting out (there's no reason you can't have multiple pots though). Using non-stick or stainless steel woks work, as do paella pans. The shallower depth will accelerate the reduction, but they're not as shallow as most frypans/skillets, which easily spill if you stir/boil too energetically, or fill it up too far (which is very easy to do). Regardless of your cooking implement of choice, ensure you only have it on medium heat at most on a small or medium sized burner/element. You're aiming for a slow simmer, not boiling.
    2. You'll get better and more consistent results with smaller batches.
    3. Slow and steady is far better than trying to rush. Make sure you have enough time to complete this task. Interruptions can get very messy.
    4. You can sterilize your jars and lids in boiling water, this is a great idea if you have swing-top lids with soft rubber seals. However, we find it easier to just put clean jars (and corresponding lids) together on the shelves in our oven and set the oven to 105 degrees for half and hour. If the gaps in your shelves are too big and lids fall through, try putting them on a baking tray/pizza stone/even one of those wire cooling racks people use for cakes. Timing the jam and jars is important. You need both the jam and the jars to be hot when you fill the jars so you don't crack the glass when you pour it in. Waiting until they're cool to fill them will not seal the lid, nor will it be properly sanitized. Once a jar is full, immediately and tightly put the lid on before you start pouring the next jar.

    Yesterday, we turned that 6Kg of cherries into roughly 12 jars of cherry jam.

    Chillin', Churnin', and Jammin'

    We started making a batch of home made cherry ice cream last night, we finished it this afternoon. The process was quite involved. We weren't sure about this new recipe, so we only used 1.6Kg of cherries, 3/4 of a cup of sugar, and roughly 400g of thickened cream. After blending, reducing, and simmering, we only have 1.5L of ice cream to show for it at this stage. It should be ready for serving by tomorrow. Making ice cream is basically blending fruit into pieces or even puree, reducing it down to thicken it up, adding sugar and cream, simmering it to ensure the sugar is dissolved, then churning it and freezing it at the same time. Then just freezing it to both store it long term, and to firm it up some more.

    Then we made another 8 jars of jam after dinner. I expect we'll make another 30 or so jars of jam before we're done, and freeze another 10Kg of cherries for later use. Cherry relish has also been discussed. However, for each batch of cherry-based products, I can spend anywhere between 20 minutes, and an hour just picking the fruit. Then washing, stemming, and removing the seeds can take another 30 mins to 1 hour, depending on the harvested amount.

    Day three of "Cherrylimpics" We've had the "warm up" jam batch. The mad sprint-like work on the ice cream. Now we're going for the marathon of cherry preservation. This time, it's not a team sport, it's largely a solo effort. So I spent 5 hours picking cherries today. Picking nearly 20Kg, I then spent another 3 hours pitting cherries. When Wren came home from work, we made another 12 jars of jam, and we're in the process of freezing 5Kg of pitted cherries for future use. I'll do another 5Kg tomorrow.  That leaves about 4Kg for another batch of ice cream.. I'm thinking I'll add some chocolate chips to it. I have chocolate, a grater, and arms threatening to fall off after a day of fruit picking, cleaning, pipping, and preserving. What can possibly go wrong?!

    I'll keep this updated, and add more pics when I can.

    Stay safe, and have fun!

    Ham.

     

    Published in Food
    Tuesday, 26 November 2019 09:50

    What would you wait 14 years for?

    It seems like a pretty serious question, doesn't it? 14 years is most of a childhood. When we look at ourselves today, can we even imagine how we each will change in the next 14 years? It's roughly one sixth of a life... unless you happen to be my favourite 105 year old... who has lived through two world wars, with the depression in between, the first Australian radio station, TV, the first transistor, and all the technology and drama afterwards. The stories she tells, and the "Aussie battler" sense of humour is both inspiring, and humbling....but back to the question at hand....

    Wren bought her home in 2004 "off the plan". It was completed late that year, and after she moved in, she planted two trees in early 2005... one apricot, and one cherry. (Don't worry, she chose a variety of cherry that does require a second tree to fruit). Now the trees are fully grown, and the apricot has been nigh on bullet-proof. It produces an average of 30-50Kg of edible fruit a year... factoring some loss to the wildlife like possums, bats and birds. Some years it's less, and other years been enough to bend branches to the ground. Let's just say that we're experienced apricot jam makers... when we finally get sick of the fresh fruit. However, the cherry tree has been a completely different story...

    This cherry tree has been an epic saga, of dogs digging it up, pests, leaf curl, rain damage, storm damage, cockatoo damage, and almost every other dilemma you can imagine. Yet Wren has persisted, and with a few years of my help, we've managed to beat back one problem after another, until the problems are either eradicated, or substantially reduced. Now please note that we do NOT spray chemicals in our garden, and this choice means that the typical "kill everything with spray" isn't an option, so it requires a bit more thought and care.

    Lessons learned the hard way:

    1. Pet management is needed for younger plants:

    Wren spent years fostering homeless dogs. Now as you'd imagine, many dogs who come from broken homes have issues, poor training, and some long-established bad habits. Wren mentioned that dogs frequently would dig up the garden, rending garden and trees alike decimated. The back lawn looked like a mini moonscape with holes, divots, and other ankle-destroying landscape features. I shudder to think how many hoses and hose attachments Wren bought over the years. Fencing off trees is something I would recommend if you have digging/chewing-prone pets... whether that's dogs, chickens or something else entirely.

    2. Soil health leads to plant health:

    Canberra is not renowned for its high quality soils. In fact, in most suburban areas, there's a heady mix of clay, rock, and builders fill that lies mere centimetres from the surface. Wren dropped this cherry tree directly into this soil, and I'm going to be honest here... she wasn't exactly gung-ho on the watering and soil conditioning front. It survived, but I wouldn't say that it thrived.

