Wild in the country

Now's the best time for fruit from hedgerows and orchards. And Mark Hix has scrummy recipes for willing scrumpers
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The summer berry frenzy is over, but just because it's getting cooler doesn't mean it's doom and gloom on the fruit front. Autumn also offers interesting and delicious fruits to turn into puddings. Victoria plums, greengages and damsons, as well as hedgerow blackberries, are now ripe for the picking - in some parts of the country they may already have been picked. Figs from the Mediterranean are at their best now, as are grapes.

The summer berry frenzy is over, but just because it's getting cooler doesn't mean it's doom and gloom on the fruit front. Autumn also offers interesting and delicious fruits to turn into puddings. Victoria plums, greengages and damsons, as well as hedgerow blackberries, are now ripe for the picking - in some parts of the country they may already have been picked. Figs from the Mediterranean are at their best now, as are grapes.

If, like me, you are a hunter-gatherer, then there are plenty of blackberry, elderberry and wild plum trees out there to plunder that no one seems interested in harvesting because it's just too easy to go to the supermarket. I love the possibilities wild berries offer - from jams to sloe gin.

The French keep up the tradition of going out and gathering. I know if you live in the city it's not so easy, but there are still lots of parks out there and woods on the outskirts with lots of free food. A walk or bike ride with the bonus of coming back with something to eat is a great way to get kids interested in food. If they've picked it and helped cook it, they're bound to want to eat it. And you know it will be as fresh as fruit can be. Try them on homemade apple and blackberry pie or a plum crumble, instead of flavoured yoghurt and other sugar- and sweetener-packed desserts. I grew up on those proper puddings, and whatever people say about school dinners, back then we really looked forward to them.

Plum and almond tart

Serves 4

If you've missed the Victoria plum season then there are other varieties to choose from, including damsons, greengages and imported Cape plums. You can make up these tarts in advance if you are doing a dinner party and just slice the plums and add them an hour or so before.

About 250g puff pastry, rolled to about 1/3cm thick
8 large red plums
2tbsp caster sugar

for the almond paste

30g butter, preferably unsalted, softened
30g caster sugar
1 small egg, beaten
15g plain flour
50g ground almonds

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6. To make the almond paste, cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with a wooden spoon, or in a mixing machine. Add the egg gradually until well mixed then fold in the flour and ground almonds.

If you want individual tarts cut the pastry into 4 rectangles measuring about 9cm x 12cm. For one large tart, the pastry should be 30cm x 12cm. Place the pastry on a baking tray then spread on the almond paste, leaving a 1/2-cm border round the edge.

Halve the plums and remove the stones and cut them into wedges about 1cm thick. Arrange them on the pastry and scatter over the caster sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the plums are soft and lightly coloured. Serve with clotted cream, crème fraîche or ice cream.

Autumn fruit charlotte and elderberry sauce

Serves 4

I can't resist gathering elderberries when they are ripe and just dangling from the trees. I keep them in the freezer for sauces, to scatter on a salad or add to other autumn fruits in a crumble or pudding. No one else seems to pick them; maybe it's that poisonous berry fear. Now elderflowers have become fashionable in cordials and the like perhaps the berries will follow. You can use a selection of fruits for this or just pears and blackberries, for example, or whatever is available.

1 large very ripe pear, peeled, cored and chopped into rough 1cm cubes
200g blackberries, blueberries, figs or ripe plums
2tbsp caster sugar
50g unsalted butter, melted
10-14 thin slices of white bread
200g thick spooning cream or clotted cream

for the sauce

100ml water
100g caster sugar
120g elderberries, removed from the stalks

Mix the pears with the other fruits and sugar.

Then prepare the charlotte part. You will need 4 individual pudding basins, measuring about 8cm across by 5-6cm deep. Remove the crusts from the bread and melt the butter. Cut 8 discs slightly smaller than the top of the pudding basins. Then cut 8 rectangular pieces of bread approximately 7cm x 12cm.

To line the moulds dip the rectangles of bread in the melted butter on both sides and line the sides of the moulds, overlapping the pieces of bread slightly. Dip the discs on both sides and push one into the bottom of each mould using your fingers to form a seal.

Fill the moulds with the fruit mixture. Top with the 4 remaining discs and join the bread with your fingers. Turn the moulds up the other way on to a board or tray for about 10 minutes to help them to form the seal on the bottoms.

Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 200°C/ gas mark 6.

Turn the moulds back up the other way, cover the tops loosely with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Turn the oven down to 175°C/Gas mark 5 and cook for another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and turn upside down and leave for up to 20 minutes or so until they are served. They will keep their heat for even longer, so when you're ready to serve just take off the basins.

Grilled pork chop with cinnamon- spiced plums

Serves 4

Apart from serving them with apple sauce, it's sometimes difficult to think of other ways to jazz up boring pork chops. Obviously if it's a posh chop from a well-established breed of pig, such as Gloucester Old Spot, then it won't be boring, but I mean the dull as ditchwater, cooked-to-death supermarket chops. Do try and buy decent pork; there are some humanely reared and well-fed varieties at farmers' markets and butcher's shops now. At least buy British as imported pork often isn't reared to the same standards.

Plums and pork are one of those classic combinations - the Chinese are even more aware of it than we are. And if you have a glut of plums on your hands pairing them with pork makes a change from jam-making. If you want to make a big batch of the spiced plums you can keep them in the fridge in sterilised Kilner jars.

4 pork chops weighing about 200-250g each
1tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

for the spiced plums

16 greengages, damsons or mirabelle plums, halved and stoned, or 8 ordinary plums, halved, stoned and quartered
50g butter
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
2tbsp cider vinegar
2tbsp water

To make the spiced plums, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan, add the plums, cinnamon and cider vinegar and cook on a high heat for 3-4 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the water and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated and the plums are soft.

Meanwhile pre-heat a ribbed griddle plate or a grill, season and lightly oil the chops and grill for 4-5 minutes on each side depending on their thickness. You can cut any rind and fat off and cook it separately under the grill until crisp and serve it with the chops. Serve the spiced plums hot or cold, with the chops.

Figs with ricotta and honey

Figs are at their best now and readily available from Spain, Italy and other parts of the Med. They're tricky to buy, though, and should be eaten when they are soft and almost jam like in the centre. Like lots of fruits they don't appear at their best when they are in peak condition, instead looking sticky on the outside and as if they're on their last legs. These are the ones to buy because most people will go for the perfect looking fruits and be disappointed when they get home. You'll be the smug one with the fruit they rejected.

All you need is figs, honey and ricotta. Allow about 2 large figs per person, half or quarter them and arrange on a plate. Spoon over some clear honey; I love the chestnut honey which you can buy in Italian delis and some supermarkets or you may want to use lavender or rosemary honey. Leave your ricotta at room temperature for an hour or so before using. Then break it into pieces over the figs.

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