Recipe: Stewed Blackcurrants with Yoghurt

A little late in the season, but if anyone has some blackcurrants they need to finish…

We were picking bundles of fruit this summer. Most of the raspberries and strawberries were eaten fresh or stored in the freezer for jam. The blackcurrants every year are stored in the freezer too before being made into jam too. You can eat blackcurrants raw, you can turn them into Ribena, but I find that they are far too sharp. But last year I tried eating this amazing concoction my mum made: stewing the blackcurrants with sugar and eating them with Greek yoghurt. The plain, yet creamy, yoghurt is a wonderful companion to the sharp yet sweet taste of stewed blackcurrants. It is absolutely delicious – and the stewed berries look beautiful.

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Stewed Blackcurrants with Greek Yoghurt

 

(Serves 6)

 

-About 500g blackcurrants – Granulated sugar, to taste, start with 100g and add a little at at time – About 600g full-fat Greek yoghurt

 

  1. Stew the blackcurrants but putting all of the fruit into a pan over a high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.
  2. Once the fruit starts to ooze liquid, add a little sugar at a time, stirring it in, until you have enough to taste sweet, but not too sickly, still slightly sharp. Leave to simmer for a few minutes until the currants have released enough liquid and are soft and squidgy.
  3. Fill bowls with Greek yoghurt and spoon the stewed blackcurrants over the top. Serve.

Replace the blackcurrants with jostaberries or gooseberries. 

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Raspberry Curd Cake

https://wordpress.com/posts/bellasbakingsite.wordpress.com

 

Raspberry Curd Cake

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All of our raspberries are harvested and frozen for this summer’s season. I am using them to make lots of jam, but not only am I trying to make room in the freezer again for the runner beans (oh dear) but I am trying to use up the eggs of our many chickens and ducks that are laying non-stop.

My mum showed me this great idea – raspberry curd.

I thought of an equally good idea – raspberry curd cake.

I’ve already been making my lemon curd cake for a few years now, so why not try raspberry curd instead? Uses up raspberry and eggs, perfect!

Well, the curd was a little runny and when I created my cake mix, it looked bubblegum pink. This kind of frightened me a bit. It looked alright once cooked. When I cut a slice, it was very pink. I carefully tried a bit, with extra curd as a sauce, and wow, I actually thought it was alright! To me, it was better than the lemon curd cake, despite being pink!

If anyones curious to try it, the recipe is below. Have fun!

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Raspberry Curd

– 4 egg yolks – 250g sugar – 200g butter – Zest and juice of 2 small lemons – 210g raspberries

  1. In a pan, whisk together the yolks and sugar until combined.
  2. Mix in the butter and lemons. Over a low flame, whisk the mixture, as if you are making custard, until it has thickened. This may take some time.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the raspberries so that they breakdown and the mixture becomes pink coloured.
  4. Leave it to cool completely before using it in the cake (below), spreading it on bread, or storing it in preserved jars in the fridge for up to a month.

Raspberry Curd Cake

– 75g butter – 150g sugar – 2 eggs – 150g self-raising flour – 1 tsp baking powder – 4 tbsp raspberry curd

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 1kg loaf tin with baking paper.
  2. Beat the butter and the sugar together in a bowl until creamy.
  3. Mix in the eggs, followed by the flour and baking powder.
  4. Finally, mix in the curd until thoroughly combined.
  5. Scrape the contents of the bowl into the prepared tin. Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Test to see in the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre. If it comes out clean, it is done.
  6. Leave the cake to cool in the tin before transferring it to a wire rack.
  7. Serve the cake in slices with more of the curd spread on top. Store in an airtight container for three days.

 

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Peas

The pea is most commonly the small spherical seed or the seed-pod of the pod fruit Pisum sativum.  Pea pods are botanically fruit since they contain seeds and developed from the ovary of a (pea) flower. It is a cool-season crop grown in many parts of the world; planting can take place from winter to early summer depending on location.

In early times, peas were grown mostly for their dry seeds. The wild pea is restricted to the Mediterranean basin and the Near East. The earliest archaeological finds of peas date from the late neolithic era of current Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. In Egypt, early finds date from ca. 4800–4400 BC in the Nile delta area, and from ca. 3800–3600 BC in Upper Egypt. The pea was also present in Georgia in the 5th millennium BC. Farther east, the finds are younger. Peas were present in Afghanistan ca. 2000 BC, in Harappa, Pakistan and in northwest India in 2250–1750 BC. In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, this crop appears in the Ganges Basin and southern India. From plants growing wild in the Mediterranean basin, constant selection since the Neolithic Dawn of agriculture improved their yield. In the early 3rd century BC Theophrasturous mentions peas among the pulses that are sown late in the winter because of their tenderness. In the first century AD Columella mentions them in De re rustica when Roman legionaries still gathered wild peas to supplement their rations.

