There is an English proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try try again”. Never, it feels like, has it been more true that with the Trinidad perfume chilli. I first read about it in James Wongs RHS Grow for Flavour and wanted to give it a go. I love Habanero chillies, probably the finest flavour of all chillies but they are hot. Trinidad perfume is a hab type but with no heat.
Hamburg parsley, sometimes known as turnip rooted parsley or parsnip rooted parsley is a real novelty in the UK which you are unlikely to be able to try unless you grow your own although it is much more popular in (obviously) Germany but also other parts of Europe.
There isn’t much left on the allotment at this year other than some hardy brassicas, leeks and parsnips. Parsnips are sometimes shunned by allotmenteers as they have to be in the ground for a long time to form good roots and always taste best after the first frosts. Some varieties need a very deep fine sandy soil to cope with their long tapered roots and show growers will grow them in dustbins or drainpipe. If your soil is less than ideal, you want to find a slightly shorter variety. White Gem is a good one to consider growing in that case
Gooseberries have for some reason been a little out of fashion and quite hard to buy the fruit. For years you have only been able to buy them in most supermarkets in tins or yogurt. Thankfully things seem to be changing and when they are in season they do seem to more available fresh. Invicta is a good variety for beginners. Whilst it doesn’t top the flavour chart it is a good variety to grow as it is mildew resistant, has large berries and very high yields, it is almost bomb proof and has the RHS award of garden merit at the time of writing. Invicta is a variety for cooking as it is quite tart but there are other varieties which can be eaten fresh.
I’ve always been a bit wary of the phrase “a good all rounder”. At school I was described as such and it always seemed to say competent at most things, master of none. It’s a very unexciting phrase.
So I feel a little ungenerous describing the pear Williams Bon Cretein as a good all rounder but in this case it is a fair description. This English heritage pear, first found in 1765 and later sold by Richard Williams has a smooth buttery flesh and real pear flavour.
In vegetables there are very few varieties which are more than 100 years old. Plant breed programs have improved yields and disease resistance (often at the expense of flavour and nutritional value) beyond all recognition. Fruit trees, probably because of the time required to bring a new variety to the market are a different matter. If you would like to eat a piece of agricultural history then Doyenne Du Comice is a fine place to start. This pear was bred in France in 1849, just 30 or so years after the death of Napoleon and a year after the February revolution forced King Louis-Phillipe to abdicate and flee to England. It was introduced to England by Sir Francis Dyke Acland in 1858. It is still in commercial production in the continent.
For those of us hiding indoors this weekend as a large band of wet weather crosses the UK, next summer can seem like a lifetime away. However there are a few crops in the allotment which need to go in to the ground now for next year. Early cropping broad beans and sweet peas but also autumn sown garlic.
If you haven’t already got your garlic, then rose wight, from the famous Isle of Wight garlic farm stable is worth a second look. It really is an eye catcher and has a good flavour too.
Let’s have a conference about pears…..conference pears that is. Conference is the most widely grown pear in the UK, probably not because it is the finest tasting although it does have good flavour, but because it is easy to grow and easy to store. It is a true heritage pear though, being bred by one of the most famous Victoria fruit tree breeders, the Rivers nursery.
I have a confession to make. I am a bit of an apple traitor. Normally I would always say, buy local, buy British, support UK farmers. I should, as a Brit and the friend of an English apple farmer, be championing the cox or other apples grown here. However my favourite apple is Pink Lady an apple that is impossible to grow legally in the UK. The reason it is impossible is that it is still under plant breeders rights and the breeder will not allow it to be grown here as conditions are not ideal and they wish to maintain its premier image. So what to do?
Growing your own has certain advantages, the sweetness of sweetcorn taken straight from the plant and plunged in to boiling water, peas eaten straight from the pod. A third is choosing plant varieties, many of which have superior eating qualities but do not store well so are not stocked by supermarkets. Arran pilot is one of those. First developed in the 1930’s it was never commercially a success but is a favourite among allotmenteers. It is a first early potato so one of the earliest to be harvested, from about mid June but starts to deteriorate in flavour and texture within about 2 weeks of harvesting so the only way you will try it is if you grow your own.
I’ve just dug up the last of my first early potatoes and will soon be moving on to the second earlies. This year my most successful first earlies were Lady Christl. Slice Lady Christl open and you will see a buttery yellow interior. This butteriness is carried on in to the flavour. It’s reminiscent of the nations favourite Charlotte but not as sweet, instead there are slight parsley notes.