    In 2017, I did a Permaculture course, and using my new found knowledge, decided to turn the largely unused lawn space into a garden for herbs, vegetables, and fruit. So I carpet mulched the lawn to kill it, then added mixed compost, manure, and straw, on top of that, and then layered another layer of mulch for effect. I then ran several lines of "dripper hose" along the length of the former grass areas to encourage soil moisture, worms and microbial activity. Six months later, the trees showed a visible sign of improvement, namely in surprisingly rapid growth, beyond what we had seen in previous years. A healthier plant is less likely to suffer from disease, or if it does get one, the effect is mitigated, slowed, and perhaps more limited to a smaller section of the tree.

    3. Pest management instead of pest eradication:

    This tree has suffered from "Cherry slugs" for many years. Flies lay their eggs on the leaves in early summer, then the "slugs" eat the leaves until there's literally nothing left, and then grow into flies, mate, and the eggs fall to the ground as they're shed in autumn, they lay dormant there until spring, some slugs crawl their way back up to the tree, or were laid in the tree already.. and the cycle starts itself over again. By allowing our kiwi fruit vine to grow up the tree, planting lemon verbena and garlic at ground level, and spraying "Neem oil" extract on the tree, the biodiversity of the leaves from various plants, along with the strong fragrance of the neem, verbena and garlic, confuse the pests and make it harder for them to find the tree. There's a lot of merit to separating trees with different plants in between, and the results are not only less problems, but staggered harvests, easier management, and of course, diversified crop yields.

    Watering the ground instead of spraying leaves has not only reduced water use, but also avoided some diseases like leaf curl, or at least, substantially slowed it's progress. Some fungus or mould based problems are spread by dripping water from one leaf to another. Keeping the water off the leaves while watering the roots provides moisture without the associated problems of foliage watering.

    4. Netting really is essential:

    You might think that animals might leave you something, but for many years, the cherries were just starting to ripen. We'd go to work with a lot of cherries on the tree, almost ready to pick, and when we came home, we'd have literally, nothing left but "pips on sticks". I freely admit that I've spent some quality time from 5am-7am sitting on the top of a ladder, effectively working as a fruit-paid scarecrow to ensure the birds don't eat my crops once they've found a hole in the netting, or on trees that I haven't got enough netting for.

    There are a lot of ways to net a tree, but for fully grown fruit trees that are definitely not dwarf varieties, a 10m x 10m net may not be enough, and that's the biggest one I've found that's commercially available. The tightness of the weave is also important. I prefer as tight a weave as possible. Preferably 10mm x 10mm square holes or smaller. This eliminates small birds who I've seen dive through a 30mm x 30mm hole in the net to get to my raspberries. Tighter weaves are also less likely to get caught on branches, and reduces the chance of branches growing through the net over time.

    The timing of putting the netting can also be important. I prefer to let the flowers be pollinated by bees and birds (as well as any pests eaten by birds) while they're out in spring. I leave the netting off entirely during this phase. However, while the fruit is still green, I'll try to net the tree then to discourage problems like "early tasters", or fruit destruction by cockatoos.

    If you need a useful tool to put netting up, I recommend Ham's cheap "net putter-upper-er". It's basically one of those extendable painting poles, with a cheap roller attachment screwed on to the end, but with the roller cut off so that there's just a 50-100mm straight piece of metal at the end, and I round off the cut tip to reduce the chance of it catching the net or on anything else. You simply stick the pointy end through the holes in the net, and lift it up and over branches. If you must do it from within the tree, you can poke the pole up and through the branches, and work the net over one branch after another. Just remember to ensure that have enough slack to pull the net over, as the pole may give you a lot of reach, but it also gives the net a lot of leverage to work against you. If the net gets caught, you may not be able to move the net further.

    5. Regular watering does NOT mean over-watering:

    It may seem odd, but watering once a week, even when the tree is fruiting, is better than watering every single day. If you over water trees, the fruit can split when the water content in the fruit exceeds the fruit skin's ability to grow. I strongly urge you to water with a good soak for an hour, then leave it alone for a week. This is much more similar to sporadic rainfall. By allowing the soil to dry out a bit before the next watering will reduce moulds, fungi, mildew and other diseases while giving the tree a regular supply of water, softening soils, and encouraging soil life to aerate the ground, decompose sources of nutrients, and manage potential soil-born issues by increasing diversity and therefore, competition.

    Over watering can result in increased problems such as fruit drop, cracked fruit, plant disease, lower yields. Again, I'd recommend using a watering system to maintain "watering discipline".

    And the result, after 14 years? Is this!

    I don't claim to be a "natural" green thumb. I just try to learn from my mistakes, to try different solutions until something works, and get my hands dirty on a reasonably regular basis. A fruit tree may seem expensive when you see a price tag of $50-100, but the harvested yield of just one season once the tree is mature can outweigh that many times over. I paid $15 per kilogram for a box of cherries grown in Young last week to bring to a birthday party because these weren't ready. There's probably 3-4 Kg of cherries shown in this shot alone. For extra points, can you spot the kiwi fruit leaves in this image?

    So there you have it, and I should mention that these cherries are edible now, but will get a bit of extra sweetness in the coming days. If you haven't tried fruit toast made with fresh or dried cherries, you are truly missing out, and I encourage you to try it.

    Never give up, and eventually you'll learn enough to succeed. Happy gardening, and happier harvesting!

    Ham.

    Published in Gardening
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