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In the Middle Ages, field peas are constantly mentioned, as they were the staple that kept famine at bay. Charles the Good, count of Flanders, noted this in 1124. Green “garden” peas, eaten immature and fresh, were an innovative luxury of Early Modern Europe. In England, the distinction between “field peas” and “garden peas” dates from the early 17th century. Along with broad beans and lentils, peas formed an important part of the diet of most people in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe during the Middle Ages. By the 17th and 18th centuries, it had become popular to eat peas “green”, that is, while they are immature and right after they are picked. New cultivars of peas were developed by the English during this time, which became known as “garden” or “English” peas. The popularity of green peas spread to North America.  Thomas Jefferson grew more than 30 cultivars of peas on his estate. With the invention of canning and freezing of foods, green peas became available year-round, and not just in the spring as before.

Sugar peas which the French soon called mange-tout, for they were consumed pods and all, were introduced to France from the market gardens of Holland in the time of Henri IV, through the French ambassador. Green peas were introduced from Genoa to the court of Louis XIV in January 1660, with some staged fanfare: a hamper of them were presented before the King and were shelled by a comte. Little dishes of peas were then presented to the King, the Queen, Cardinal Mazarin and Monsieur, the king’s brother.Immediately established and grown for earliness warmed with manure and protected under-glass, they were still a luxurious delicacy in 1696. Modern split-peas with their indigestible skins removed are a development of the later 19th century: pea-soup, pease pudding, Indian matar ki daal or versions of chana masala, or Greek fava.

In 2005, a poll of 2,000 people revealed the pea to be Britain’s seventh favourite culinary vegetable. The annual ‘Peasenhall Pea Festival’ in the English village of Peasenhall, Suffolk attracts hundreds of visitors every year, with events such as Pea Shooting, the World Pea Podding Championships and National Pea Eating competition. In 2012, the Pea Festival had an OlymPEAn theme, celebrating the London 2012 Olympics.

Peas do take a little bit of time. They need support while growing and podding takes time – this is after managing to get them to germinate, survive slugs and snails and then to actually develop peas inside the pods. However, homegrown peas are incredible. They are so much sweeter and smaller than any you will ever buy in the shop. You want to eat them as soon as they are harvested (the speed of conversion of their sugars to starches means that every second ruins them, like sweetcorn or asparagus). When young and tender and fresh from the first harvest, eat them raw straight from the pods. Otherwise, heat them very briefly in a pan of boiling water for a minute or two, drain and serve. Or, pop them straight from their pods into the freezer asap. A dream of mine is to have a surplus of peas to freeze like our runner-beans – unfortunately, hasn’t happened… yet?

The side shoots and growth tips, pea tips, or ‘green gold’ in Japan, are also edible and make a good addition to any salad. However, you will end up with fewer pods if you pick them but if you have lots of plants then go ahead!

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‘Meteor’ – Sow February-June, October-November

Sow March -June : ‘Sugar-Ann’, ‘Deliket’, ‘Alderman’, ‘Kelvedon Wonder’,

‘Ambassador’- Sow March-July

I learnt the hard way the first year I tried growing peas that they just don’t germinate in sandy soil, or if they do, they quickly become snail and slug fodder. One night, we went out with torches and saw basically a live trapeze act of slugs and snails crawling up peas. From then on it was military protection from creepy crawlies!

Last year we started them off indoors in toilet rolls in giant seed trays filled with compost, like sweet pea sowings. They did really well, all germinating just fine and producing a good crop – I just needed to make more successional sowings to get more, that would be my advice. However, the toiled rolls are rather exhausting and rot when the peas can’t be planted outdoors for a long time because of rubbish weather… So we started using normal plastic containers, old fruit cartons etc., filled with compost and they worked just fine (peas do have long, straggly roots so be cautious and delicate when planting out). So: sow indoors and when about 10-15cm tall plant them out under fleece until the frosts vanish, 10 cm apart, rows 75cm apart. Make sure they are in a trench with well-rotted matter. I have read before to avoid using manure but I really do think that it is the magic medicine for all plants, even the carrots (which are meant to fork) and alliums (which are meant to bolt). It really seems to help so I would try out working in some well-rotted manure with lots of compost and mulch into the earth where you are going to plant your peas. Use hazel prunings or other similar sticks to support the peas – thrust the fat end of the sticks into the soil to hold them upright so the tendrils have something to grab onto. Don’t let them dry out and the occasional comfrey feed can work wonders. For the permacultural lot, try growing radishes and salad leaves between the peas (chicory, spinach, wrinkle crinkle cress and poached egg plants did very well between ours last year). Many can be harvested May-October, depending when sown, averagely around 2 months after sowing. Check by the size of the bumps in the pods – pick them at their peaks.

Other than slugs and snails, mice and birds can be a problem. Put them under cover if this starts to become an issue. Caterpillars of pea moths could be a problem. Blight, powdery mildew, rust or other rotting diseases can also become an issue, weakening and ruining a crop.

