The Fall Principle

I planted four Devon sorbs a few years ago and they've been mightily unencouraging. Slow to grow and reluctant to fruit is about the best I have been able to say in their favour. Other than they're not overly common which, if you're minded that way, affords it's own nerdy caché.



This year, at long last, they came good. If not an ugly duckling turned siren, then certainly a plain Jane turned foxy - beautiful leaves, a gorgeous shape and colour and (most gratifyingly) fruit. Not the most obviously appealing fruit, but luckily our forefathers didn't have the internet and could be expected to spend their shallow empty lives trialing ways of turning unpromising foodstuffs into deliciousness. This (thanks to John Peel) has become known (at least in my house) as The Fall Principle.



I saw The Fall a few times, firstly in 1988 when they were at the peak of their powers. The floor in front of the stage collapsed (almost certainly due to the weight of snakebite and black ingested by those watching): cue much standing around and looking into the abyss while The Fall carried on. They played for 40 minutes. Including the encore. Which was the first two songs of their set played again. They were very fine indeed.

John Peel once said that if The Fall brought out an album that he didn't like he would presume that he just didn't know how it was good yet. What a fine way to look at music, life and indeed food. This I have christened The Fall Principle. And thankfully one of our ancestors must've applied this principle in whittling their way through proto pie, crumble, smoothie, brûlée*, fool and trifle recipes before the eureka moment: sorb jelly. I bet the cave campfire was a pretty rockin' place to be that night.



Half an hour with wife and daughter in the orchard relieved the trees of their load - maybe half a basket's worth. There are as many experts in sorb harvesting as there are in camel yodelling, but one thing I have managed to glean from the few corners of the internet dedicated to the topic is that, like medlars, sorbs are best when picked past their visual peak, when they've started to soften (or blet) a little. But, and it's a big but, fruit needs cold to properly blet and there has been precious little of that this year - two frosts to speak of and here we are in the middle of January. The feet thick snow of last winter as seemingly distant as the nation's fascination with Darius. So that half basketful had some soft but mostly still firm sorbs.



Why does it matter? It matters because the soft fruit give up their substance readily whereas the harder fruit give you more pectin. This fine substance has the desireable trait of encouraging, nay compelling, your jams, jellies and other confections to set rather than slop around forever like so much Slime.

Washed, destalked and deleaved, I just covered the sorbs in water in a preserving pan and after bringing slowly up to the boil, I simmered them for an hour. They were still as hard as grandad's bunions. Another hour and some discernable softening. The potato masher was employed and a further half hour of simmering resulted in the required mush.

Mush into muslin, suspended from the legs of an upturned chair, dripping into a large bowl overnight. Don't squeeze the mush through the muslin as this makes the liquid cloudy - just let it drip.

To every 600ml of this liquid you should add 450g of caster sugar. Then boil the living arse out of it. Test for the setting point in your preferred way. If you're me this involves thinking you have reached it, pouring the molten lava into jars, then decanting when it doesn't quite set to boil some more. See these jars?



They were decanted and boiled some more giving a grand total of 2.4 jars of the most amazing coloured jelly.

All that anticipation for such a small reward...but my word it's incredible stuff. The perfect balance of sweet with an edge of something that will go beautifully with blue cheese and that ruddy great goose I have in the freezer.

So after a three spoons of tasting that's now two jars. Or rather one jar as at the few-jars-not-quite-realising-I'd-have-to-boil-it-some-more stage I promised Alys Fowler a jar.

Which leaves one jar.

One jar, which from the The Fall Principle No.2 (derived in memory of that first gig) states that a little of something truly marvellous can give an awful lot of pleasure.





* Go on then, if you're so clever, YOU find those crazy letters on a Mac.

Nick Mann said...

January 13, 2012 at 3:15 PM  

Hurrah! I've got one coming for our forest garden/mixed orchard/whatever. Can't wait.

Anonymous said...

January 13, 2012 at 3:20 PM  

The bottling followed by unbottling (the following day) and then rebottling is a technique which this gentle reader has used all too frequently.

w.v. pelicsiq - a substance egested by the booby to feed its young.

Yours,
the previously precious SS

VP said...

January 13, 2012 at 3:28 PM  

I've found the potato masher to be indispensible at jelly making time :)

LittleGreenFingers said...

January 13, 2012 at 4:26 PM  

Phew - there I was with my annual glut of sorbs, drumming my fingers and wondering, what, oh what, could I do with this precious bounty? You sir, have saved both me and, potentially, millions of people in solving this common problem.

*mutters something under breath about weird looking fruit and West Country obsessives*

ann-marie powell said...

January 13, 2012 at 4:27 PM  

Yet another A* post.

The way you drift from plant ident, to thumping great foot stomping gig, to the pastoral scene of making sorb jelly with the family is completely masterful.

Surely there's a word for one such as you (but I'm sure it's not one that I should be posting here on the internet)!

In all serious, thank you, twas a pleasurable interlude to my office based day.

A-M xxxxx

PS Saw the Fall at Notts Poly a few times when they 'Hit the North'. LOVE the idea of 'The Fall Principle.' Consider that phrase nicked.....! x

emmat said...

