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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March – sowing and growing

There are too many plants that can be started off indoors/outdoors in March to name! But here are a few to get you started…

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Carrots – Carrots – sown one trench outside under fleece

Spinach – Salad – Spinach – planted out ‘Turaco’ spinach sown last autumn in a cold frame with fleece and started off indoors ‘Barbados’ and ‘Emelia’, onto ‘Samish’ soon…

Lettuce- Salad – Lettuce – planted out lettuce sown last winter in the cold frame with the spinach and sown some seeds indoors

Radishes – Salad – Radish – sown outdoors under fleece between other crops

Celery – Celery – batch sown indoors

Celeriac – Celeriac – ”

Courgettes – Courgettes – sown indoors

Squashes – have yet to plant ‘Honey Bear’ and ‘Sunburst’

Quinoa – Quinoa – batch sown indoors

Chickpeas – Sown indoors, first time trying them this year!

Broad beans – Broad Beans – ready to plant out under fleece

Peas – started off indoors but can be sown directly now – post hopefully coming soon…

Okra – Okra – couple damped off so planted some more indoors

Rocket – Salad – Rocket – sown indoors, not doing so well…

Watercress – sown indoors

Herbs – sown the parsley and coriander so far

Fenugreek – damped off, need to sow some more indoors

Cucumbers – Cucumbers – sown indoors, doing best at moment, please stay that way!

Tomatoes – germinated very well indoors

Potatoes – time to think about planting them outdoors under a lot of earth and some cover

Turnips – just sown some

Purple Sprouting Broccoli – just sown some (as well as some more Calabrese Broccoli) indoors AND just harvested first batch of last year’s crop the other night to have with some of the last dug up potatoes from last season with baked beans, cheese and frozen homegrown runner beans – yum!

Leeks – Leeks – indoors

Spring Onions – indoors

Beetroot – indoors, on my list

Cabbages – Cabbages – ‘Red Rodeo’, ‘Advantage’, ‘Caserta’ – sown indoors

Brussels Sprouts and Brukale – Brussels Sprouts – quickly sow before it gets too late

Kale – The last of the Kale

Sweet Corn – on my list but I know from experience that I can still get away with sowing it in May, indoors

Rhubarb – Rhubarb – time to feed and start forcing

Fruit Trees/Bushes – time to feed!

There are bound to be plenty more veggies to sow/plant out as we plough on through the first month of spring. Temperatures are finally warming up but hang onto some fleece – the fruit trees might be lured into a false spring, deadly for blossom and fruit production… Make sure anything you sow outside/ plant out is wrapped up under cover, nice and snuggly. It will be a shock to the system if they are exposed to Britain’s ‘spring time’ too early!

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FLOWERS TO SOW INDOORS:

French Marigolds

Cosmos

Viola

Lavender

Geraniums

Calendulas

Lupins

Sweet Peas – they are ready to plant out under cover

There are BILLIONS more… 

 

Cabbages

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‘Traviata’ Savoy

The cabbage, Brassica orleracea is a leafy green, purple or white biennial plant grown as an annual vegetable crop for its dense leaved heads. Cabbage has been bred selectively for head weight and, well, pretty-looks, frost hardiness, fast growth and storage ability. The appearance of the cabbage head has been given importance in selective breeding, with varieties being chosen for shape, colour and firmness of the leaves.

The cabbage originated from the wild cabbage (also called colewort or field cabbage) and is closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and other similar vegetables that have descended from the same ancestor. ‘Cabbage’ was originally used to refer to multiple forms of B. oleracea, including those with loose or non-existent heads. The original family name of brassicas was Cruciferae that derived from the flower petal pattern thought by medieval Europeans to resemble a crucifix. Brassica derives from bresic, an actual Celtic word for cabbage.  Many European and Asiatic names for cabbage came from the Celto-Slavic root cap or kap, meaning ‘head’. The English word cabbage came from the word caboche, meaning head, too. This in turn has been sourced from the Picard Dialect of Old French. This is a variant of the Old French caboce. 

