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A quick fix for soft fruits

This neat little recipe makes a quick and easy preserve out of plums, gooseberries, cherries or currants.

This 18th century preserving recipe can be used on many soft fruits, including cherries, plums, currants and gooseberries

This 18th century preserving recipe can be used on many soft fruits, including cherries, plums, currants and gooseberries

How to Preserve Horse Plumbs, Damsons, Wheaten Plumbs or Cherrys Whole or Red Gooseberrys or Currans for Torts

Gather your fruit in a dry day. Your gooseberrys or currans must be puld off the stalks. Your cherrys must be stoned and puled off ye stalks. Wheaten plumbs & horse plumbs must neither be stoned nor ski[n’d], but cut the stoane in ye cleft. Your fruit must be all full ripe. Then, when you have done all this, weigh to every pound of fruit 3 qrs of a pound of lump sugar & only dip it in water & set it on the fire to clear ye sirrup. Then put in the fruit & let them boule exceed[ingly] quick till the are clear & very rich. Keep them down with ye back of a spoon. Then put them in crocks for use. When cold, put a paper dipt in brandy over them & tye other papers over ye crock.

Varieties of both red (horse) plums and white/yellow (wheaten) plums are specifically mentioned in this recipe. We can only assume that these types were the most easily obtainable for our unknown ladies, growing perhaps in their own walled garden. Alternatively, they may have bought their fruits  or sold by touring street traders, like this cherry seller:

A cherry seller pictured outside St James’s Palace.

A cherry seller pictured outside St James’s Palace.

Plums were certainly popular fruits in the 18th century. Writing in his treatise on land management, The Whole Art of Husbandry (1708), John Mortimer finds the plum “a more pleasing, but not so wholesome a fruit” as the cherry. He goes on to list more than 60 kinds of plums – far more than we could ever get hold of in a supermarket today.

Some of the fruit varieties our 18th century cookbook compilers may well have been lost to history. But there are organisations dedicated to preserving Britain’s ‘heritage’ varieties, such as the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale. So if you’re interested in discovering the tastes of an 18th century orchard, or even growing a heritage fruit tree in your own garden, why not give Brogdale a call?

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