Thursday, 30 August 2012

Autumn is in the Air - The Apple Harvest

Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.

The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.

They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.

In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.

I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole.

Laurie Lee
 I can smell a change in the air - the garden is starting to wind down - soon digging will begin on vacant spaces where the final crops have been harvested, and all that will be left are the cabbages and  leafy veg.  But of course there is always the apple harvest to come.
My apple crop is greatly diminished this year, and I could see blackbirds hopping through the branches pecking at them, James Grieve are a highly scented variety, and seem to attract birds and wasps alike, in their droves - some years you can hardly see the tree for starlings gorging themselves.  So yesterday I picked all that I could reach - maybe a bucketful - as we are on holiday next week - and I fear there would be no apples left for us on our return.  They are not a keeping variety but will be alright for a couple of weeks so I shall be making a few pies and crumbles with them as well as a bit of juicing.


A Deeply Appley Apple Crumble
A sublime crumble is probably one where the fruit lies somewhere between thick juice and soft nuggets of flesh.  For me, the filling should be a mixture of barely recognisable chunks on the verge of collapse and a sort of sweet slush the texture of melting snow.
Nigel Slater

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recipe here
A favourite apple is the Russet which has a lovely nutty flavour and I am hoping to plant one this year so that when the James Grieve is over I will  continue cropping from this tree.
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via pinterest

My Golden Delicious tree doesn't have a single apple on it this year - last year it was heaving.
   I had so many that I was giving carrier bags full away and feeding them to the sheep - if only I had had an apple press.  Alas, this year is a different story.  Hopefully the tree will feel rested and give me a bountiful harvest next year.

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via pinterest
Or I could have made them into apple crisps if I had had the time.
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Carl Larsson - Apple Harvest
I still have two other trees which are Braeburn type apples but they are still small and won't be ready before October - and of course there is the Bramley - most of the apples this year seem to be a bit pitted and scabby - so I am not expecting a good harvest from it.  In fact, it has been rubbish ever since I planted it - so earlier this year I bought a replacement - and the old tree will be chopped down when the new one has established itself.   My Mum used to grate Bramleys with sugar  for us when we were kids, a treat that I always associate with autumn. 
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via pinterest
And I also love cheese and apple sandwiches - a slab of strong Cheddar and thinly cut crisp, tart apples - in between slices of fresh crusty bread - simple, but delicious.
Apple Orchard, Kent - John Minton

 let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could." 
                         --Louise Erdrich "The Painted Drum"

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Preserving Summers' Bounty

I don't know about you, but I have already started preserving the excess from crops that are doing well, in readiness for winter.  There are many different ways of doing this - drying, leathering, smoking, freezing, bottling, juicing, jamming, pickling, salting - to name just a few.
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 As each crop is harvested, rather than standing for hours in the kitchen pickling, jamming and freezing - it is easier to work in small batches.  Dealing with a glut of a particular veg can be very time consuming.  I do like a manageable glut - so if there is a small surplus produced beyond my weekly needs - then I will go about preserving it.

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via pinterest
I prefer to eat seasonally and only preserve as a final option.  No one wants to waste any of their precious crops but there is a limit to how much you can store and how much you think you will eat over winter.  I do try not to grow too much of any one plant.  Some years I have grown a couple of dozen runner bean plants - had a fantastic crop - and ended up giving most of it away - because I just didn't have the freezer space  - and also because there are only just so many meals with beans that I actually want in winter - I prefer the cabbages and kales, brussels and broccoli.  It also means I look forward much more to the new seasons beans.  This year I have only grown half a dozen runner bean plants - which was nearly my undoing - due to the slug-attack-from-hell.  Luckily they survived despite everything and are giving me nice manageable quantities - a few to eat fresh - and a few to freeze.
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via pinterest
So far this year I have made redcurrant jelly, pickled beetroot, tomato sauce and Mediterranean chutney.  In the freezer there are frozen chunks of courgette to be made into soup and some bags of runner beans.  When the eating apples are ready (my apples - James Grieve - are not keepers) I'll make a few jars of apple sauce and freeze some for pies and crumbles and juice the rest.
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via pinterest
I also use dry storing for carrots, beetroot and parsnips.  Layering them in dry earth they keep really well right through the winter.  Parsnips keep well if left in the ground but on a cold and frosty morning when the earth is solid - I prefer just to uncover a couple that have been stored in dry earth or sand than trying to dig them up.

