Six on Saturday: Summer Harvest

With so much to talk about in the flower garden the fruit and vegetables seldom get a mention. This year the vegetable garden seems to have really got going. Whether this is the result of the earlier hot temperatures, the current wet weather or simply the fact that I have had much more time to do things better this year I am not sure.

To celebrate the fact that we are picking good produce daily now I thought I would highlight six crops that we have enjoyed this week. It has also been an interesting exercise trying to create some attractive photos of fruit and veg to post!

One: Raspberries

I think I would describe the raspberry canes as a little feral now. They are growing at least six feet away from where I originally planted them. I wrote earlier in the week about our new decorative walk-in fruit cage project so next year we hope to have a much better crop of larger berries. However, we are still enjoying the old ones with lashings of cream and sugar. You really cannot beat fresh raspberries!

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Two: Broad Beans

I have grown three varieties of broad beans this year and managed to sow them in succession. The varieties this year are Sciabola Verde, Red Epicure and Express. All are growing strongly and don’t seem to have been bothered by black fly this year. I have also done a much better job at supporting them which has helped reduce the damage to the pods from mice and voles. The picture shows the larger green beans of Sciabola verde and the small tender red beans of Red Epicure. There is something rather attractive about their silky skins.

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Three: Lettuce

We have suffered very little from slug damage this year (so far) and the lettuces have really grown away strongly. We have concentrated on an Iceberg variety called Match. This is producing nice, clean crisp leaves. Although not strictly a ‘cut and come again’ variety I have been able to remove just the leaves we want for a meal and leave the remaining plants to develop further.

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Four: Mangetout peas

These have been a real success. The fact that I have had the time to carefully pick the pods every day has ment that they have kept coming and continue to crop extremely well. We are getting a small bowl full every day now off a three metre row. The variety is Oregon Sugar Pod.

We do seem to have a lot of wood pigeons in the garden this year and normally it would be a challenge to keep them off the crops. However, I have dusted off my trusty bird scarers made of old shiny CDs and DVDs and they seem to have worked a treat. ‘Back in the day’ when you used to receive loads of free CDs through the post from Internet Service Providers like AOL and Tiscali I had a huge stack of these but they are now beginning to run a bit short I am afraid.

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Five: Swiss Chard

We grow a lot of Swiss Chard and Perpetual Spinach in the vegetable garden and it crops reliably right through the summer and autumn. They also produce harvestable leaves throughout the winter months and it is lovely to have some fresh veg to pick at this time.

Not only are they very productive but the Swiss Chard (variety Bright Lights) is also very attractive with its bright red, yellow and white stems. I would highly recommend this Salmon and Swiss Chard Pie recipe that we found the tried the other day. Easy to make and very tasty.

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Six: Blackcurrants

Usually the birds do not trouble my blackcurrants but last year they suddenly took the lot when I wasn’t looking. I am trying to get ahead of the game this year by picking and freezing the currants as they ripen. Picking blackcurrants is certainly a time consuming business and you cannot rush it (otherwise you end up dropping the lot on the ground whilst you seek out the next bunch to pick).

Because of the lack of rain the currants are not as big as they might have been in previous years but hopefully they will still pack a punch. I have noticed that they have suddenly started to swell and split with the recent rain. Still usuable but they will need to be picked before they spoil.

Although we do love a blackcurrent and apple pie the bulk of our currants go to make blackcurrant jelly. We freeze the fresh berries as we pick them until we have a large enough amount to make up a batch of jam. Blackcurrant jelly on warm buttered toast at the breakfast table – always good!

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All in all the fruit and vegetables are growing well. Each year something goes wrong though and this year it has been the cucumbers. All five super plants have suffered from wilt I’m afraid and had to be chucked out. Such a shame as they usually grow so well for us.

And to finish, a little nostalgia. I do find podding broad beans at the end of a busy day with a glass of good beer a very civilised summer activity. It also brings back memories of my (then) young children singing this harvest song at the top of their voices in primary school assembly:

Cauliflowers Fluffy and cabbages green
Strawberries are sweeter than any I’ve seen
Beetroots purple and onions white
All grow steadily day and night

The apples are ripe and the plums are red
The broadbeans are sleeping in their blankety bed

Blackberries are juicy and rhubarbs sour
Marrows fattening hour by hour
Gooseberries hairy and lettuces fat
Radishes round and runner beans flat

The apples are ripe and the plums are red
The broadbeans are sleeping in their blankety bed

Orangey carrots and turnips cream
Reddening tomatoes that used to be green
Brown potatoes in little heaps
Down in the darkness where the celery sleeps

The apples are ripe and the plums are red
The broadbeans are sleeping in their blankety bed, Yea!


