The greengages on the tree at the bottom of the garden are more yellow than green when they are ripe. An autumnal yellow, matching the leaves as they change colour and fall. And, like most of the other fruit trees this year, the greengage is dripping with ripening fruit… in fact, in today’s wind it’s dropping the ripening fruit.
I wish I could take some credit for this bumper crop – count my careful pruning in with the late spring and warm summer as a reason for so much fruit. But the truth is that the tree is pretty much completely neglected from one year to the next, and I’ve yet to bring a pair of secateurs anywhere near it. In spring it produces beautiful white blossom, and some autumns there are sweet, yellow greengages to pick.
This autumn we’ve been picking so many greengages, it’s hard to come up with uses for them all. A lot are being eaten straight from the tree, some have been given away, and I’ve made two lots of jam already.
The bumper crop has made one thing clear though, the tree is going to need some serious pruning next year. It has grown too tall, and most of the fruit is way up high and out of reach. Fortunately, I have a secret weapon in the battle against high growing fruit – my daughter and her friend are keen tree climbers. Last Saturday saw them clambering up through the boughs to reach the ripest fruit. By the time they got bored, there were enough greengages for jam making… and on Sunday some of that jam was used in a sticky, sweet jam tart.
The jam is so easy to make, a beautiful deep orangey yellow colour, and tastes fantastic too. The only chore in the whole process is finding all the stones in the hot, mush of cooked fruit. You could cut the greengage flesh away from the stones before cooking them. But where’s the fun in that when you can stand over a hot pan, spoon in hand, counting the stones back out again?
The jam tart was made from a recipe based on a page that I pulled out of a magazine some time ago. It’s from the book ‘An Appetite for Puglia’ by Christine Smallwood. The sweet pastry, jammy filling and lattice top is just like the cakes served at breakfast time in our favourite hotel in Sicily – a cup of coffee, a slice of cake, and a view like this… the best breakfast ever.
As this was a weekend harvest and bake, I’m linking it to the all-new Family Foodies challenge. A monthly blog challenge co-hosted by Louisa at Eat Your Veg and Vanesther at Bangers and Mash. For the first month the theme is Weekend Slowies – recipes to enjoy with friends and family when there is that bit more time to cook and sit around the table sharing good food and good conversation.
1 kg preserving sugar
Juice of one small lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract
A small knob of butter (optional)
Wash the greengages and put them is a large pan or preserving pan. Simmer slowly until the fruit has cooked through and is broken down. Take the pan off the heat and carefully fish out the stones from the greengages (it helps to count the fruit as they go into the pan so that you know how many stones you’re fishing for).
Add the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract to the fruit and heat the pan gently, stirring to help the sugar to dissolve. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, turn up the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Keep the boil going for 10 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and test for a set. The jam shouldn’t need much more than 10 minutes of boiling to get to setting point, but if it does need more, keep testing at about 2 minute intervals.
Either skim the foam that has formed from the top of the jam, or stir in a small knob of butter to disperse it. Then spoon the warm jam into sterilised jars (have 4 or 5 ready, depending on size) and put a wax disc on the top of each.
Greengage jam tart
300g ‘00’ grade flour
2 tsp baking powder
125g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
1 free range egg
120g unsalted butter, melted
Jam for the filling
Preheat the oven to 180oC, 350oF, gas 4. Grease a 20cm diameter loose bottom cake tin.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar and salt and stir to mix the dry ingredients. Add the egg and melted butter and mix to form a soft ball of pastry.
Press the pastry into the base and part way up the sides of the prepared tin, keeping some of the pastry to one side to make the topping. Cover the base of the pastry case with a generous amount of jam. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut long strips from it to form a lattice pattern on the top of the tart.
Bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is a light golden colour. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.