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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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..
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.
As a young child I hated tomatoes. In the early 80’s tomatoes in the UK were horrible things, flavourless and often underripe to stop them being damaged in transit. Gradually people started asking why the tomatoes eaten on holiday in Europe were just so much better than you could get here and things started to change.
Do you ever get a bit fed up of buying massive supermarket cucumbers, wrapped in layers of plastic to make them grow straight and prevent them going floppy in a few days which inevitably you can’t eat all of it and find it mouldering a few days later in your salad draw? If so why not give growing some of the new baby cucumbers a go? Each one is perfect for a snack or in your lunchbox.