Fruits of the Forage started from the simple desire of using the fruits we saw around us going to waste to create products for the community, to show people what could be made from undervalued ingredients we found around us. Our home county of Cheshire is best known as a dairy county although in the past, orchards provided an important crop. The rapidly expanding industrial cities of the North West provided a market with an insatiable appetite for seasonal fruits which must have been a special treat for city dwellers.
Small orchards across the county provided rhubarb, pears, damsons, cooking apples and plums for market while pears and especially damsons were also used to dye cotton and silk spun in the mills across the region. On our never-ending search for fruit we found the remnants of these orchards and hedgerows long neglected but still producing fruits which we found far superior for our preserving needs compared to modern varieties bred purely for table use.
As the years passed by our foraging map gradually expanded often aided by whispers of abundant fruit going to waste from people we met at markets and trade shows. As we pushed out into neighbouring counties and North Wales the biggest boost to our fruit picking came from the Vale of Evesham. We’ve always had a passion for plums and Damsons so Evesham which was once the centre of plum growing in the UK has become a special place to us. As a preserves company the fact that the plum growing industry there was built around plum varieties specifically grown for jam making was really the icing on the cake as we quickly found more plums than we ever imagined possible.
As our knowledge of historic varieties of fruit grew, we realised these old almost forgotten varieties of fruit were something special that was almost lost. Pears and Plums really opened our eyes to the fact we could pick fruits that would be almost impossible to buy from modern growers. Once an important source of food all over the UK cooking pears could be stored through the winter, stewed or baked alone or added to stews in the days before the potato reached these shores. Their firm texture and sharp zingy flavour makes them ideal for preserving. Cheshire and Worcestershire provided a dazzling array of plum varieties which offered robust flavours which we found vastly improved our plum products which once relied heavily on the ubiquitous, yet overrated, Victoria plum.
As well as providing better flavours for our needs, hardy cooking pears, plums and apples crop far more reliably and heavily than more delicate fruits bred for table use. Dessert pears can crop unreliably in the North of England, in contrast of all the cooking pear trees we have found across a range of varieties – Cadillac, Black Worcester along with two unknown varieties – have never failed to crop heavily in the years we have known them. This is of course an important fact for us as preserve makers concerned with bringing home good yields to our preserve kitchen.
The growth of Fruits of the Forage has been a journey, a constant quest to find more fruit and as we found more fruit our knowledge grew and our ideas blossomed. Come back for part 2 to find out more and find out these ideas have created the company that we are today!