Never has a vegetable caused so much delight and such pain as the humble potato. Its introduction to Europe enabled massive population increases being a fairly easy to grow, balanced and cheap source of nutrition, especially in Ireland which became almost completely reliant on the potato as a staple crop. Therefore when blight (a fungus) hit Europe in 1845, decimating crops and rotting them in the fields and spread rapidly towards Ireland, it had one deadly outcome….famine.
British summertime, the clocks have gone back and there are only a few things still on the plot; carrots, leaks, brassica, parsnips and beetroot. In the autumn you can lift beetroot to store in sand to see you over the winter but as our winters are getting milder and milder I generally take the risk and let them stand, only taking what I can eat in a week at a time.
Those of you who read my blog will know that I am a little fussy about my French/Pole beans. I like them tender, straight and slim. I am also a sucker for an unusually coloured vegetable and have tried purple beans like blauhild or yellow like Golden Gate with a lot of success.
f you were to ask an allotmenteer what their favourite potatoes are then you might see a few stapels, Pink Fir apple perhaps for its flavour, Cara for its reliability. If you talk to someone in a supermarket it might be the Jersey Royal for new season flavour, Maris Piper, a good allrounder or King Edward for its roasties. Probably the one which might be on both peoples lists however is Charlotte.
It has taken me a long time to get sufficient strawberries on the plot to start to wonder what I could do with all the excess. This year with a combination of another 30 strawberry plants and some bird protection I finally had enough to make a couple of kilos of jam and could start using up my strawberry glut.
If you grow garlic you will notice that some varieties will try to flower. In most cases what eventually forms in garlic are not true flowers but little tiny garlic bulbils as garlic has to all intents and purposes lost the ability to sexually reproduce centuries if not millennium ago. There have been some…
For those who can’t wait for their first broad beans you have two choices to either risk sowing a hardy variety in Autumn and risk heavy loses or plant a quick maturing spring variety like Express. In the Kitchen Express has a good flavour for an early bean but is not exceptional compared to some…
I spent several months this winter living at my parents second home in Dorset to get a bit of fresh air from lockdown life. They were rather surprised when I rocked up with my chilli plants taking up most of the space in my car and filling every available window space. There were good reasons for that though.
Love them or loath them? The marmite of the vegetable world, the Brussels sprout. I am an unashamed lover of a well cooked (and by that I mean not boiled within and inch of its life) sprout.
For the local allotment show my onion of choice was the Bedfordshire champion….after all with a name like that how could I fail. The Bedfordshire champion has been around since 1869, when it was first sold by Sutton’s . It has a golden brown skin with a white centre and is reliable in the UK and has remained popular which is why it is still grown 200 years later.
One broad bean has clawed its way back from extinction. First mentioned in 1778 and later discussed in a London Horticultural Society report in 1831 was the “red blossomed” broad bean.
It was a toss up for the Christmas Eve post. Brussel sprouts? Potatoes? Carrots? Brussel sprouts divide the nation, I’m not great at growing carrots yet and growing a decent non salad potato that isn’t eaten by slugs still evades me so today it will be parsnips. As tomorrow will be celebrating the birth of the King of Kings this parsnip also one with a vaguely royal theme. Happy Christmas everyone and lets pray for a better 2021!
I had a bit of a surprise as the squash plants started to die back this year. A giant blue squash hiding behind the greenery. How I had managed to miss such a walloping great thing I have no idea and although it is not one of the giant carving pumpkins, at 5kg it was certainly the biggest squash I had ever grown.
Bramley are the quintessential British cooking apple. If you want a more controllable tree then Bramley 20 is the better choice. It is a sport of Bramley which means that was a part of a cutting from the Bramley tree which for some reason is slightly different. In this case it is slightly slower growing and about 25% smaller but the fruit is the same.
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.
What do you get if you cross a Butternut and a Crown Prince………?
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.
If I were to ask you what the top ten selling items in a supermarket in the UK by value were many of you would guess milk, some chicken and you would be right but I wonder how many of you would guess blueberries? If you did, you would be correct. These little berries reputation as a “superfood” means these little bad boys fly off the shelves even though they are not cheap to buy fresh.
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!
Back in the 1980.s a vegetable hit the local supermarkets and was super trendy for a while but now has largely vanished from the shelves, maybe because it doesn’t pack as well as baby courgettes or people found the yellow colour a little strange but the patty pan lives on in allotments and farmers markets.
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.