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.

Quince cider – a new experiment for 2018

This year has been our best ever for Quinces in the orchard.  Much as we love Quince Crumble Tarts there is a limit to just how many of these you can eat.

BBC Good Food

Photo Credit:  BBC Good Food

Rather than simply leave the fruit to rot on the compost heap we thought we would explore another method of preserving them and enjoying them over the coming months.  Although we make cider from our apples every year we have not tried quince ‘cider’ before so this is very much an experiment.  I have used the term ‘cider’ as I am not trying to make a quince wine.  I am looking for something that is thirst quenching, fresh and sparking and not as alcoholic as a wine would be.

The fruits have such a fragrant bouquet that they should make a very enjoyable drink in theory but I can imagine that if you use too many the flavour could be over-powering.  Having read various recipes this is the approach we decided to adopt to make our first gallon of trial quince ‘cider’.

I decided to use eight large quince fruits per gallon.  Some recipes suggest 20 per gallon but I think this would result in a flavour that might be too strong.  As the fruits are so rock solid even when ripe they could not be crushed and pressed in the same way as apples.   The quinces were washed, cored and grated (skin on).

The pulp was then added to 4 pints of water in a large pan and brought to the boil.  It was boiled for 15 minutes and then the liquid was strained from the pulp.  Other recipes have suggested that boiling for longer than 15 minutes makes it difficult to clear after fermentation.  The resulting liquor certainly had a very pleasant flavour.

To increase the sugar levels for fermentation I dissolved 1kg of granulated sugar in 2 pints of water and then added this to the quince juice.  This resulted in a specific gravity measurement of SG1080 which is perhaps higher than I might have wished for.  If it ferments out then this would be in excess of 9% alcohol which is pretty potent for a cider.  Time will tell whether the result will be on the sweet side with a lower alcohol content or drier with a higher alcohol level.

A further 2 pints of cold water was added to the must to make up the 8 pints (1 gallon) and this was allowed to cool to tepid before adding a cider yeast.  I also added 2 teaspoons of pectolase to help the cider clear.

All that is left to do now is stand back, admire and wait for the result.  Usually my apple cider is ready to rack in mid-November and it will be interesting to see if the quince cider performs in the same way.

I will let you know how it goes!


Update:  June 2019

The Quince Cider is now ready to drink.  It is certainly beautifully clear and certainly looks the part.  For my taste it has worked out rather sweeter than I would have hoped.  I think next year I will reduce the additional sugar to perhaps 0.5kg rather than the 1kg used this year.  There is no doubt that the fragrant quince gives a wonderful flavour – not to strong or too insipid.

(PS:  Still enjoying the quince crumble tarts from the freezer – they are just to die for!)

An easy method to provide a continuous supply of fresh herbs for cooking at the weekend

We really enjoy using fresh herbs in our cooking but if you are growing your own it is so easy to get a glut at times and then nothing at others (just when you want it of course).

Supermarket buying also has its problems with a standard pack of cut fresh herbs usually much more than you need.  It then languishes in the fridge until it becomes rather sad and limp.

However, creating your own supply of growing herbs and salad leaves is really very straight forward as long as you get yourself organised.  If you have a greenhouse or cold frame then all the better.

We use a lot of  coriander, rocket, basil and parsley in particular and grow them in the following way.

Every three weeks fill a small 9cm pot with standard multi-purpose compost mixed with some perlite for better drainage.  Water the compost and then sow a small amount of coriander seed onto the surface.  Water before you sow the seed so it remains evenly spread over the pot and does not all end up in one corner.  Cover lightly with vermiculite (or more compost), label and then cover with a piece of clingfilm until the seedlings emerge.  Uncover as soon as the seedlings begin to show.

We do the same with the salad rocket in a slightly large 1 litre plastic pot.  The seedlings of rocket will emerge in just a few days.

For the basil we tend to use a broader 9 inch wide terracotta pot/bowl as the basil likes better drainage and does not like to get waterlogged.  There are a wide range of basil varieties and these can provide you with both leaves for a salad and for use in cooking.  Once sown the technique is the same.

Just grow these on in the light and very rapidly they will reach a point where you can bring them into the kitchen, place on the windowsill and pick what you need, when you need it.

I am sure the same technique would work equally well for parsley but we find that rather than bring the pots into the kitchen we plant them out in the vegetable garden where they establish quickly and produce fresh green leaves deep into winter.

