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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. Thanks for the plum information, very useful. This year the sloes are so early that there’s no chance of waiting for a frost to improve their flavour …


  2. I don’t know what sloes are like in your respective areas, but where I am they are hanging like grapes this year – I’ve never seen so many.

    I think the frost thing is the same as for parsnips – the cold weather turns more of the starch into sugar and improves the flavour, though I’m sure some chemist will come along and prove me wrong…

  3. Yes you are best to wait for frost before gathering sloes.The golden ones are another version of cherry or myrobalan plums.

  4. Not A Proper Farmer

    Our ponies have a taste for the sloes in our hedgerows….we will need to go further afield to locate a decent crop (or perhaps I need to look higher up as our Shetlands can only reach the fruit lower than 4 foot).

  5. I thought you had to wait for sloes? I’ve always waited until after the first frost for sloes…

    Our damsons (down in Surrey) are already lovely and dark black – I’ve found a secret stash and am off to get more at the weekend!

  6. Glad you were able to find something. Last year was excellent for foraging. We haven’t seen nearly as much this year. We’re going for a long walk at the weekend to see if we can discover anything else.

    Re: what Richard said about waiting for the frost for sloes. I get over excited and impatient and can’t wait that long.

    Glas you were able to escape.

  7. farmingfriends

    Your tricks and tips are a great help.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  8. I love going out and picking from hedgerows. I am going out today to pick sloes. Might make some sloe jelly, but will definitely make some sloe gin. See my blog for details when done.

  9. Thanks for the info on the different plums!!! What are the little yellow ones called? I have found a tree I will be visiting next year for sure to get some of these.

  10. I’ve been foraging like mad the last few days, havent found any of the above fruit yet, but have collected blackberries, elderberries and a few secret apple trees in a very overgrown Victorian cemetary. Still on the hunt for sloes and sweet chestnuts. Thanks for the comparison above.

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