Peas are starchy, but high in fibre, protein, vitamins A, B6, C, K, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and lutein. Dry weight is about one-quarter protein and one-quarter sugar. Peas are stuffed with all sorts of antioxidants that help improve overall health, as well as help prevent cancer. These actively seek out and neutralize free radicals that are roaming around the body, which, studies have shown, are partially responsible for causing cancer. Peas are thought to be a heart healthy food. Their high dietary fiber content helps reduce bad LDL cholesterol in the heart. It has natural anti-inflammatory properties that help regulate inflammation in the cardiovascular system. There is also a good amount of ALA fat found in peas (one of the Omega-3 fatty acids), which has been shown to promote heart health. The high protein and fiber levels also help keep blood sugar levels in check. Both of these work to regulate the rate at which food is digested. Dietary fibre has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

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Eat raw peas with any spring/summer salad – think boiled early new potatoes, butter and cut chives with a fresh bunch of salad leaves straight from the plot outside under the blue sky. Try them boiled alongside any cooked meal – sausages or chops and mash, weekend roasts etc. Peas go with nearly everything. Here are a few of my favourites: baked potato, butter, grated cheddar cheese and peas (perhaps with baked beans as well),Updated recipe: homemade pizza and peas (optionally with baked potato and butter as well), lasagne and peas, macaroni cheese and peas, Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock, pasta, tinned tomatoes, rocket, cheese and pine nuts with peas (Salad – Rocket), Matar Paneer is my all-time favourite curry, literally translates as peas and paneer cheese curry (Cucumbers), just rice, tinned tomatoes and peas is yummy.

Another recipe? How about a risotto?

Pea Risotto

(Serves 4)

-25g butter – 1 onion, sliced – 325g rice – Salt and pepper, for seasoning -750ml/1-pint vegetable stock or 2tsp Bouillon powder, dissolved in ½L of boiling water -300g peas –More cooked vegetables, to serve (optional) – Parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)

  1. Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the onion and fry gently over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat down a little.
  2. Add the rice and a grinding of salt and pepper. Stir to coat the rice with the butter.
  3. Add the stock after frying the rice like a pilau for a couple of minutes, bring to the boil, stirring frequently.
  4. Turn the heat down once the stock is bubbling and leave to simmer until almost all of the stock has been absorbed. Add the peas, cover, and leave to simmer for 6-10 minutes.
  5. Serve with cooked vegetables and parmesan cheese, if desired.

For a stock recipe, see: Egg Drop Soup with Vegetable Stock, vegetarian. 

 

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Pears

PRUNE: November – February

HARVEST: August – November

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Pears are a species of the genus Pyrus in the family Rosaceae.

Pears supposedly originated in the Caucasus from where they spread to Europe and Asia and that they were first cultivated more than 4000 years ago. There is evidence of its use as a food since prehistoric times. Many traces of it have been found in prehistoric pile dwellings around Lake Zurich. The word ‘pear’ occurs in all the Celtic languages. In Slavic and other dialects, differing appellations, still referring to the same thing are found. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans valued the fruit for its flavour and medicinal properties. The Romans ate them raw or cooked, just like apples. Pliny’s ‘Natural History’ recommended stewing them with honey and noted three dozen varieties. The Roman cookbook ‘De re coquinaria’  included a recipe for a spiced, stewed-pear patina, or soufflé. They also attributed aphrodisiacal properties to pears and the fruit was consecrated to Aphrodite and Venus, the goddesses of love.

Pears were cultivated in Britain during the Roman occupation but the production of the fruit was slow to develop although there is mention in the Domesday Book of old pear trees used for boundary markers. By the 13th century, many varieties of the fruit had been imported from France and was used mainly for cooking rather than eating raw. Towards the end of the 14th century, the ‘Warden’ pear had been bred and became famous for its inclusion in British pies. The variety is mentioned in Shakespeare’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and the Michaelmas Fair at Bedford was renowned for baked ‘Warden’ pears. In 1640, about 64 varieties had been cultivated in the UK. Grafting onto quince rootstock began to replace pear and crab apples rootstocks. In the 18th century improved strains were introduced from Belgium however the majority of pears continued to be used for cooking rather than raw consumption. Dessert pears were grown in private gardens but were unsuitable for commercial cultivation. One exception was the ‘William’s Pear’, introduced in 1770 by a schoolmaster in Aldermaston, Berkshire. It became very popular and is still produced today but on a limited scale. Another old variety, the ‘Worcester’, has the distinction of being in the coat-of-arms of the city of Worcester although this russeted culinary pear has virtually disappeared from production today.

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During the early 19th century, renowned horticulturist Thomas Andrew Knight began developing new pear varieties. The RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) encouraged pear growing and in 1826 there were 622 varieties in their gardens at Chiswick. The breakthrough in dessert varieties occurred in 1858 with the introduction into England of ‘Doyenne du Comice’. The first significant English pear to be produced by controlled breeding was ‘Fertility’ in 1875, although this variety is no longer produced commercially. Well-known ‘Conference’ was introduced in 1894 and with ‘Comice’ quickly overshadowed all other pear varieties that have declined in production today. During the 20th century both the sales and production of ‘Comice’ declined whilst ‘Conference’ increased in popularity and today this variety represents more than 90% of UK commercial production. The 5 top pear producers in 2012 were China (17,325,831 metric tons), the USA, Argentina, Italy and Turkey.