There is something very satisfying about scraping back the soil to reveal your first potato harvest. If you just can’t wait to try your homegrown potatoes then a small sowing of Rocket may be for you. Rocket is a first early and is one of the earliest potato crops in the UK. It probably just pips Swift to the crown of earliest potatoes. Rock can be lifted, in warmer parts of the UK where frost protection has been given as early as late May, for most it will be about 10-12 weeks after planting.
One of the joys of this time of year is finding the little maroon gems of Tayberry Buckingham hiding in a secluded part of my garden. A cross between a raspberry and blackberry the Tayberry was developed in 1979 by Derek Jennings of the famous Scottish Research Institute and is named after the Scottish River Tay. Buckingham is the thornless variety. Tayberries get the colour and a lot of the flavour from raspberry but the size and bite from the blackberry. You will not often see them in supermarkets due to their softness which makes them difficult to pick and store commercially so if you want to try them you will need to grow your own.
On writing this I am a little puzzled. I’ve had a little patch of white alpine strawberries for several years which I believed to be White Soul and if you google the variety a lot will be a small white alpine strawberry with yellow seeds. However when checking for UK suppliers I came across one with the same name but with pink seeds which look very pretty. The yellow seeded variety, possibly because of the very dry weather we have had doesn’t quite match up in the looks department, in fact they look decidedly second class however flavour wise they are a little bombshell. I will buy some of the pink variety and let you know if there is a difference taste wise!
I remember watching a gardening program in the 80’s where the presenter was emphasising the speed at which you needed to cook sweetcorn from the moment it was picked as the sugars started to turn to starch. In those days the only way to taste good sweet corn was to grow your own. Sweetcorn breeding has come a long way since then with the development of the tender sweet and then super sweet varieties, both of which are much sweeter and also have a longer shelf life which means no more running from plot to plate!
For many the choice of cherry tomatoes is either Sungold or gardeners delight but now there are a few red varieties of tomato that are rivalling gardeners delight for its crown which has lost the RHS award of garden merit. One of the new kids on the block which has been awarded the hotly contested award is Sweet Aperitif.
It is starting to heat up now in the UK with temperatures in the 20’s for the first time. It’s still far too cold for chillies to go outside but if you are anything like me your windowsills will be groaning with chillies, peppers and tomatoes. I’m always on the look out for something a little unusual in the chilli department and I first picked up these lemon drop (or Aji Limon) chillies a few years ago after seeing them recommended by James Wong in his Grow for Flavour book so thought I would give it a go.
I had probably the last online delivery that us under 70 will get from a supermarket quite rightly a couple of weeks ago. As I’d been self isolating for two weeks I was incredibly lucky to get it. Part of the order was a packet of pardon peppers which I an my family adore. We…
It’s not often that you would call a daisy ugly but Scorzonera, a member of the daisy family is a vegetable with a root that only a mother could love. Very popular in Victorian times when it was prized for its delicate flavour it has all but been replaced by the sweeter and more attractive…
There are very few seed varieties that are 70 years old still in commercial production today but Roma tomatoes are one of them. First developed in the USA in the 1950’s, if you buy canned tomatoes for cooking then chances are it is Roma or one of its offspring like Roma VF, unless stated otherwise.
Those of you who are not Sainsbury’s customers might never have heard of the potato Anya.
Anya was bred in 1996 by a collaboration between the Scottish Crop Research Institute and the Sainsbury’s family and was named after the former ballerina Lady Sainsbury. I’m not too sure how I would feel about having a potato named after me but she must have loved it as Sainsbury’s have been selling it ever since.
The potato growing aficionados among you will probably already have scores of egg boxes sitting on your windowsills with potatoes “chitting” in the sunlight in preparation for this years planting.
Now is the time, if you haven’t already to buy potatoes. Leave them much longer and they will begin to sprout in the store bags and it then becomes a complicated entanglement to get them out of the netting that most are packaged in.
One of the more traditional varieties you can pick up still is Red Duke of York which was bred in the 1940’s as a sport from it’s older parent Duke of York. Red Duke of York is a first early and should start to be ready from mid to late July although they can be left longer to get to a baking size..
