One of the many joys of gardening for me is picking our own soft fruit. We have strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and autumn raspberries. Also, and new for this year, three blackberry bushes including ‘Bedford Giant’ which has put on 12 feet of growth in it’s first year! I have just tied in the thorny canes to a frame I made and have the scars to prove it! Judging from the little buds sitting in every leaf axil, there should be a bumper crop next year.
Sadly, due to the cold wet weather in April and May, the apple blossom was not pollinated by bees and other insects and so we had just two apples this year off our little tree compared to our usual haul of at least 20 kilos plus the windfalls.
However, the stars of the show at the moment are the autumn raspberries. I started with just 12 bare roots of Autumn raspberry ‘Brice’ two years ago which I planted 600mm apart in a single row but now it is a ‘patch’ 8m long and 1.2m wide in which there must be at least 100 canes all cropping prolifically right now! This year I followed advice from the RHS and sprayed with Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salts) because the leaves were yellowing and streaky due to a local deficiency of Magnesium. The fruits are a dark red and taste divine.
At the peak of fruit production, usually weeks 3 to 6 in the cycle, we pick approx 2 kilos every other day and slightly less in the 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after. In total, fruit picking usually goes on for about 9 weeks from late August until the leaves eventually turn yellow and the fruits begin to lose their taste and then stop ripening at the end of October. Cropping started a bit later this year due to the lack of sunshine and warmth but they are certainly making up for it now.
There are far too many for the two of us to eat but we have found they actually taste even better after they have been frozen and so most of them end up in our spare freezer in the garage. We have found the best method is to firstly immerse them in a bowl of cold water; this is not to wash them but any insects and grubs will float to the surface and can be easily removed. The water possibly reduces the flavour slightly but, unfortunately, the Raspberry Beetle lays it’s eggs on the flowers enabling the subsequent tiny caterpillar-like larvae to feed off the fruit. We are not totally organic, I just don’t use chemical insect sprays so we put up with it and deal with any we find. They are probably harmless but we don’t like the idea of eating them!
- Then comes the fiddly bit. After an hour or so, we drain them and leave them to dry upturned on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper. After another hour or so, we place them on plastic trays and freeze them flat in the top compartment of the freezer overnight. That way they don’t stick together.
They are then either popped into freezer bags, zip-lock bags or we use our new toy, a vacuum sealer, which removes all the air. They store better and take up less room but don’t try to vacuum seal fresh fruit, you will just end up with mush!
The other advantage of freezing is that you can bag them up in just the right quantities so they should last even longer. They will keep for several months in the freezer and there is nothing quite like the taste of your own raspberries at Christmas or in the depths of a cold winter. In my opinion, freezing them seems to intensify the flavour as well. When they are defrosted, they are slightly softer but usually keep their shape well. And if not, there is always raspberry coulis!