Ok, complicated origins of language done, onto the rest of the history…

It is difficult to trace the exact origins of the cabbage due to the number of crops given the same name (no surprise for the reader after the previous paragraph) over the centuries but the wild cabbage could have originated in Europe prior to 1000 BC. The wild cabbage that was originally discovered in Britain and other places in Europe was tolerant of salt and found to inhabit rocky cliffs and coastal habitats. Cabbages were probably domesticated by Celts of central and western Europe and along with kale were probably among the first of the brassica family to be domesticated. By early Roman times, Egyptian artisans and children are recorded to have eaten notable amounts of cabbages and turnips alongside a wide variety of pulses. The ancient Greeks are supposed to have eaten some form of cabbage but whether it was similar to the type we eat today remains unknown. Greeks were afraid that cabbages planted too close to grapevines gave the grapes a bad taste due to the strong smelling odour of the plant. This theory is still believed in the country today.

Cabbages were harvested in England as far back as the Celts but it was during the high Middle Ages that the crop became prominent in illustrations and manuscripts and seeds began to be listed for sale for the use of King John II of France when captive in 1360. Cabbages were a staple of the poor man’s diet. In 1420, the ‘Bourgeois of Paris’ noted that the poor ate ‘nothing but cabbages and turnips’. Cabbages spread from Europe into Mesopotamia and Egypt as a winter vegetable and later followed trading routes throughout Asia and the Americas. The absence of Sanskrit or other ancient Eastern language names for cabbage suggests that the crop was not introduced to South Asia until relatively recently. In India, the cabbage was one of several vegetable crops introduced by colonising traders from Portugal who established trade routes from the 14th to 17th centuries. Carl Peter Thunberg reported that the cabbage was not yet known in Japan in 1775. Cabbage seeds traveled to Australia in 1788 with the First Fleet, and were planted the same year on Norfolk Island. It became a favorite vegetable of Australians by the 1830s.

Total world production of all brassicas for calendar year 2012 was 70,104,972 metric tons. The nations with the largest production were China, which produced 47 percent of the world total and India that produced 12 percent. These countries used an enormous surface area in production. The largest yields were from South Korea, which harvested 71,188.6 kilograms per hectare, Ireland (68,888.9 kg/ha), and Japan (67,647.1 kg/ha).

Cabbage consumption varies widely around the world: Russia has the highest annual per capita consumption at 20 kilograms (44 lb), followed by Belgium at 4.7 kilograms (10 lb), the Netherlands at 4.0 kilograms (8.8 lb), and Spain at 1.9 kilograms (4.2 lb). Americans consume 3.9 kilograms (8.6 lb) annually per capita.

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‘Primo’

Start sowing cabbages under the cover of fleece or in little pots/modules indoors for the best results in germination. I have tried both of these approaches and the second worked best for me but I still got adequate results from direct sowing so see what works well for you. The timing varies on the type of cabbage:

Summer/autumn cabbages – sown March-April

Winter cabbages: April-May

Spring cabbages: July-August 

Plant out the cabbies around 6 weeks after sowing when they are 7/8cm tall and are growing their second leaves. Make sure they are planted into soil that has been fertilised well as they are hungry plants that need lots of feeding and watering to become gorgeous, wrinkled balls of good-stuff.

This is my first year of growing cabbages but I planted this year:

Primo F1 – (Sow February-April or July-August for overwinter)

Caserta F1 (mini-savoy) – (January-May)

Traviata F1 (another savoy) – (April-June) – I am harvesting these at the moment – DELICIOUS!

I would also recommend ‘Primero’ and ‘Kilaxy’ – I could not get hold of the seeds in time this year. ‘Primero’ is a red variety for those who would like to grow that colour.

They were all very successful but heaven for slugs and snails.

You can recognise when a cabbage is ready for harvesting when the centre forms a relatively solid heart. Use secateurs or a sharp knife to cut the head free. After you have cut the head off the plant, where the cut stem is, engrave a deep cross into the centre. This is a ‘cut and come again’ approach. The stem will produce small hearts that you can harvest again later. I tried this with ‘Primo’ stems and they have produced sweet little cabbages ready for picking.

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Cabbage white caterpillars are a cabbage’s most deadly enemy. They can decimate a cabbage patch overnight. Use insect netting straight away to protect your crops. The worst problems I have experienced with my cabbages are slug and snail infestations. Due to the insect netting, it means I do not always have the time to check that the cabbages are alright and it is hard to spot slug and snail damage through the green material. When I have harvested them, I have spent a long time picking slugs and snails out from the inner-leaves and the last time I weeded and fed the patch I was there for what felt like hours trying to be rid of those slightly slimy creepy-crawlies. The other big problem I had with about three of my cabbages was flee beetle. They destroyed nearly two but these ones I used for my sauerkraut recipe (see below).

Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C and K, containing more than 20% of the Daily Value. Cabbage is also a good source (10–19% DV) of vitamin B6 and folate. Studies suggest that cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, may have protective effects against colon cancer. Purple cabbage contains anthocyanin that are under preliminary research for potential anti-carcinogenic properties. Cabbages have been used historically as medicinal herb for a variety of purported health benefits. The Ancient Greeks recommended consuming the vegetable as a laxative and used cabbage juice as an antidote for mushroom poisoning, for eye salves, and for liniments used to help bruises heal. In Cato the Elder’s work De Agri Culturia (On Agriculture), he suggested that women could prevent diseases by bathing in urine obtained from those who had frequently eaten cabbage. Roman authors believed it could cure a hangover and Ancient Egyptians ate cabbage at the beginning of meals to prevent the dizzying effects of wine to be drunk later. The cooling properties of the leaves were used in Britain as a treatment for trench foot in World War I, and as compresses for ulcers and breast abbesses. Accumulated scientific evidence corroborates that cabbage leaf treatment can reduce the pain and hardness of engorged breasts, and increase the duration of breast feeding. Other medicinal uses recorded in Europe folk medicine include treatments for rheumatism, sore throat, colic, and melancholy. Both mashed cabbage and cabbage juice have been used in poultices to remove boils and treat warts, pneumonia, appendicitis and ulcers.

How one eats a cabbage depends on the person. I like my green ones (as you can see from the varieties I have planted) shredded/cut up into pieces and boiled. My parents and sister also like red cabbages, boiled and both types shredded and eaten raw, particularly in coleslaw to eat with a baked potato or a quiche (Salad – Lettuce Quiche recipe).

As for boiled cabbage, serve it with any meal you would eat a cooked green with. For example, try it with my Recipe: Mashed Potato, Cheese and Tomato BakeRecipe: Mum’s Fish PiesCalabrese Broccoli  – sausages, potatoes and veg.

The other way I eat cabbage is in sauerkraut. Now, it took me time to like this dish. I trained myself to eat it because of how good it is meant to be for people with gut problems, which I do suffer from time to time. Sauerkraut is finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a long shelf life and a distinctive sour flavour, both of which result from the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage.

Sauerkraut is famously good for your gut. I really like it with cheese –  pasta, salad and cheddar, cheddar or brie melted on toast (my mum eats it with stilton, homemade oat soda bread, chutney and salad), baked potato and cheddar and salad… I also love a bowl of brown rice, lettuce, cut up avocado and sauerkraut all mixed up together. It looks strange and I was afraid to try it for so long (not a fan of vinegar and I didn’t like cabbage until I ate sauerkraut) but I’ve struggled from digestive issues and I took up eating it to cure them – I hasten to add it wasn’t a magic-curing-pill, neither was the raw milk, bio-organic yoghurt, sourdough and Symprove I took up at the same time, but it can still help and it doesn’t matter if it does or not, still tastes surprisingly good judging by how bad it looks and smells! Do not let appearances ruin your appetite, try a little with some cheese and crackers and transform your meal. Best of luck!

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Homemade Sauerkraut

1 red or green cabbage, about 1kg, thinly sliced or shredded

For the brine: – 1 litre water – 60g salt

– Kilner jar or large preserving jar(s)

1.For the brine, put the water and salt in a cooking pot and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to encourage the salt to dissolve.

2.Allow to cool, then chill the brine in the fridge to about 5°C.

3.Put the shredded cabbage into a bowl or plastic container and pour in the chilled brine so that it covers the cabbage. It is quite tricky to keep cabbage submerged in brine, but placing a sieve, the right way up, on top of the cabbage, works well.

4.Cover the bowl (with the sieve still on top) with a tea towel or cling film and leave in a cool place, such as a pantry, with an ambient temperature no higher than 23°C, for 2 weeks.This will allow fermentation to begin without letting harmful bacteria multiply.

5.After 2 weeks, drain the brine from the cabbage. Your sauerkraut is now ready to eat. You can store the sauerkraut in a sealed Kilner jar or large jars in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

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.

