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.
UK suppliers describe the cream sausage tomato as a heritage or heirloom tomato, however in the USA there is a very similar looking tomato, bush variety, yellow, paste developed by the master of tomatoes Tom Wagner in 2004. I am assuming they are the same, however it makes it as heirloom as my old Nokia 8210 mobile phone.
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.
The oldest variety of broad bean widely grown is Green Windsor introduced in 1809. Windsors have shorter pods, less yield and are a bit less hardy than the long pods so are best for spring sowings. However some, like Green Windsor have a fantastic flavour, much better than some of the autumn sown long pods, so are still grown today.
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.
I have a New Years day tradition and that is to sow my chillies and peppers for the year ahead. Currently we are sitting under a blanket of frost and light levels are low which are less than ideal for our tropical friends so to keep them happy I use a heated propagator and LED grow lights. The reason I start them so early is that many chillies take 80-120 days from sowing to fruiting in ideal conditions but I find in the UK that the superhots will not start fruiting properly until July/August even when sown in January.
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.
OK I will hands up admit it…I am a sucker for chillies. I recently moved house and transported 6 pots of chillies as they were still growing and my Christmas tree this year will be a red habanero. I especially love unusual chillis so when I saw this purple one, Buena Mulata, I just had to give it a go especially when I heard its history.
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.
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.
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.
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!