Edible walks – a single step is the start of any change

A couple of years ago I was walking beside the River Orwell in Suffolk and among all the oaks and horse chestnuts we came across an elderly cherry plum tree, bows bent low with ripe fruit. We gorged ourselves and filled our pockets with cherry plums to take home. This single tree made the walk memorable for everybody and had me dreaming of creating “edible walks” all over the island of Mallorca.Image

One of my favourite folk tales is The Man Who Planted Trees (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Man-Who-Planted-Trees/dp/1860461174/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372007391&sr=8-1&keywords=The+man+who+planted+trees ) I’ve read it innumerable times as a bedtime story to the kids. It contains a simple altruism which appeals to something deep within me, but whereas the protagonist plants oaks and beech trees, in my head it is pears, dates, avocados (above: the result of some avocado stone planting in my garden) and loquats.

Last week I saw an article about Seattle’s edible forest. This has been planted in the middle of the city for any of its residents to eat from. It’s self-sustaining and offers a myriad of fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, nuts and berries.

Since being given Amerigo’s apple tree (see last post) which he grew from a pip, I’ve developed a “stick-it-in-a-pot-and-see” fetish. So far this has resulted in some spindly papaya seedlings from a Mercadona fruit (pictured below), a goodly number of avocado trees, a loquat (and I only planted two seeds in yoghurt pots, so next year I’ll plant more) and many mini-date palms – which so far have not been attacked by the dreaded red beetle.Image

As I have run out of space in my garden, many of my experiments are being surreptitiously planted on walks I take with the dog. Once each one has been dug in, it is given the contents of my water bottle and an earnest prayer that one day it will give fruit to a future family, making their day memorable in the way that the cherry plum tree did for us.

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The annual “nispero” glut

ImageIn April and early May loquats, or “nísperos” as they’re called in Spanish, are in abundance. For the first couple of weeks after they become ripe enough to eat, kids and adults in my house make a daily pilgrimage to the terrace the loquat trees are on, returning 10 minutes later wiping the juice from their chins, but eventually the novelty wanes and usually there’s still half a tree heavy with fruit.

I have a bit of a phobia about waste. Any fruit that has already been attacked by insects either goes to the hens or the compost heap, but the rest has to be used.

The obvious favourite is to make jam. The loquat’s stones are perfect for jam-making so there is no need to buy artificial pectin. Furthermore, it’s a good substitute for apricot or peach jam which is frequently used for glazing cakes and sweets.

Loquat Jam: 1kg loquats, seeds removed but not peeled; 200ml water; finely grated rind and juice of 2 lemons; 1kg sugar.

Wash the fruit, remove the stones and wrap them in a piece of white cotton, tie the material to make a bag and suspend the bag in the pan. Chop the fruit to the size you like if you do not wish to use a blender on the jam. Simmer the fruit in the water until soft (about 20 minutes). Blend if you wish. Add the juice, rind and sugar. Boil rapidly until a little of the mix forms a “skin” on a cold saucer.  Warm your clean jars in the oven. Pour the jam into the jars and seal. I always use button-top jars from pasta sauces etc. which can be reused many times. Any jar where the button hasn’t sunk in hard needs to be kept in the fridge and used first. If the jar is correctly sealed, the jam can be kept in the store cupboard for a year.

However, there’s a limit to the amount of jam I can use so here are a couple of other ways of disposing of a nispero glut.Image

Loquat Upside-down Cake: 25 loquats; 2 eggs; 125ml natural yoghurt; 100ml milk; 250g butter; 250g self-raising flour; 100g brown sugar; 100g white sugar; 2tsp baking powder; 2 tsp vanilla extract; half tsp salt.

Heat the oven to 200ºC. Line a 22cm cake tin with baking paper or a cake liner. Melt half the butter with the brown sugar in a small pan. Cook for 2 minutes. Pour into the lined cake tin. Wash the loquats, cut them in half and remove the stones. Arrange them cut side down over the sugar/butter mixture. (I like to remove the skins to make the cake extra gunky, but you don’t have to). Mix the flour, white sugar, baking powder, salt, yoghurt, other half of the butter, milk, eggs and vanilla essence. Whip well. Pour the mixture gently over the loquats and bake for about 50 minutes until a knife comes out clean. Cool and then gently turn upside down onto a plate and remove the baking paper. Scrumptious hot, warm or cold.Image

Tropical Loquat Crumble:  1kg loquats; 100g sugar; 1 tbsp lemon juice. For the crumble: 50g plain flour; half tsp ground ginger; 75g rolled oats; 50g desiccated coconut; 25g ground almonds; 50g brown sugar; 75g melted butter.

Wash, halve and de-stone the loquats. Put them in a pan with the lemon juice and sugar. Cover and simmer gently for 25 minutes. Mix all the dry ingredients for the crumble and then stir in the melted butter. Spread the fruit in an ovenproof dish, top with the crumble and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the top is slightly browned.

If your family is unable to face another loquat by the end of the month, prepare the fruit as if you were making a crumble. Cool. Then place in plastic bags and freeze for use in pies and crumbles later in the year.