Garlic

Garlic, or allium sativum, is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Close relations include the onion, leek, shallot, chive and rakkyo. As with all members of the onion family, garlic releases sulphurous compounds, mostly allicin, when it is cut – or nibbled by a curious animal. Releasing these odours ensures that only a small munch is eaten rather than a feasting. Despite this, garlic has been consumed by humans for over 7,000 years.

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Garlic is native to central Asia. The use of garlic in China has been dated back to 2000 BC. It was consumed by ancient Greek and Roman soldiers, sailors and the rural classes. Alexander Neckham, a writer in the 12th century, wrote about garlic being a ‘palliative for the heat of the sun in field labour’. Garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks on the piles of stones at crossroads as a supper for Hecate. Garlic was invoked as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. Garlic has also been recorded to be part of a cure for smallpox and for curing some cases of edema singlehandedly.

In England, garlic was supposed to have been grown from 1548 but was quite rare in the British cuisine, being a far more common use in Mediterranean culinary. However, garlic has become a staple in most households as a form of flavour due to our experimentation with global cookery. It was not until the Renaissance period that England included garlic in their medicine chests, and it was used for treatment of toothache, constipation, dropsy and plague. By the World Wars, garlic was accepted by the English medicinally for using as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene.

This is an interesting picture I found on ‘AllicinFacts’. It is a table showing the historical uses of garlic in medicine over the centuries in different cultures.

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In Europe, many cultures have used garlic for spiritual protection, owing to its reputation as a potent preventative medicine. European folk beliefs considered it a powerful ward against demons, werewolves and vampires. To ward off vampires, garlic could be worn on the body, hung in windows, or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes to prevent them from entering. In Iranian countries which celebrate Nowruz  (Persian calendar New Year) and Central Asian countries, garlic is one of the items in a Seven-Seen table, a traditional New Year’s display. In some Buddhist traditions, garlic,  along with the other five ‘pungent spices’, is understood to stimulate sexual and aggressive drives to the detriment of meditation practice. In Mahayana Buddhism, monks and nuns are prohibited from consuming garlic or other pungent spices such as chili, which are deemed as being earthly pleasures and are viewed as promoting aggression due to their pungency.

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It may be tempting not to grow your own garlic. A whole bed donated to it can take up room and it is cheap and easy to buy anywhere. However – garlic is a good companion crop: it can be planted amongst other crops to ward of pests with its strong smell. For example, it is supposed to repel flea beetle so try planting some around your orientals or brassicas if they are suffering. It is also meant to ward off carrot fly so pop some in near your root crops around the edges. It fits into most places. We have lots planted under our blackcurrant bushes. It will keep in the ground for a long time like root crops or potatoes but it will also keep once harvested indoors in a cool, dry, dark place. Homegrown garlic is far more stronger tasting and smelling and the white bulbs you dig up will be beautiful compared to any supermarket variety. The increased fresh taste of it means you need less bulbs for your dishes to taste incredible, meaning you are being more economical after all despite the cheapness of garlic in your local shop.

Garlic likes to be planted in a sunny, free-draining patch. You will buy either individual cloves or a whole head of garlic. If it is the latter, separate the garlic cloves and plant them directly during October or November or February or March. They will be ready for harvesting in the summer months, from May to September. You want to try to sow it in the autumn as it will be larger and slightly earlier than ones sown in February or March. To sow, put them 7cm deep with the flat base downwards, allowing 15cm between them, rows 20cm apart. When flowers appear, snap them off so that energy is directed towards the bulbs to make them grow bigger. The flowered garlic heads I feed to my pigs.

To harvest, pull the plants from June as green garlic for immediate use in the kitchen or wait for a while until the leaves brown to peel back the soil to see if there are large bulbs ready for digging up. Once pulled up, dry them in the sun for a day or two, turning them over so that both sides benefit from the light. Store them indoors somewhere cool.

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All members of the onion family are vulnerable to rust. Crop rotation is the best answer to this problem.

Garlic is famous for being antibacterial, blood-twining, sprit lifting, cholesterol lowering and detoxifying. Legend says that garlic bestows a lucky charm upon those that eat it as well as protection and good fortune. It discourages the devil and restores lost souls. Sounds like a magic plant!