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Pear trees can take a while to start fruiting properly and they do not appreciate the cold of an imperfect supply of water.

The varieties ‘Conference’ and ‘Doyenne du Comice’ are popular to grow in the UK. Both are recommended as reliable and relatively easy to expect a productive harvest from during October-November. For earlier pears, ‘Beurre Giffard’ produce in August. ‘Fondante d’Automne’ fruits September-October as does ‘Louise Bonne of Jersey’ and for a really late crop, ‘Clou Morceau’ is ready at the end of the year, December-January.

New varieties are self-fertile so if you only have space for one tree, look out for these brands. However, as with all fruit trees, even self-fertile trees will produce a better crop if there are other varieties of trees nearby. Some varieties do not pollinate with each other. Pears are usually grafted onto ‘Quince A’ (semi-vigorous, 4-6m in height) or ‘Quince C’ (semi-dwarfing, 2.5-5m).

Pears can be temperamental. ‘Conference’ is meant to be able to ‘rough it’ a little but that was our one pear tree that struggled last year, came back to life a little when we moved it to a better location earlier this year before dying on us a few weeks ago. Pears require a sheltered, sunny location with a fertile, well-drained soil that is neutral or acidic. Apparently, they do not like sandy soils – oops for us. However, if you can get your pear tree to survive and fruit, it is well worth it – they taste so much better than shop pears and you can grow varieties that your local supermarket would never dream of selling.

Plant your pear trees 5m from its neighbour if it is a ‘Quince A’ rootstock, 3.5m if it is a ‘C’. Pear trees are pruned as for apples. For the first winter, prune the central leader to a bud that is around 25cm above the highest lateral. Cut back the laterals by half, 6mm above an outward facing bud. Remove any other ranches that develop along the trunk. For the second winter, prune the laterals by 1/3, just above an outward facing bud to encourage an open centre to the tree. Sublaterals will have grown so choose three on each branch that are not facing the centre and are as equally spaced as possible, cutting them back by 1/3. Shorten other sublaterals to 3 or 4 buds to encourage growth into fruiting spurs. Remove any shoots that have grown along the trunk. For the third winter, choose further well-placed sublaterals to prune back by 1/3 to extend the network of beaches and prune back others to form short spurs of 3 or 4 buds as before. Remove nay branches that are crossing or growing towards the centre of the tree.

Water pear trees through any dry periods in summer and add well-rotten manure and Blood, Fish and Bone and mulch as a fertiliser at the base of the tree (not touching the trunk) in early spring, say March. This will really benefit your harvest and the health of the tree.

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Harvesting pears is an art. There are three stages: Picking, storing, ripening. You should pick nearly all of your pears while they are still hard. They need time to ripen and mature when they are off the tree. Judging the time for picking is the key. Look out for the first windfalls, a subtle lightening or flushing of the skin, or when you cup a pear and lift it upwards and gently twist it separates from the tree with the stalk intact. Check frequently as they ripen very quickly and will become mush or ‘sleepy’ – grainy, soft and sometimes brown. This will be the same on the tree or in storage. This year I picked all of mine when there were windfalls. Some were getting slightly soft, others were still very hard. They are sitting in a container in the kitchen and every day I check which ones are ready for cutting and slice and serve them alongside pudding every night as an option. We freeze any of the leftovers. You can freeze sliced pears as they are (coring them will make it easier to use them once they are out of the freezer as they do become soggy once defrosted) or you can layer them up and squeeze lemon juice over the top to prevent them from browning. I have tried both ways and they are fine. I would recommend only freezing pears you want to cook with. Eating them raw after freezing them will not be pleasant. Eat your fresh ones raw and same the frozen ones for cooking. You can also cook any that refuse to ripen or if you have a glut and are impatient for them to stop being so rock solid. Last year we had a glut of red pears that refused to ripen. I cooked them all in cakes and they were delicious.

Pears can suffer from scab, fireblight and pear leaf blister mites or pear midges that cause the leaves to roll up. In both cases, pull off and burn the leaves. Also, net your fruit if you can. Birds and foxes love to knick any they can.

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A pear in a 100 g serving (small pear) is a good source of dietary fibre. They are also rich in important antioxidants and flavonoids. The fiber content in pears prevents constipation and promotes regularity for a healthy digestive tract. A high fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes and keeps blood sugar stable. Increased fiber intakes have also been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A review of 67 separate controlled trials found that even a modest 10-gram per day increase in fiber intake reduced LDL and total cholesterol.Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may even play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation, consequently decreasing the risk of inflammation-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. High fiber diets have been shown to decrease the prevalence in flare-ups of diverticulitis by absorbing water in the colon and making bowel movements easier to pass. Eating a healthful, fruit and vegetable and fiber-filled diet can reduce pressure and inflammation in the colon. Although the cause of diverticular disease is still unknown, it has been repeatedly associated with a low fibre diet.

