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But not all the plums were ripe. I began looking into recipes for unripe plums: in Turkey, unripe plums (erik), green and sour, are eaten in the spring with salt as a crisp, refreshing snack. (If this seems odd it’s worth remembering that spring in Turkey is short and therefore precious.) In Japan, the ume fruit (in English usually called a plum, but in fact related to the apricot) is picked when unripe to make umeboshi (tiny salted sour plums) and umeshu — green ume fruit liqueur. This appealed to me (but to no one else in the household). The unripe cherry plums were the same size as ume fruit and similarly mouth-puckering. The method for umeboshi is in some ways simple: sterilise a jar, rinse the plums individually in edible alcohol (shochu if you are being proper; vodka or gin if not), layer them into the jar, alternating plum with sprinkles of salt. The salt needs to be 10-20 per cent of the weight of the plums: the higher percentage is safer (to deter mould). Cover it and then leave it. Nothing gives you serial killer vibes like packing something in salt, covering it in clingfilm, tying it up, and hiding it in a dark place. After a month or so take the plums out, dry them in a low oven, then return them to the brine they’ve exuded (this is called umezu, plum vinegar, and this alone is worth the whole process, I think).

And you don’t need to be in the countryside to enjoy the early autumn glut. London, once you start looking, seems full of useful trees. Online tools help, such as the massive collaborative maps Fruit City (, which shows fruit trees in London; Falling Fruit (, which is more freegan-focused, maps any public source of food (community gardens, bins). I’ve seen plenty of fruit trees (tiny apples in the Docklands! grape-sized plums in Kennington Park!) which seem to be overlooked. Some must be opportunists growing from pips or seeds. Some must have been planted by considerate urban planners — people who hoped to make the city easier to live in.

In the middle of Sayes Court Park, next to the Convoys Wharf development site in Deptford, there’s a wizened mulberry tree. When I saw it I thought some public-spirited Victorian must have planted it. But by repute it’s much older: the park is built over Sayes Court, the house and garden of John Evelyn, the diarist and contemporary of Pepys. He was an early advocate of vegetarianism, and believed in planting trees, particularly sweet-smelling ones, in urban spaces to mitigate pollution. His amazingly-titled essay Fumifugium is a treatise on “the inconveniencie of the aer and smoak” in London; his Sylva is a “discourse on forest-trees”. It seems unlikely it is the same tree planted by Evelyn (or — another rumour — that it was planted by Peter the Great, who rented Sayes Court in 1698). More likely it’s a descendant. But it’s hundreds of years old and still fruiting. May all trees be so lucky.

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