This is a huge subject and I can't possibly cover everything in this post - even if I plan carefully what I am going to grow there will inevitably be gluts (you only have to think of courgettes and you'll know what I mean).  Overplanting means that you do have to deal with your excess,  if you have so much stored that you never get round to eating it all, you are just wasting your time.

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Here's what Bob Flowerdew has to say in his book 'Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own' where he covers every aspect of storage and preservation of crops.
"It simply makes sense to store and preserve as much as you can in season of your own home-grown produce to keep you provided as long as possible after your fresh supplies run out.  And if you believe in eating what you have rather than what you fancy so the more available ingredients the better.  With more fresh, stored and processed ingredients, the most possible recipes and the finer your table."

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Small Space Gardening

It is incredible just how many vegetables you can grow in a small space if you take some time to plan how you can fit it all in.  Although I have my veggie plot I also have some raised beds in the Rosebank garden which I usually use for salad crops and as a back-up in case of crop failure.  This year has been a prime example.
Because of the weather and slug infestation my early sowings of french and runner beans  have not done well - so I re-sowed in containers which were raised off the ground in the hope of getting at least some beans a bit later on.  These have been much more successful and although the runner beans have yet to flower, they haven't been attacked, and look much healthier than the originals.  There should be enough  left of the summer for them to develop beans before the frosts arrive.
I try to use my small space wisely and besides using containers of all shapes and sizes I apply a bit of common sense and interplant slow-growing crops with salad greens, radishes and spring onions, which won't interfere with their growth and will be used up by the time the other veg need the space.  You can grow certain things quite closely and it won't affect their size.  Carrots and beetroot rows are a case in point.  When harvesting I pull alternate roots and leave a bit more growing room for the remaining vegetables.
 If you train your trailing plants upwards on trellis or canes they take up a lot less space - you can't afford to let squashes ramble in a small garden.  By re-seeding quick growing crops every few weeks, especially beans and lettuce you can keep your crops coming all summer and not have a situation where everything comes all at once.  And once a crop is harvested another crop goes straight in after revitalising the soil.

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 Virtually any fruit, vegetable or herb can be grown in a container - as long as the container is large enough.  I have peas, beans, lettuce and carrots growing in troughs, strawberries and tomatoes in hanging baskets and runner beans in very large pots, plus potatoes in grow-sacks.  It is a great way to squeeze an edible garden into the smallest space.
And by using cloches and cold frames you can keep the garden going over winter to extend the gardening season.

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 The time will come when I have to give up my allotment, then I will be totally reliant on my small  space edible garden at home for supplying all our needs, and making the best possible use of it will be my prime concern.
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Veg growing has been part of my life for so long now I just couldn't imagine not doing it.  Being able to walk to the top of the garden to pick a fresh  lettuce is one of lifes simple pleasures. 
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 This is what Alys Fowler has to say:-
It's one thing to play around with how to grow in the ground, but what if you don't own a patch to plant into? I have always found growing food in pots easier than in the soil as conditions are controllable, and with good compost, regular watering and good light you can get very good results.  One of the joys of growing in pots is that you can move them around.  This not only gives them the best possible chance as the season progresses, but you can place plenty of flowers and nectar-rich plants between your vegetables to create an ecology that will attract beneficial insects and pollinators to your pots, or you can grow the two together in large pots.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Greenhouse Crops - Beefsteak Tomatoes

Last year I grew Consteluto Fiorentina beefsteak tomatoes and had terrible trouble with them  they became diseased and the fruits didn't grow to the size they should have.  So I switched to Marmande for this year and the difference is amazing.  You don't get so many tomatoes to a truss as with normal tomatoes - but what they lack in quantity - they make up for in size.