Pears are the sort of fruit that goes wonderfully well with salads and salty cheeses (think pear and goats cheese salad). Walnuts are another great accompaniment. You can poach pears and serve them with a sauce or ice cream or cream or other spices. Pear crumble is probably a good option for a warming winter pud and I have seen pear and chocolate puddings floating around on the internet that look yummy. I do think that pears in a plain sponge cake go very well and even better with raspberries too (they make a good pairing). I offer you my take on the traditional Welsh Plate cake. These were historically currant cakes. I was inspired to try my own variation when I saw a white chocolate and cherry welsh plate cake. I was not so keen on the combination but saw the opportunity to create my own version using pears and raspberries as a fresh fruit alternative to currants. The cooking time will vary completely on the amount of liquid you use so give it time to bake and practice patience with this cake. Otherwise, it is very easy and quick to make and delicious hot or cold. I even had one of my slices with some homemade chocolate sauce which was OK, but plain was better in my opinion. Give it a go.

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Pear and Raspberry Welsh Plate Cake

(Serves 10, makes one 20cm cake)

– 225g plain flour – 2tsp baking powder – Grinding of nutmeg – 110g salted butter – 110g caster sugar – 2 large eggs – About 100ml milk/ pouring yoghurt/ buttermilk – 100g pears, cored and sliced into segments – 100g raspberries – Demerara sugar, for the top

  1. Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20cm/9inch deep cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. Tip the flour, baking powder and nutmeg into a large bowl. Using your fingertips, mix in the butter until the ingredients combine and resemble breadcrumbs.
  3. Using a spoon, mix in the sugar and then the eggs until well combined.
  4. Add a little milk/yoghurt/buttermilk at a time until you have a dropping consistency – you may not need all of the liquid. Stir in the fruit.
  5. Scrape into the lined cake tin and smooth over the surface. Sprinkle Demerara sugar over the top. Bake in the oven for 40minutes-1hr until a cake skewer inserted into the centre leaves the cake clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before serving.

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Plums and Green Gages

PRUNE: May-June

HARVEST: July-October

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All plums and gages are varieties of Prunus domestica. Gages (small, green plums) tend to be sweeter tasting and more spherical in shape than the darker purple plums, more popularly sold in UK stores therefore investing in your own gage tree at home in the garden is an excellent idea. Do not be put off by the bogey-like colour – they taste divine. 

Plum has many species, and taxonomists differ on the count. Depending on the taxonomist, between 19 and 40 species of plum exist. From this diversity only two species, the hexaploid European plum (Prunus domestica) and the diploid Japanese plum (Prunus salicina and hybrids), are of worldwide commercial significance. The origin of these commercially important species is uncertain.

Plums may have been one of the first fruits domesticated by humans. The most abundant cultivars have not been found wild, only around human settlements. Prunus domestica has been traced to East European and Caucasian mountains while Prunus salicina and Prunus simonii originated in Asia. Plum remains have been found in Neolithic age archaeological sites along with olives, grapes and figs.

It is considered plums came originally from Asia. They were likely first grown in China more than 2,000 years ago and made their way to Rome by 65 B.C. The fruit Prunus armeniaca gained its name from the beliefs of Pliny the Elder who was a Roman historian and scientist of the first century. He maintained the apricot was a kind of a plum, and had originally come from Armenia.

The plum is in fact closely related to the apricot and peach and numerous intermediary forms like Prunus simonii, the Apricot Plum. Prunus salicina, Asian plum native to China and Japan, has been in cultivation for thousands of years and was mentioned in the songs and writings of Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC). Although Pompey the Great is credited with introducing the cultivated plum to Rome in 65 BC, it is likely that wild plums were used by the peoples of southern Europe for many thousands of years. Wild plums flourished throughout the Old and New Worlds. In fact, the domestic plums we eat today descend from numerous sources.  Some sources believe the European plum was carried to Rome around 200 BC, then north to Europe. Others say that the Duke of Anjou carried the plum home as he returned from Jerusalem at the close of the Fifth Crusade (1198 to 1204 AD).

The French enthusiastically embraced the European plum during whichever scenario it arrived, using it in the kitchen as both fresh and dried as prunes. French immigrants carried plum pits to Quebec where a traveler recorded plum orchards flourishing as early as 1771. Plums came to North America with British settlers.

The markings on plum stones are unique to each variety, like a fingerprint. When Henry VIII’s ‘Mary Rose’ was raised after 450 years from the sea-bed, over 100 varieties of plum stones were discovered. It is an indication to how popular plums were in our diets during the Tudor period and are appreciation at the many different varieties on offer. It is a shame that instead of this giant figure increasing, we are lucky if we have more than 50 varieties available nowadays.

Plums are produced around the world, and China is the world’s largest producer, 6,100,000 tonnes during 2015.