A 2013, a study concluded that garlic preparations may effectively lower total cholesterol by 11–23 mg/dL and LDL cholesterol by 3–15 mg/dL, if taken for longer than two months. The same analysis found that garlic had a positive effect on HDL cholestreol and no significant effect on blood levels suggesting that garlic preparations were generally well tolerated with very few side effects by all. A 2014 meta-analysis of observational epidemiological studies found that garlic consumption is associated with a lower risk of stomach cancer in the Korean population.

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When cooking with garlic, the simple trick to remember is that the finer you chop, the stronger the flavour. Raw garlic has the most beneficial qualities; cooking diminishes them slightly but there is no need to panic, it is just as good for you if slightly less. I use cooked garlic in quite a lot of recipes. Along with onions, it is the base for a flavoured sauce. A classic is to fry some sliced onion in oil until it is golden brown, to add one or two diced cloves of garlic along with some tinned tomatoes and then to add some pre-cooked beans (kidney, butter bean, chickpea etc.) to make a vegetarian meal to have alongside some rice, potatoes or pasta. I use cooked garlic in pizza toppings, bolognese and lasagne, curries, stews, pie fillings… It is a cooking ingredient I rarely go without. I am also a big fan of raw garlic, seeing as I am a humous-monster. Another recipe I was taught by my mum that uses raw garlic is eggy spaghetti – a sort of carbonara styled dish using egg yolks instead of cheese sauce, raw garlic and salt and pepper for seasoning. In Italy, it is common to have this dish with chilli and garlic instead of egg yolks but we have used this delightful meal when we have had a few too many chicken eggs and it works a treat and will pack a protein punch for a vegetarian. Cut some ham or left over bacon up and sprinkle it on top for a meat eater.

If you keep chickens along with your kitchen garden, then this is a great recipe for using up egg yolks. Don’t discard the egg whites – put them in an old yoghurt pot and label with the date. Use them up in a week in a meringue of pavlova, if you have time.

You want the spaghetti to still be quite hot when you stir in the egg yolks and garlic as it is better if the yolks slightly cook but you don’t want them to turn into scrambled eggs so be wary. Remember: the finer you dice the garlic, the stronger it will taste.

Eggy Garlic Spaghetti 

(Serves 6)

-About 500g spaghetti – 6-8 egg yolks – 2 large cloves of garlic, diced very finely – Salt and pepper, for flavour – Peas, runner beans, broccoli or a mixture of salad leaves to serve – Ham, bacon or Ketchup to serve, optional

  1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Put the spaghetti in it and allow it to simmer for about ten minutes, until the pasta is well cooked. Drain and set aside, keeping it warm.
  2. Whisk the egg yolks and garlic together in a separate bowl. Add the mixture to the hot spaghetti and stir until thoroughly combined (add more egg yolks if needed. You want the paste to look yellow and for it to cover the spaghetti). Sprinkle a tiny bit of salt and pepper over the top and stir in.
  3. Serve with cooked vegetables or salad. If you care for it, cut some ham or bacon up into little pieces and sprinkle over the top. Offer Ketchup for the kids… and me.

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Cherries

PRUNE May-June HARVEST July-September

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‘Morello’ Sour cherry tree

Cherries are fleshy drupes (stone fruits). There are sweet cherries (Prunnus avium) and sour/acid (Prunus cerasus). The English word ‘cherry’ derives from the classical Greek through the Latin cerasum, which referred to the ancient Greek place name Cerasus, today the city of Giresun in northern Turkey in the ancient Pontus region.

The harvesting of cherries extends through most of Europe, western Asia and parts of northern Africa, and the fruit has been consumed throughout its range since prehistoric times. A cultivated cherry, as well as the apricot is recorded as having been brought to Rome from northeastern Anatolia, also known as the Pontus region, in 72 BC. A form of cherry was introduced to England at Teynham, near Sittingbourne in Kent (Kent cherries are the most famous in the UK) due to the orders of Henry VIII who had tasted them in Flanders. There were once vast numbers of cherries grown in the UK but the manpower shortages during the world wars started a slide that was exacerbated by cheaper imports. As a consequence, we have lost 95% of our cherry orchards in 60 years. However, cherry trees are becoming a major growing market in the Middle East, Europe, North America and Austrailia, Turkey being most productive producing 480,748 of sweet cherries in 2012 and 187,941 sour ones in the same year. In France since the 1920s, the first cherries of the season come in April or May from the region of Ceret, where the local producers send, as a tradition since 1932, the first crate of cherries to the French president. In Australia, the New South Wales town of Young is called the ‘Cherry Capital of Australia’ and hosts the National Cherry Festival.