I am holding this one in the palm of my hand.
The smaller ones at the bottom of the plant are just starting to ripen the largest will be sometime yet.  The flavour of this wonderful old French heirloom beefsteak variety is so rich, sumptious and utterly tomatoey it sets the standard for all others to match up to.

The massive fist-sized  fruits are heavily ribbed and produce very few seeds - sliced into thick generous juicy wedges layered with mozarella and avocado, drizzled with vinaigrette - they are an unforgettable treat.

You can stuff them

see recipe here

or use them in tomato salad

 or slow roast them for adding to sauces, bottling or freezing

see recipe here
 or if they don't all ripen use them green and cook fried green tomatoes
If enough ripen I intend making Tomato and Chilli Chutney
see here for recipe
or Tomato and Chilli Jam which is a particular favourite of mine

see recipe here
 Of course you can use normal sized tomatoes for all of the above but beefsteak have less seeds and more flesh.  And I couldn't possibly leave out Tomato Soup

see recipe here
Of course the easiest and probably the tastiest way of eating them is warm, straight from the plant or sliced into a sandwich.  Can't wait.

Here is what Nigel Slater has to say about the humble tomato:-
A Tomato For Its Own Sake
You have found your tomato, sweetly ripe yet with a bite to it.  It may still have the green shoulders of youth, or a few yellow freckles near its stalk.  The seeded jelly inside will shine as you slice.  As you have already resisted the temptation to eat it whole, you might like to slice it thinly, but no thinner that two one-pound coins on top of one another.  You lay the slices, overlapping, on a plate and trickle olive oil over them, so that it falls in rivulets over the fruit.  Fruity, peppery, green or grassy, the choice is yours.  A little salt, barely noticeable, but no pepper this time.  Just your tomato, oil and a flick of sea salt.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Soft Fruit - Redcurrants

A few years ago when I used to keep a herd of goats I would cycle round the lanes collecting branches and leaves for them to eat.  On one of these expeditions I found a wild redcurrant bush in the hedgerow and took a cutting, and potted it up when I returned home.  This cutting turned into a massive bush which provides me with as much redcurrant jelly as I can use.

This year they haven't been as prolific as other years and started fruiting a lot later.  I am sure that the erratic weather had a lot to do with it, so I am not too worried, and anyway there is still enough for me to make a few pots of redcurrant jelly.

I love to see the bunches hanging from the branches like jewels with the sun shining on them.  Of course picking them is a rather messy, sticky affair - and they are a bit tart for my taste to eat raw.

No-fuss fruit tart
No fuss fruit tart from Nigella

Redcurrants, with their high pectin content, make beautiful jellies that are perfect on toast or stirred into gravies and sauces to be served with lamb.  Fresh redcurrants are essential in summer pudding

Summer pudding
but also marry perfectly with strawberries for a cool, elegant dessert.

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This is what Nigel Slater has to say about them:-

"One of the first bushes to break into leaf, tiny fresh green leaves that appear when all else is still sleeping, and that signal spring is almost here.  The fruit comes as something of a wake-up call too.  One day the flowers will be hanging down in lacy, green festoons, the next time you look the berries are almost ripe.  By July you can be picking the fine stems with their rows of fruit hanging like costume jewellery.  But the birds are attracted to the red variety, so you need to move quickly or cover the bushes with nets."

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I spent this morning making Redcurrant and Gooseberry Jelly - if when making the jelly you don't press the fruit and just let it drip - you get a lovely clear jelly - if you press the fruit it goes cloudy.

One punnet each of Redcurrants and Gooseberries
produced only two jars of jelly
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