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Green Gages

Plums can be self-fertile but it is safer to purchase two, to make sure. ‘Victoria’ is a popular, reliable, high-yielding, self-fertile cooker and eater. ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’, a dark purple and another popular variety is a late-ripening, heavy-cropping type that can give your fruit as late as October. Other popular plums that will be recommended are ‘Czar’, blue plums for cooking that apparently thrive in poor soil; ‘Early Laxton’, a dessert plum with red flushed, yellow fruit yielding in mid to late summer; ‘Blue Tit’, a compact dessert plum with blue fruit in late summer.

For Green Gages, ‘Cambridge Gage’, partly self-fertile, green fruits, sweet; most reliable of the gages, but vigorous and needs a warm garden; ‘Imperial Gage’ is self-fertile and described as ‘reliable’; ‘Oullin’s Gage’ is self-fertile and recommended by River Cottage for cooking or eating fresh and flowers later so it may miss any late frosts – plum blossom is very early and delicate.

You must be warned that some plum varieties do refuse to pollinate each other. ‘Rivers’ Early Prolific’ and ‘Jefferson’ or ‘Cambridge Gage’ and ‘Old Green Gage’ are such examples. Check with your suppliers for further details.

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Plums like fertile, well-drained soil in sunny, sheltered locations. They are particular about water- they like a reasonable amount during warmer months but despise waterlogged soils at any time of the year so a well-drained site is really ideal. Add plenty of organic matter if the soil is too dry to help the plant retain water in its roots. Feed and mulch the tree every spring to kick-start its blossom and fruit production and make sure you water in during dry spells, especially when it is settling in during the first year. The trees themselves are quite strong and hardy but unfortunately, the blossom is often early and hits the frost. Avoid frost pockets or windy sites and follow our crazy example of positioning ladders around the trees and wrapping the blossom very gently and carefully up in excessive amounts of horticultural fleece at night and then, using pegs, hoist it up during the daytime so pollinators can do their business.

A word on ‘Victoria’ plums – they are prone to such heavy cropping that their branches can snap if unsupported. This happened to our one a couple of years back when I foolishly removed some trees growing nearby that were supporting it. It has struggled on though like a brave soldier and produced an excellent crop this year.

Depending on the variety, location and type of plum, you can harvest from July to October. The first few fruits falling from the tree are a sign it is ready to start picking. Colour, squidgyness and ease of the plum being pulled from the tree branch is the next indicator. The fruit ripens very gradually over time so do not be too hasty – harvest every day whatever seems ready over time. Pick carefully to avoid bruising the fruit and try to leave a short stalk to keep the fruit and next year’s buds intact.

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‘Victoria’

Silver leaf disease is the most likely nuisance for plum trees. Minimising pruning helps reduce the likelihood of this disease a lot. Brown rot, blossom wilt, bacterial canker and rust are also a possibility. Spots of gummy looking resin on the bark are a sign that the tree is under stress. Aphids can appear in early spring but rarely do more than cosmetic damage. Worst case would be larvae in some of the fruit.

100g of fresh plums also contain 350 IU Vitamin A, 10mg Vitamin C, Vitamin K, 150 mg of potassium and smaller amounts of B vitamins and other minerals.

Some plums are best eaten fresh, others need to be cooked. All plums can be frozen. The best way is to de-stone them and put the halves in freezer bags but if you don’t have time, you can freeze them whole and remove the stones once defrosted at a later date. I freeze most of my plums to make jams and save the fresh ones for people to eat or to make delicious plum crumble from.

I offer two recipes: my green gage jam (feel free to apply the same recipe for other plums or half and half) and plum crumble. Dig in.

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Fresh batch of Green Gage Jam on toast from this afternoon

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Green Gage Jam

My favourite way to eat homemade green gages –  or plums –  is in jam.  Plums have an (almost) high amount of pectin in them so the jam should set without the aid of extra special pectin liquid however, I have been known to resort to using it in plum jam before so do not be afraid to do so yourself.

Serve the jam slathered thickly on buttered toast with a cup of tea on a sunny afternoon and you will be in heaven. 

(Makes 2.25kg worth)

  • 1 kg plums – 1kg granulated sugar – Juice of 1-2 lemons – 125ml Certo liquid pectin, optional
  1. Slice and remove the stones from the plums and place in a large pan. Add the sugar and lemon juice.
  2. Stir over a high heat and then allow the fruit to stew, checking the temperature with a jam thermometer. When it has reached boiling point, allow it to bubble furiously for at least ten minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put a china plate inside the freezer so that it is cold. Spoon a small dollop of jam onto the plate and put it back in the freezer for a minute. Take it out and run a fingertip straight through the middle of the jam splodge on the plate. If the jam ‘crinkles’ and leaves a trail as you push your fingertip through, then it is done. If it doesn’t, continue to boil the jam and check in this manner until it is ready.
  4. Once done, turn of the heat and if using, add the liquid pectin and stir in before you allow the jam to cool slightly.
  5. Bottle in steralised jars and store in a cool, dry place overnight. You can use them from the next day onwards.

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Plum Crumble

Traditional plums look gorgeous in a crumble – the red juice makes it look so pretty – but mixing in some green gages as well takes the dish to a whole new sweet level and I urge you to try it at lease once!