People have recognised the health benefits of watercress for centuries. Although the story that Hippocrates set up his first hospital by a spring in 400BC so armfuls could be grown to feed patients is probably false, it’s taken modern medicine a little while to catch up to the benefits of watercress. Eaten raw it releases mustard oils which cause it’s peppiness. These oils, similar to brassicas are antioxidant and may slow the growth of certain cancers. It is also high in vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals.
For those of you that grow your own you quite often find a packet of seeds at the bottom of your seed box that you don’t remember buying. I don’t know how I ended up with a packet of Afro seeds, possibly it was a free trial seed, certainly none of my usual seed merchants are selling it but I have found one supplier if you want to give it a go and I do think it is worth it.
I’m on a constant quest to find a chilli that tastes as good as a habanero with it’s beautiful fruity tang but not quite a much heat. Havana gold is touted by the seed catalogues as being such a chilli but does it live up to its reputation?
Cucamelons have got to be one of the oldest and oddest crops I’ve ever had on the allotment. Known in their native Mexico as Sandiitas de Raton which translates as mouse melon they’ve been cultivated since before Christopher Columbus set sail.
If, like many people, you have a small garden or even just a few pots on a balcony but still want to grow vegetables you many turn to the idea of a potager, an ornamental kitchen garden.For a potager you need varieties that not only taste great but look fantastic as well.
Love beetroot but fed up with you and your kitchen looking like a bloodbath after? If so then you could try giving yellow beetroots a try. There are two main yellow varieties, Burpees Golden which dates back to the 1970’s and Golden Detroit from the 1820’s.
I’m always a bit sceptical about novelty vegetables. So many times you might get an unusual colour or shape but insipid taste. There are a couple of novelty broad beans including the crimson flowered, dating back to the 1800’s and recently saved from extinction, there are some purple seeded beans too, all of which seem to be as good as the more normal green beans. Therefore when I saw Karmazyn and its unusual antique pink colour, I thought I would give it a go.
If you want to watch a pastry chef drool just mention the strawberry Mara Des Bois. This French variety bred by Jacques Marionnet in 1991 was bred specifically to have the flavour and scent of wild strawberries but with much greater productivity, especially in spring.
Here’s looking at you spud! Of all the allotments in all the world, you had to walk in to this one! Cook it Sam, if you can cook it for her, you can cook it for me!
I spent some time trying to find a little about this darling modern variety of potato including how it got its exotic name. Is it named in honour of the film, the city? Does it originate from Casablanca (unlikely)? If anyone finds out then do let me know.
If you’ve ever spent any time in southeast Asia or if not at least visited your local Thai or Vietnamese restaurant you would almost certainly have tasted the perfumed taste of lemongrass. You might not realised it but it is an actual grass, but one with a fragrant citrus and slightly coriander taste and scent.
What do you think of when you think of Italy? For me it is holiday memories, fields and fields of sunflowers, sitting on the edge of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pompeii and Herculaneum and the most memorable part of the whole day (I’m almost embarrassed to say) was eating lunch in what I think was little more than a small garage with a wood fired pizza oven in the back which served the most amazing pizza Napolitano
As autumn takes hold, the nights draw in and the leaves start to fall from the tree, as if by magic, mushrooms small and large start to emerge, often what seems overnight. Find out how to grow the exquisite King Oyster Mushroom.
A long time ago the British were highly sceptical of garlic and very few would eat it, let alone grow it and you could buy olive oil but only in pharmacies for the treatment of ear problems. Then along came the cookery writer Elizabeth David
I find having to peel tiny garlic bulbs intensely frustrating and because our Midlands climate is not idea growing conditions for garlic, mine have a tendency to be on the small side. Therefore am always on the look out for a garlic bulb that produces large cloves despite our sometimes gloomy English climate.
Field beans are usually sown by farmers as a winter green manure crop to provide stability for the soil and be a source of nitrogen and organic matter for the year ahead. They aren’t normally thought of for their culinary ability but this little beans might surprise you. If left to mature, field bean Wizard…
This is an absolute beast of a parsnip that lives up to it’s name. An RHS award winning parsnip at the time of publishing the roots when mature can get to a good 10 cm across and might win you a prize in the biggest parsnip competition.
I grew these runner beans this year after a friend described them as “the best runner beans they had ever grown”. With a recommendation like that, who wouldn’t want to try them?
Wisley Magic is a heritage variety red flowered runner bean which is often considered one of the best for flavour and having that “old fashioned runner bean taste”.