The Cottage Smallholder

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Foraging for hedgerow fruit. How to identify wild (cherry) plums, bullaces and wild damsons

hedgerow fruitFinally I got fed up with the bully at work.

I threw down my brush, jumped into Jalopy and we rumbled towards my old hedgerow fruit hunting grounds. I was out for lunch half an hour early but what the heck. I can make up the time at the end of the day when the bully has gone home.

I had a suspicion that things were not right hedgerow-wise. I pulled up beside my main hunting ground, grabbed an old carrier bag and discovered that the trees were bare. Industrial hedge trimmers had hacked the branches. I gazed dismayed at yards of naked bare twigs. I scrambled into the woods and looked up. Nothing, apart from a handful of unripe fly infested fruit. Jalopy and I motored to the secret spot where I normally find plump juicy bullaces. It took me a few minutes to find some. They were tiny, only a few ripening, at least a month early.

Jalopy nosed towards the secondary hunting stretch. The same ripped branches. Hedge trimmer had visited shortly before.

Two years ago I found a tree covered with deep red succulent wild plums, also known as cherry plums. These were the Veuve Cliquot of wild plums in our area. Over a two week period I gathered 26 lbs of fruit from this small tree. Last year someone discovered this tree before me.

I decided to drive past it today. Joy of joys, it was heavy with fruit. Jalopy waited patiently as I harvested a carrier bag full. Lovely sweet fruit with a sharp edge. Perfect for our chutney or damson cheese. And they were ripe and ready to pick (when do you know when hedgerow fruit is ready to pick? See Tricks and tips below). Suddenly the sun shone gloriously for me.

The picture above shows, right to left, a wild (cherry) plum, bullace and a wild damson. The latter will ripen to a dark red/back colour. The bullace is usually much bigger and plumper and is just like a small greengage. Wild plums are not a standard size, this is a large and particularly delicious one from my favourite tree.

Tricks and tips:

When do you know when hedgerow fruit is ready to pick?

This is easy and so heartening. When the fruit is ready to pick you just need to touch the fruit and it will fall into your hand. Picking with the gentlest touch.

You can pick unripe fruit and it will ripen in a bowl at home. I found unripe damsons today and as they are so rare, picked them to ripen on a windowsill. However they are at their best ripened on the tree.

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  1. And now the sun is shining brightly for me! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I was walking around a state-maintained rec area yesterday and stumbled upon an entire row of trees that were hanging with fruit that looked like big ripe cherries, but tasted like plums. I had no idea what they were, until I found this post! Now that I know what they are, I’ll got back and pick and pick. What are your favorite things to do with these delightful fruit?

  2. Just found a wild damson tree and made two bottles of gin loads of wild plums too but no time now will do next year blackcurrant jam good this year but fruit this year will not keep?

    • Aunty Ruth

      We’ve found loads of damsons this year, so far we’ve picked over 2.5 stone!! If you dont have time to deal with them straight away freeze them… they will still work in loads of different things later, just don’t make the mistake I’ve made in the past and put them all in 1 big batch so they freeze in a big lump. I would weigh into pound batches… they still do well in gin, in fact it saves you laboriously pricking each one as the freezing breaks the skins… I do this with sloes each year… MUCH easier!
      So far I’ve made damson gin, spiced jelly, sherry damson sauce (a kind of sweet spiced ketchup, fantastic with duck and spicy food!) Wine and jam are on today’s agenda!

  3. Just been to collect some feral cherry plums. I usually go on Boxing Day, but they seem to be ripening earlier this year. Not quite ripe enough yet, but will try again in a week.

  4. Hi can you help me identify this fruit, I thought it was a type if crabapple but when I cut it in half across the middle the core was divided into four, I thought that apples only divided into a five segment core.

    The lead looks very much like an apple or plum leaf and the fruit grows in large clusters of perhaps 15 to 20 fruits.

    I have permission to pick them but obviously I need to know they are edible.

    I will try to attach a photo to help.

    Thanks in anticipation. :0)

  5. lapin_rouge

    All this talk of wild fruit…. makes me wonder what the advantage is over the culitvated sort (except price?)?

    or to put it another way… are bullace actually better than victoria plums? or cherry plums better than greengrocer damsons?

    The reason is that I have both easily pickable up here in sunny yorkshire, and quite frankly the cultivated varieties are better and have a better flavour!

  6. Finally decided to try and find out what the tree in our garden is. Was thought to be ornamental cherry or similar, but thanks to this article, I see it’s a cherry plum. In fact on further research, it’s a purple cherry plum. I had planned on foraging for sloes locally and freezing them, but now I can start on the garden plums first. Result! Thanks Fiona :o)

  7. Barbara

    Have just picked a small bag of what I have identified now as wild plums from a tree overhanging from a garden round the corner. Only went back to pick them – there are masses on the pavement and street – when I saw someone else picking and eating them. I hate waste so I feel very justified in making use of them rather than them rotting on the pavement.

  8. I have spotted a plum tree on some waste land near me. I’ll be going and checking how the fruit is doing again soon – but want to know how to id what type it is.

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