January 13, 2012 at 5:11 PM  

A fruit called 'sorbs' which you have to 'blet' now you are just making stuff up for attention

Stuart said...

January 13, 2012 at 5:47 PM  

Cruiser's Creek, only a very close second to Spoilt Victorian Child...

Jo Thompson said...

January 13, 2012 at 5:57 PM  

Ok, I give up. What is a sorb?

@readsnursery said...

January 13, 2012 at 6:59 PM  

A sad old deep freezer in the back of a shed working every other day is a bletters dream !

Martyn said...

January 13, 2012 at 8:23 PM  

A sorb is a alternative name for the genus sorbus the common name for which is rowan. The correct botanical name is sorbus devonensis.

Lia Leendertz said...

January 13, 2012 at 9:16 PM  

Sense Im going to bring down your wrath but never really got The Fall, what with being a girl and it *coughs* not being my era. Does that mean I dont get the spare jam? I do like jam, quite a lot.

MarkD said...

January 13, 2012 at 9:42 PM  

Nick - yr a lucky man

SS - Amen brother

VP - A masher is more critical to civilisation than the wheel, honest

LGF - always here to help, you know that

AMP - than you mrs, love Hit The North, and glad to be a happy distraction

Linda - Thank you

EmmaT - so rumbled

Stu - SVC, another classic!

Jo T - scroll down...

RN - a canny plan!

Martyn - thank you....but at the risk of having to stand in Pedant's Corner, I believe rowan is a subgenus of Sorbus (which also include whitebeams, service trees etc) And I think its Sorbus devoniensis, maybe a hybrid of wild service tree and whitebeam. A rare and entirely uncharacteristic moment of botanical info - I trust it'll be a while til I produce more

Lia - you might have done if you'd paid enough attention to notice it was JELLY not jam

Martyn said...

January 13, 2012 at 11:00 PM  

You have encouraged me to use spell checker first, here in Edinburgh it fruits its heart out, but I have'nt every tried it, more fool me it seems take care

MarkD said...

January 13, 2012 at 11:20 PM  

Hi Martyn

Sorry, wasnt trying to be a smartarse..I am eminently unqualified for at least the first part of that. I'm v jealous of how well it fruits with you...too late to pick any?

Martyn said...

January 14, 2012 at 12:45 AM  

Hi Mark, no offence taken, I should apologise as I work at the Botanic garden in Edinburgh, looking after the tree collection. I love using any of natures offerings in my cooking, in that I am more fortunate than most, because of the diversity of the collection I work with from all over the world, this years amazing offering which kept giving was our Passionfruit both staff and visitors enjoyed. When I get back to work on Monday I will let you know if theres any fruit left. Going picking sea buckthorn this weekend makes wicked curd! Have a great weekend

The Constant Gardener said...

January 16, 2012 at 8:18 AM  

Goldarnit, just as I thought I was coming to an end of my list of edible whatsits to add to my garden.

Another West Country obsessive here tho had never heard of this one - since it's a devoniensis well it seems compulsory really.

Will put it on the list and hunt it down. Again. **sigh**

Martyn said...

January 16, 2012 at 11:49 PM  

If you need actions for granting constant gardener give me a shout.

Cheers Martyn

Mark said...

January 18, 2012 at 1:05 PM  

I never expected anyone to bring together two of my favourite hobbies - making jam and listening to Fall - in one place quite so seamlessly. I first saw them around the same time as you (I think Weird and Wonderful had just been released). You know a good gig when you look round at the end and no one can stop grinning from ear to ear.
Thank you Mark.

Mark

midsinga said...

January 23, 2012 at 10:25 PM  

Did it! Found your blog last Saturday started reading at the oldest post and just finished reading your latest work of art :-)
I love your style of writing, had quite a few laughs and at times was stunned by your honesty.

Same thing goes for your regular visitors btw.
So for now all that's left is waiting for the next post, knowing that I'm not the only person supposedly crazy enough to think beyond what's accepted as 'the normal and right way' of doing things.

Having been formally trained in, dare I say modern, agriculture, I've never quite gotten into the bigger is better way of thinking. When you don't know the names of your cows any more, you're farming too large! Same thing goes for other kinds of food of course, but you know that.

I'll be ordering some books soon, I suppose my good wife already saw that coming :-)

Just curious: while having the mower for the cinyard is great in a time-saving way, you are still depending on fossil fuel. Has is ever been researched how to cover the soil in a vinyard without having to mow it (and maybe get some extra production out of it?)

From the Netherlands btw, having just lost my alotment to a bunch of soccer fields...

MarkD said...

January 28, 2012 at 12:44 PM  

Midsinga - that's some feat! Apologies for the especially boring bits.

It's be great to not have to use the tractor at all but I guess it gets an outing for mowing perhaps 10 times a year so its not much. However, I am (seriously) looking into getting some fo the smallest sheep in the world...they can munch underneath and around the vines without being able to reach the grapes or canopy. Last time I looked they were £400 each...so not quite yet.

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