(Serves 6

– Lots of plums, about 1kg – Caster/ granulated sugar, to sprinkle over the plums

For the crumble topping: – 170g plain flour – 110g salted butter – 55g caster/ granulated sugar

  1. Preheat the oven 150C.
  2. De-stone the plums and cut into halves or segments. Place them in an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle a generous amount of caster or granulated sugar over the top of each layer of plums as you put them in. You want to have a nice thick layer of fruit as it is going to decrease in size during the cooking process.
  3. Put the flour into a bowl followed by the sugar and salted butter. Rub together using your fingertips until the mixture resembles large bread crumbs (add more butter if too dry and more flour if too sticky). Sprinkle the crumble topping over the top of the plums that have been placed in layers inside the dish.
  4. Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes – 1hr, or until hot and golden brown on top and the fruit is cooked underneath (once done, you can turn off the oven and leave the crumble inside to stay warm until you are ready to eat it). Serve hot with custard.

Recipe: Blackcurrant Jam

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Blackcurrant season has been long over but I have only just managed to make my first batch of blackcurrant jam from this years crop from the bags we stored in the freezer. It had to be done a) make space in the freezer for the last of the runner beans (and my brother and sister are complaining there isn’t enough space for ice cream in there), b) blackcurrant jam is just what I crave on wet, cold days in winter so I needed some at the ready, and c) blackcurrant jam is delicious.

Blackcurrants are high in pectin so you should not need to add any. This is the best recipe from the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. It is easy and delicious, as far as jam making goes.

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Blackcurrant Jam

(Makes 7-8x 340g jars)

– 1kg blackcurrants -600ml water – 1.5kg granulated sugar

  1. Remove stalks and leaves from the blackcurrants (the dried flowers at the end are fine to leave). Put them in a large pan and add the water, bringing it to the boil before allowing it to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the fruit is soft and broken down to let all the juices out but not completely slushy/disintegrated.
  2. Add the sugar and stir in until dissolved then bring the pan to a rolling boil. Leave it to boil furiously for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir until it is room temperature (try pectin test here if you would like and if it has not set, bring back to the boil or add a little liquid pectin).
  3. Leave it to cool – if the blackcurrants are going to float to the top of the jars, leave it to cool a little longer. If they still refuse to sink slightly, then bring it back to the boil for a couple of minutes until they do.
  4. Once cool, bottle in sterilised jam jars and store in a cool, dry place overnight to allow it to set a little more.

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Broad Beans

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Broad beans this year, 2016

Broad beans or Vicia faba, is a species of flowering plant in the vetch and pea family, Fabacea.

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It is considered that broad beans were cultivated in the Middle East for 8,000 years before spreading to Western Europe, along with the garden pea, lentil and chickpea. The earliest archeological findings of broad bean remains are from the Neolithic period (6800BC-6500BC) from Israel. After 3000BC, numerous archeological remains can be found in the Mediterranean and central Europe.

Broad beans were cultivated by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. In Egypt, broad beans were considered as the food for poor man and shunned unfashionable by the upper classes. In ancient Rome, broad beans were used in funeral rites and Pythagoras forbade people to eat them, believing them to contain the souls of the dead. In ancient Greece, initiates of the Elusinian mysteries (cult initiations) would drink kykeon and visit the home of Kyamites, the Greek demigod of broad beans. In Italy, broad beans are traditionally sown on 2nd November, All Souls Day. Small cakes made in the shape of broad beans and are known as ‘fave dei morti’ or ‘beans of the dead’. The story is that Sicily once experienced a failure of all crops other than the beans. These beans kept the population from starvation and the people’s gratitude was given to Saint Joseph. Broad beans subsequently became a traditional feature on Saint Joseph’s Day altars in many Italian communities. Some people carry a broad bean for good luck as they believe that if one carries a broad bean, one will never be without the essentials of life.

Today, broad beans are cultivates in more than fifty different countries, China accounting for the largest fraction of world production. Broad beans are used as a cover crop to prevent erosion in parts of the world because they can overwinter and as a legume they fix nitrogen in the soil.

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Broad beans last year, 2015

Broad beans can be sown straight into the ground in October or November. This is supposed to give one a slightly earlier harvest however, after personal experience I would recommend waiting until the next sowing season, February. Sowing the seeds in autumn produces all sorts of pest and weather related problems – you have to keep them alive over the winter months under fleece or another cover without a pest eating them or the beans rotting off and they produce perhaps a week earlier than the plants sown the following year. I have grown ‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’ and ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ reliably.