Over the last few decades, plant breeders have succeeded in developing smaller self-fertile trees, ideal for our back gardens as it dispenses then need for giant ladders and endlessly extendable tools like lopers.

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Our sweet cherry trees we bought last winter are:

‘Stella’:  A self-fertile, Canadian bred variety producing large dark fruits with an excellent sweet flavour. Highly recommended and popular. Large fruit in a blood red hue. Very productive but sensitive to cold. Harvested from mid-July -August.

‘Sunburst’: A late season eating cherry which produces large almost black fruits. Supposed to be very productive. Self Fertile. Crops earlier than ‘Stella’, from mid-July.

‘Merchant’: A large black, red early-season cherry with a good flavour. Self-sterile –  requires a pollinator for a crop.

‘Hertford’: Requires a pollinator, self-sterile. Black coloured fruit, crops late-mid summer.

The sour cherry tree we own and harvested from for the first time this year since we bought it last January 2015 (and is probably the most famous, popular brand of sour cherry to purchase) is the ‘Morello’. For 400 years it has been the people’s favourite. The ‘Morello’ is self-fertile too and very popular for pie-makers. Harvesting often happens from late-August onwards. Sour cherries have twice as much vitamin C as sweet varieties, the trees are more likely to be ‘laden’ and are happy to face north or east.

All cherries are a target for feathered friends but sweet cherry’s Latin name, avium does mean ‘for the birds’. Net your trees with insect-friendly netting as soon as you see fruit starting to form after the blossoms. We had a couple of sweet cherries on our ‘Sunburst’ and the birds found them too quickly this year. We only got to net the ‘Morello’ and fortunately enjoyed all of the harvest for ourselves.

Sweet cherries love full sun while sour cherries do not mind a shady spot. Cherry blossom tends to form early and can be susceptible to frost damage so be prepared to carefully fleece their delicate blossom or to grow them is a sheltered position. Do remove or peg up the fleece during the day time to allow the insects to pollinate the blossom. Cherries like fertile, well-drained soil. Plant cherry trees in a a hole you have dug and fed with very well-rotted manure, compost and Blood, Fish and Bone or Bonemeal. Gently put the tree in the hole, up to where the knob is on the trunk, no higher. Firm the soil in very well around it by stamping with your feet. For dwarfing root-stocks plant them 2.5m from each other, for large ones 6m. Once planted, water well through dry periods. Put a ring of well-rotted manure, Blood, Fish and Bone and a layer of mulch around them in late winter/early spring (around March) to fertilise these shallow-rooting trees and to set them up for the fruiting season ahead. Do not let the manure touch the trunks of the trees, give them some space or it will wither burn the bark or encourage growth at the bottom of the tree which you don’t want, you want it all to be higher up.

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‘Hertford’ cherry blossom is beautiful

Prune and train cherry trees like you would for any other stone fruit in the summer months. Aim for a goblet shape. They fruit in clusters at the base of year old stems and older wood so limit pruning of freestanding cherries to taking out dead and diseased or crossing branches after you have harvested. The disease silver leaf is common amongst cherry trees and finds its way in most easily on pruned branches. This can be reduced by pruning in summer when the rising sap prevents this disease from taking hold. Sour cherry trees are pruned like sweet cherries until the third year. They crop along the length of stems that grew the previous year so cut out a good amount of the older wood that is unproductive and this removal will encourage new growth that will fruit the following year.

Cherries naturally thin their fruit, dropping excess they feel incapable of carrying so you will not need to do any thinning out as you would with apples, plums or pears which feels heartbreakingly difficult. Do net them when they grow or the birds will swoop in at the first sign or ripening.

Bacterial canker and silver leaf are two diseases to be wary of, other than root rots so do be  wary not to over-water the trees who detest being too wet (useful for England, yes?). Blackfly or black cherry aphid is another possibility which I had on my cherry tree leaves last year. Try wiping them of if you can as they cause the leaves to curl and promotes fungal growth on the fruit. At the fruiting stage in June and July, the cherry fruit fly may try to lay its eggs in immature fruit, causing fungal infection in the fruit after a rain shower.

