August is a month of transition, we associate it with school holidays and summer sun but at the same time the days are getting shorter and there can sometimes be a definite feel of autumn in the air.
As we head towards September, local walks are now punctuated with hay meadows that have been mown and fields where the crops have been gathered in. The orchards are full of fruit and the hedgerows are studded with blackberries.
Foraged and home grown fruit
I am lucky enough to live near to an orchard and fruit filled hedgerows. The orchard forms part of a nature reserve and local residents are invited to take fruit as long as we are considerate and only take what we need. I take the same approach to blackberries and only ever collect a small tub at a time, leaving plenty for other people and for wildlife.
At home the plums and apples are ripening, this is the first year that our fan trained plum has fruited and the first plum, eaten straight off the tree, warm from the sun, was a special treat. However, orchard fruits also make excellent crumble filling. My favourite topping is has the crunch of oats and the caramel flavour of brown sugar.
(4oz plain flour
3oz light brown soft sugar
2oz rolled porridge oats
Sift the flower into a bowl, dice the butter and rub together until the mixture resembles bread crumbs, stir in the sugar and oats and cover your filling. Cook at GM5 / 190ºc)
Bedfordshire has long been associated with fruit – the warden pear was believed to have been introduced to the country by Cistercian monks in the medieval period, taking its name from Warden Abbey. However, research now suggests that ‘warden’ was a generic name for a hard cooking pear. As well as orchards, Warden Abbey was also home to vineyards. One of these, Warden Abbey Community Vineyard, is now a not-for-profit educational and community resource which won a CPRE Mark in the CPRE Bedfordshire Living Countryside Awards 2016.
Many community orchards in Bedfordshire are planted with Laxton’s fruit trees. Over three generations and one hundred years, the family firm raised 182 new species of plants which included apples, plums and pears. In about 1900 they set up Tollgate Nurseries (140 acres) in Bedford, on Goldington Road, opposite Newnham Avenue. The site is now home to the University of Bedfordshire. There was also a shop on Bedford High Street.
The Laxton story with its Bedfordshire connections is told in more depth in a downloadable factsheet which includes a map, pictures, a timeline and lots of interesting information.
Hedgerows and orchards aren’t just productive – they can be home to many different species of wildlife.
Traditionally managed orchards are often havens for wild flowers, fungi and insects.
Join the conversation
Share your favourite recipes, orchards or blackberry picking spots. Tell us what you like best about this time of year in the countryside as we move from summer to autumn. What wildlife have you spotted whilst out blackberrying?
Shelly Dennison – Digital Engagement Officer