One of the lovely aspects of the British climate is the distinct seasons, even if they don’t conform to historical expectations! This year we have had late frosts, a spring drought, a wonderful early summer and lots of rain since. As a result many of the traditional autumn fruits are cropping early. Elderberries, rose hips, wild damsons, bullaces, cherry plums, blackberries are all in abundance now. One of my favourites is the bullace. Look along well-established hedgerows (particularly those which are no longer managed) and you will see the round black fruits.
Little-known, the bullace is technically a wild greengage that can be either yellow-green or blue-black. At first glance they could be mistaken for extra-large sloes but are considerably fleshier. They have a full-on fruity, plum-like taste, yet when cooked are acidic and require plenty of sugar. They’re delicious in crumbles and pies, where they can be used instead of plums (though with extra sugar) and with a warning that the stones can be difficult to remove prior to cooking.
A more unusual option is to make bullace “cheese”, a fruit paste. Quince paste (membrillo) is currently fashionable, and available from supermarkets, but bullace and damson cheeses are traditional; their intensity of flavour makes them the prefect partner for strong British cheeses. My ‘bible’ for inspiration when it comes to jams, chutneys, cheeses etc is a 1973 edition of the 1929 MAFF publication ‘Home Preservation of Fruit and Vegetables’. Now out of print, I guard my dog-eared copy with great affection.
Over the wonderful Bank Holiday weekend I picked a couple of kilos of bullaces which have been used to make a Bullace and Ginger Chutney. Here is the chutney recipe:
Bullace and Ginger Chutney
1 clove garlic (peeled and crushed)
1 chilli (whole; chose a strength to suit your palette)
100g fresh ginger (peeled and finely diced)
2 medium onions (peeled and finely chopped)
800g damsons or bullaces
125g dried cranberries
450 ml white vinegar
375g demerara sugar
Remove the stones from the fruit and cut into quarters. This can be problematical if using bullaces as the fruit is small and the stones don’t come away easily. I tend to leave the stones in, scooping them out as they rise to the top. Inevitably, a few avoid detection.
Place all ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil gently. Reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Stir frequently (remove visible stones as they appear) and the mixture will become thick and glossy. Remove chilli and discard.
Transfer the mixture to sterilised jars and allow to cool before putting on the lid. Label and date.
This is a very easy and forgiving recipe. The original called for sultanas rather than cranberries but I feel the cranberries complement rather than over-sweeten the fruit flavour. The chutney is fantastic with dry textured salty cheeses, such as goat log or Wensleydale and, surprisingly, with a sweet bread such as brioche and ricotta cheese. Sooo tasty!