If you go into a supermarket it is hard to shop economically for one person. Conversely, it is often hard in a kitchen garden to avoid discovering that all of a sudden there is food for a whole army in one week and none the next. Especially when all you want is enough each week to feel wholesome and self sufficient but not overwhelmed. So we have come up with an idea (more like a Stalinist 5 Year Plan - Ed.) whereby you have just the right amount of soft fruit over the summer season to cover eventualities like rhubarb crumbles, redcurrant jellies, loganberry jams, raspberry Eton Mess, strawberry ice creams, gooseberry sauce, blueberry smoothies, blackcurrant coulis,......do I need to go on?
So the following is a month by month harvest diary for a Squirrel Nutkin's larder of soft fruit. The number of plants to buy (in brackets) will hopefully leave a little for the freezer (all soft fruit freezes well, whether cooked or not) for a winter fall back to BUT yields vary, families are hungry or not, so the numbers are not set in stone. Even though there may be stones set in some fo the fruit...
Plums, figs, apples, pears, quinces and cherries are all ignored and will be the subject of another musing.
Anyway - to the calendar:
March to April: Harvest your first stems of rhubarb from (2) Timperley Early
May: (2) Invicta gooseberry is high in pectin for jam and makes a good sauce for Mackerel. (15) Christine strawberry that has been grown under cover can be picked now for Eton Mess. Bear in mind strawberry plants need renewing every three years.
June: (2)The Sutton rhubarb will now take over from Timperley if you want more rhubarb. Sweet maroon (2) Pax dessert gooseberries can be eaten straight from the bush but make sure you net them. Your first raspberries would come from (10) Ruby Beauty while (15) Cambridge Favourite strawberries should arrive in time for Wimbledon.
July: Soft fruit in earnest in this month: Cambridge Favourite is still going and can now be eaten with (2) Earliblue blueberries which are also the thing for cobblers, muffins and muesli....This month's raspberry is the great (10) Malling Jewel. It may seem mad to grow cultivated blackberries but once you have encountered the thornless and sweet (1) Loch Tay blackberry plant which is so decorative you could treat it like a rambling rose, you will be convinced. It will keep going until September. In late July the renowned (1) Ben Lomond and the vast (1) Ebony will take you through to August. Jelly makers will need at least one (1) Rovada redcurrant, with some left to decorate puddings or buy two if you make summer pud. (1) Loganberry is THE weird berry for jam because of its fantastic acidity. For raw weird berries try a (1) Tayberry, a perplexing but excellent raspberry/blackberry blend.
September: (10) Autumn Bliss Raspberry hits its stride in September. The blackberry and apple contingent will be mollifed by Loch Tay's continuous berries while the real strawberry lovers should dance off to buy (10) Flamenco strawberry plants.
October: Hoover up the last of your Autumn Bliss raspberries and anyone in the know might have planted a few Flamenco under glass so that they can still (smugly) have their own strawberries as we approach winter.
Clearly if you are not so mad on raspberries (we are - it's the daiquiris!) you need not buy all of those varieties but every autumn we sell an All Season Raspberry pack to cover that eventuality.
Leave out any fruit that does not appeal – some of us are allergic to strawberries apparently - but we hope that for those starting out on a "feed homegrown fruit to the family campaign", this might be food for thought.