Remember:  Keep sowing every 3 weeks or so (don’t wait until you start to run out) and you will have a ready supply throughout the year.

A recipe to try:  If you like parsley then you might like to have a go at this recipe for egg, bacon and parsley pie which is a favorite of ours and makes great use of the parsley from the garden.

How to make cider from all those spare apples

We have been making cider with our orchard apples for over 15 years now. I find it hugely satisfying and it makes excellent use of an apple crop that would otherwise go to waste.

We try to use a mix of apples. Too many eating apples and you get a rather insipid cider. Too many cookers and it is rather sharp. The beauty is that every year is slightly different depending on the apples available. You certainly don’t need specialist cider apples to make a very drinkable cider.

  • First of all make sure that all your equipment is cleaned and sterilised to reduce the risk of off flavours getting into your cider.
  • Give the apples a good wash in clear water and cut into quarters making sure you take out any bruised pieces and any bugs! Some people leave the bruised parts of the apple but we like our cider to be fresh tasting and not of old over-ripe apples.
  • Put the apple pieces through the crusher. The aim is to crush the apples and not chop them as this releases more of the juice.
  • We extract more juice by a short pulse in a food processor. You don’t want to create a pulp as this simply oozes out of the press in the next stage. The pieces need to be crushed but still large enough not to escape out of the press.
  • The juice is extracted using a manually operated Vigo fruit press. You need patience for this as you need to give the apple time to release its juice. You then apply more pressure and wait again. (You can always drink the juice at this stage as well – in the interests of quality control of course!)
  • Gather all the juice together in a sterilised fermenting vessel with a bubbler.
  • We add about 1kg of granulated sugar dissolved in a small amount of water to every 25 litres of juice to increase the alcohol content of the final cider (to about 7%-8%). This means it keeps much longer and will keep up to a year once bottled with no problems.
  • We use cider yeast rather than a general purpose wine yeast. Sprinkle the yeast on the surface and allow to soak for 15 minutes or so before stirring in.
  • We also add about 4 teaspoons of pectolase to the must to get a clear, fresh cider with no cloudiness.
  • Place the cider to bubble away until around December. Keep it in a warmish place at around room temperature. Once the fermentation starts to slow decant the cider off the old yeast deposit into a clean fermenting vessel. Leave to ferment out until the bubbles stop.
  • We bottle our cider into normal, sterilised beer bottles that will take the pressure of a secondary ferment in the bottle. We add one teaspoon of sugar to each bottle before filling and then apply a crown cork to seal.
  • The cider is then left for its secondary ferment in the bottle. This is important as this secondary ferment will mellow the cider and create the natural sparkle in the bottle.
  • The cider will be ready in about February or March but will keep very well for at least 12 months.
  • Chill before drinking and enjoy!!

2017/2018 Timeline

22 October 2017 – Apple pressing completed and fermentation started

9 December 2017 – Racking the cider off the dead yeast as fermentation slows to prevent off flavours developing

31 January 2018 – Cider bottled and stored in cool area for secondary fermentation in the bottle to create the sparkle!

20 March 2018 – Breaking open the first bottle – yum😁

Quinces

One of the beauties of growing your own fruit is that you can grow things that you don’t often come across in the supermarket.  Quince (Cydonia oblonga) is something that is well worth growing both for its large, delightful pink blossom in the spring and its large yellow fruits in the autumn.

Quince fruit

The tree in our orchard was planted in 1995 and did take some years to get going but now fruits reliably year after year.  The fruits do seem prone to scab but this only effects the fruits on the surface and does not impact the flesh at all.

Quince flowers dusted with pink

At first glance the fruits might seem daunting being hard and solid and difficult to cut through.  You will need to feel strong to prepare these!  However, peeled and cored and boiled for around an hour in a limited amount of water creates a wonderful, fragrant peach coloured puree that is quite unique.  Mash up (technical term!) with a hand blender and add sugar, lemon and cinnamon and you have the most wonderful puree for use in a wide range of desserts.

The following Quince Crumble Tart from BBC Good Food recipe is one we have done many times and always works well.   The quinces will fill your house with a beautiful quince perfume.

Quince Crumble Tart

Tip: We freeze cooked fruit in large muffin trays.  When frozen tip them out into a bag, label and pop back in the freezer.  You can then take out exactly the amount you need when you need it.  One frozen block fits nicely in a ramekin dish, then topped with crumble mix and placed in the oven gives a quick pud.