Monday, 18 June 2007

Fruit mess

Recently we had unusual summer weather - a lot of clouds and some serious rain - but fruit continued to ripen like everything was normal. Some weeks ago the strawberries were ready to be harvested. In Holland we call them Summer Kings, but there were some days when I had to rescue them from the mud. Last year we planted some strawberries on a little patch of land. Strawberries however spread and this piece of land now looks like a proper strawberry field. I am very grateful, but every two days, when I was in the field to pick them, I didn't know where to put my feet, too afraid to trample on them. Because of this it took me hours to pick them and at the same time I did some gymnastics, because you would not believe the ways in which I had to twist my body in order not to squash some fruit. I was lucky not to go flat on my belly amongst them. Then I had to go into the kitchen to make them into jam. You get bored eating yogurt with strawberries every day, then finishing with strawberry bavarois.

This year we hoped to experiment with - for us - a new fruit. I have no idea why we only discovered the muzmullas this year. Muzmulla is the Turkish name used in Greece for loquats. It is a yellow egg shaped fruit in a tree with leathery dark green leaves. The trees remain green the whole year through and they originally came from Japan and China where for thousand of years they grew these trees for the delicious fruit. The taste is fresh and sweet and makes you think of apricots. To make jam from them is a real adventure.

We decided to make a jelly with them. You cook the muzmullas, then you hang them in a cloth in order to collect the juice. Then you cook the juice with sugar into a jelly. Making jams sounds very easy, but it is not. Here on the island we haven't yet found preserving sugar, so we make our jams with normal sugar, which is okay, you only have to know how long you have to cook the fruit. So we still have in stock some smoked apricot jam, with a slightly burned flavour.

We cooked the jelly for too long and nothing was left of the muzmulla jelly. It tasted like sugar and the fresh taste of the fruit couldn't be detected anymore. So we made it into a catch-a-wasp-juice. To put into the wasp catchers that we are soon going to have to make out of plastic water bottles: you cut a bottle in two halves, you put the upper part upside down in the lower half, you put in some sugar syrup or muzmulla syrup - although any sweet drink will do as well - and you hang it in a tree. The wasps will dive in to party, but they will not find their way back out.

To prepare the muzmullas is a hell of a job. You have to take out more than one big stone, so that not much fruit is left. Plums or peaches are much easier to prepare: cut them in half and pick out one stone. By the way, those apricot stones are good to put in the jam as well: about ten pieces for 1 kilo of fruit makes the jam more spicy. You crack them, throw them for one minute into boiling water in order to remove the brown skin from the inner stone, you crush them and you add it to the jam 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

After the clouds and the showers came the heat. For days already the temperature has been way above 30°C, but that is normal for this time of year. However, every day impressive thunder clouds hang above Turkey, but they never seem to reach the island. Last week there was a seaquake to the south of Lesvos. There was no harm done. Just a few people were disturbed in their siesta.

The sun really tried to make up for the bad weather and our cherries - which are sour cherries - were first small but very soon grew into big juicy dark red cherries. So now each day we have to pick cherries. Sometimes I hesitate because I love the beautiful sight of the tree full of that bright red fruit. As do the birds. There are big jays which with every cherry they steal fly off laughing aloud that they fooled you.

Then those small finch-like birds did a better job. They just hung into the mulberry tree and ate all the fruit without making a sound. I didn't even realize the mulberries were ripe! Sometimes you really wonder why you have so many cats around. They don't bother because they probably know that birds are much quicker in a tree then they are. That was why little Wittgenstein was highly impressed by a tortoise that came his way and didn't flee. The tortoise moved his head and paws into his shell and when Wittgenstein carefully touched it, it only said tock- tock. Very boring, thought Wittgenstein.

It is also very boring to take all the stones out of the cherries when you want to make cherry jam. But once that task is finished most of the work is done. Unless you don't take care and the cooking mass of cherries rises out of the pan. Then suddenly you're standing in a sticky red sludge that sticks to everything. It is so sticky that you think that the jam is thick enough now. At least it is on your cooker, the walls and the outside of the pan. So you put the hot mass into sterilised jars, only to discover hours later that you made a cherry sauce instead of jam!

Heat wave or not, tomorrow we have to empty a peach tree of its fruit, we have to make a big bag full of plums into jam, liqueur and chutney and we have to save the last of the cherries from the bold birds.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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