Robert May, on Preserving Green Fruits

"The time to preserve Green Fruits
Gooseberries must be taken about Whitsuntide, as you see them in bigness, the long gooseberry will be sooner than the red; the white wheat plum, which is ever ripe in Wheat harvest, must be taken in the midst of July, the pear plum in the midst of August, the peach and pippin about Bartholomew-tide, or a little before; the grape in the first week of September. Note that to all your green fruits in general that you will preserve in sirup, you must take to every pound of fruit, a pound and two ounces of sugar, and a grain of musk; your plum, pippin and peach will have three quarters of an hour boiling, or rather more, and that very softly, keep the fruit as whole as you can; your grapes and gooseberries must boil half an hour something fast and they will be the fuller. Note also, that to all your Conserves you take the full weight of sugar, then take two skillets of water, and when they are scalding hot put the fruits first into one of them and when that grows cold put them in the other, changing them till they be about to peel, then peel them, and afterwards settle them in the same water till they look green, then take them and put them into sugar sirrup, and so let them gently boil till they come to a jelly; let them stand therein a quarter of an hour, then put them into a pot and keep them."

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook 2nd edtn (1665)

There’s a long tradition, detailed in many of the historical cookery books that I’ve perused, of preserving green, under-ripe fruit as a form of either jam or bottled fruit. It makes sense that you’d want to make good use as much under-ripe, perhaps prematurely fallen fruit as you could, especially if you were expecting a glut of ripe fruit and wanted to save yourself some time at a later date.

We’ve missed Whitsun by a weekend (it was on June 5th this year) but if the gooseberries on our plot are anything to go by, they should be about ready to pick for preserving. Another two or three weeks and they’ll hopefully be ripened and sweet enough to eat straight off the bush, but I might pick a few now and see if I can find time to make a batch of sharp-sweet gooseberry jam.

I don’t know anything of the history of ‘wheat plums’ or ‘pear plums’1R. V. Roger of Pickering is offering the former for sale and referencing a mention in Parkinson’s Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris of 1629. Perhaps it was a seventeenth century method of categorising the fruit that has fallen by the wayside with the breeding and improvement that has happened since? I don’t (yet) have a copy of Taylor’s Plums of England, but I suspect the definitive answer might be in there somewhere.

Bartholomew-tide is the festival of St. Bartholomew on August 24th, which makes sense for picking green pippins and perhaps peaches ad well. I’ve never had the capacity for growing them, so I’m not sure when they’d ripen. Likewise grapes.

How about you? Do you have any plans to preserve your early gooseberries, or green apples in the fullness of time? Do let me know, via the comments. And if you’re looking for more historical kitchen inspiration, take a look at the ever-expanding historical orchard recipes page here on


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    R. V. Roger of Pickering is offering the former for sale and referencing a mention in Parkinson’s Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris of 1629

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