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Baby broad beans, 2015

I grew mine this year by planting them in tall yoghurt pots (the type you buy Yeo Valley yoghurt or something similar), with a hole punched in at the bottom to allow water out, in February. After filling the pots with compost, I sowed one bean per pot, 5cm (2inches) deep and kept them in a warm room until they had germinated. I then put them on a sunny windowsill during the day time and took them down and kept them on the floor and night time when the temperatures dropped. Once they were big enough, I moved them to a cooler room to try and harden them off, making sure they had ample light. Once they were getting too big for their pots, I planted them outside, 23cm (9inches) apart and gave them small sticks for support. These eventually turned into canes and then string to hold them upright. I planted them on in soil that had been prepared with well-rotted manure, Blood, Fish and Bone and mulch. You want to grow the beans in a sunny spot with a rich, fertile soil, manured, and hopefully with protection from the wind. Keep well watered. Pinch out the growing tips after the first flowers have set pods to deter blackfly (aphids) and encourage further pods to set by directing the plant’s energy into the developing pods.

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Broad bean flowers

You should be able to harvest your broad beans from perhaps April, May or June, all the way to September if you stagger the sowings. The pods are ready for harvesting when they are well filled and the seed is still soft. It is recommended that you allow the beans to be around a third of the weight of the unopened pods before picking. You will then need to remove the beans from the pods before cooking. They can be frozen once podded and cooked in containers of plastic bags.

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Harvested broad beans before podding

Unfortunately, like potato blight, powdery mildew and cabbage whites roaming the brassica beds, it is pretty much impossible to prevent aphids from appearing on your broad bean plants. Aphids appear as small, soft-bodied insects on the underside of leaves and the stems of the plant. They are usually green or yellow in colour but may be pink, brown, red, or black depending on species and host plant. If aphid infestation is heavy, it may cause yellow, distorted leaves with spots and stunted shoots. Severe infestations can significantly reduce yields. Look out for ants climbing over them – they are looking for the aphids that secrete honeydew that the ants are detecting that creates mould on the plant. You can spray them chemically if you are into that sort of thing. Picking and squashing small infestations is possible or spraying them off with water. Nettles are supposed to be a sacrificial plant that draws aphids to them and away from the broad beans so leave any that grow nearby. The other brilliant plant to distract those aphids is summer savoury – if you can grow it. I managed to get some to germinate this year but the slugs ate them as soon as they were planted out among the beans. Aphids do have a few predators that can be introduced, such as ladybirds.

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Aphid (blackfly) infestation, 2015

Other than the aphids and usual slugs and snails who will always love a member of the pea family, broad beans can suffer from fungal diseases, such as powdery or downey mildew or root rots. Make sure your plants have good air circulation, so no weeds and lots of space between them, and keep them well watered through dry patches but do your best to not waterlog them, especially during the winter months.

Broad beans are high in protein (26.12g per 100g). They are a rich source of dietary fibre, phosphorous, copper, manganese and folate. They are high in phyto-nutrients such as isoflavone and plant-sterols and contain Levo-dopa, a precursor of neuro-chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine. They contain good amounts of vitamin B6 and B1, riboflavin and niacin. Accounting for 23% of our daily recommended intake of potassium, broad beans are one of the highest plant sources of this mineral.

To cook broad beans, pod them and place them in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes until just tender. Drain and serve as a side-dish as you would for any pea or bean or use them as the main protein for a meal. I like them with potato or rice. Chefs applaud their companionship with fresh herbs, lemon juice and salty cheeses, like feta or goat’s. River Cottage advertises an interesting houmous recipe as an alternative to chickpeas.

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Podded broad beans and young ones ready for cooking (on board, bowl contains harvested peas)

You can pick the pods when they are very small to begin with – no more than a few centimetres long and boil them in water like you would cook runner beans later on in the year. These go marvellously with some fried onion and tomatoes poured over some spaghetti. Being dull, I do like to eat my podded broad beans boiled and plain but they do go very well with this tomato risotto recipe…

Tomato Risotto with Broad Beans

When making this, I used left over pre-cooked rice we had from the previous night. It meant that the rice was quite soft and gooey and not particularly crisp and fried. Of course, you can cook the rice in the actual dish, just give it at least half an hour.

(Serves 6)

– 1 large onion, finely sliced – Butter, for frying – x 2 400g tinned tomatoes – 2 large garlic cloves, finely diced – 400g brown basmati rice – Dash of soy sauce – Dash of Lee and Perrins – Salt and Pepper – Grated parmesan or cheddar cheese, to serve (optional) – 100g broad beans, podded – Other greens to serve (peas, courgettes, kale etc.), optional

  1. In a large frying pan, melt the butter and add the sliced onion, frying until golden brown. Tip in the tomatoes and add the finely diced garlic, stirring to combine. Turn the heat down to simmer.
  2. Add the rice and stir in, allowing it to soak up the tomato mixture.
  3. Add a dash of soy sauce and Lee and Perrins for extra flavour, followed by a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir in.
  4. Leave to simmer for about ten minutes or until you are ready to serve. Give it a final stir – you want the rice to have absorbed most of the liquid and to be well combined with the gloop.
  5. In a small saucepan, bring some water to the boil and add the podded broad beans, turning it down to simmer for a few minutes until the beans are cooked and tender. Tip the cooked broad beans on top of the risotto.
  6. Serve alongside other greens and with a sprinkle of cheese on top, if desired.

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