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Cherries are usually ready for eating in the second half of the summer season, depending on the weather and type of cherry tree. Pick them by their stalks in fry weather. Be careful to avoid bruising the fruit as it is so delicate. Cherries may keep in the fridge for up to a fortnight by the flavour will deteriorate and it is best to eat your sweet ones as soon as possible and to either cook your sour ones immediately or to freeze them. There is no need to remove the stones – unlike plums, once frozen cherry stones come out really easily. When defrosting them, remove them from the freezer for a few hours before cooking them and leave them to drain all of the excess liquid through a sieve into a bowl or cup. This juice can then be drank as a cherry aide.

Cherries don’t have a particularly high nutritional content. Dietary fibre and vitamin C are present in moderate content while other vitamins and minerals each supply less than 10% of the Daily Value. Sour cherries have a high content of vitamin C and A than sweet varieties. Despite this, science has proved that eating cherries is very good for you. Studies published suggest that drinking cherry juice is as good as taking prescribed drugs for lowering blood pressure. People who drank 60ml of cherry concentrate, diluted with water, saw their blood pressure drop by 7% within three hours, according to scientists at Northumbria University. This was enough to reduce the risk of a stroke by 38%or heart disease by 23%. Tart cherries contain two powerful compounds, anthocyanins and bioflavonoids. cherry consumption reduces several biomarkers associated with chronic inflammatory diseases, like gout and arthritis. There is even some scientific studies implying that eating cherries can help memory loss, reducing the symptoms of Alzheimers. Cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that helps control sleep. Studies suggest that particularly tart cherry juice can help one with insomnia sleep.

As I said, we only harvested our ‘Morello’ sour cherries this year, no sweet varieties available for trying out. I froze a couple of small bags worth and have used one so far. There are plenty of yummy ways to eat sweet cherries raw: think mixing them in fruit salads, yoghurts, ice cream sundae toppings, chocolate fondue or alongside some cheese and walnuts in a salad for a starter or main meal. You would be surprised how many ways there are to use sour cherries that need to be cooked to be eaten. Clafoutis, a batter with cherries and a dash of kirsch thrown in makes a delightful French pudding my mum loves. Stew them with brown sugar to make a compote to eat for breakfast, dessert or as a snack, or even alongside trout, I have read of before. Or use the compost to mix into homemade ice cream to make cherry ice cream or mix in with yoghurt to make frozen cherry yoghurt. For my first adventure with our homegrown sour cherries, I went for the inevitable: cake.

Yoghurt cakes have an amazing texture and the slight sour taste really does accompany the cherries brilliantly, giving the cake flavour. Everyone was very complimentary at the result. I was a little stingy on how many cherries I used, 150g, but feel free to add in more. You can probably change the fruit as well. I can imagine blueberries, perhaps pears or plums or another stone fruit like apricots or nectarines being complimentary with the cake. I have used this recipe before with a bag of frozen cherries bought from Sainsbury’s a couple of years ago which did work after a long time of defrosting so it does not have to specifically be sour cherries, it can be sweet – sour will just give you that extra magic flavour.

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Cherry Yoghurt Cake

Cherry Yoghurt Cake

(Serves 10)

-200g salted butter – 200g caster sugar – 4 medium sized eggs – 100g Greek yoghurt – 200g self-raising flour – 1tsp baking powder – 150g cherries

  1. Preheat the oven 180C. Grease and line a 20cm deep cake tin with baking parchment.
  2. In a bowl, beat the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs together and then gradually add them to the butter mixture, whisking well to thoroughly combine them.
  3. Mix in the Greek yoghurt followed by the flour and baking powder.
  4. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and scatter the fruit on top (do not press them into the mixture otherwise they will sink to the bottom of the cake during the cooking process. Scattering them allows some to sink a little and some to remain on the top). Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre leaves clean. Leave the cake in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
  5. Serve in slices either plain, with a large dollop of Greek yoghurt, ice cream or cream. Store in an air-tight container for up to three days.

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Serve plain or with some yoghurt, cream or ice cream for a lovely summer dessert