I say! tomato…

Title – just for ‘mid brother come blog critic’.

Once in a while I stumble across a fruit or vegetable variety we have grown and think … ‘this is the one’.The’Cuore di Bue’ tomato we are growing in the polytunnel this year is superb, and less temperamental than ‘Marmande’, which has been my ‘beefsteak’ tomato of choice to date.  Well no more.

This delicious ox heart tomato is a weighty fruit with dense flesh and not too many seeds,

which makes it ideal for slicing, in salads or … for making tomato sauce.   So that is what I did in the afternoon whilst the rain bucketed down outside.

Europe has a heatwave – we have torrential rain.

Still, the inclement weather gave me the opportunity to make up a big batch of sauce which we can use on pizza or pasta.  I’m always pleased when I find a recipe that uses considerable quantities of produce; this one called for 5lbs of tomatoes; 3 medium onions; 8 cloves of garlic and a variety of herbs – all of which I could source from our kitchen garden.  Big tick.

Using up 8 cloves of garlic was handy.  Our considerable garlic crop was lifted a few weeks ago and we’ve been drying the heads in trays undercover in the dutch barn.  As I was helping out on our smallholder association stall at a local agricultural show, we cleaned the largest bulbs and I took along a basketful.

I managed to sell quite a number but then diminished our profit by purchasing a vintage, blacksmith forged, garden line winder from my fellow smallholder who had brought along a selection of old tools.

Somehow I don’t think I’ll be making my fortune from selling our produce.

Reading this week: The Thoughtful Gardener by Jinny Blom.






in a pickle…

Yes, I’m still at it, preserving any and all gluts from the holding.  No fruit, vegetable or herb is safe from the possibility of appearing in a pickle, preserve, or being put into the dehydrator.

This week, I’ve turned my attention to the courgette, which is a vegetable plant that can easily swamp one with its bounty.  I always have too many plants because I cannot resist having a range of courgette shapes, (cylinders and spheres), and colours, (different greens, yellow, striped…).

I’ve found that the secret to keeping a courgette avalanche at bay is to pick the vegetables when they are relatively small.  Of course, this is the plan, but things, invariably, don’t turn out that way.  This week, when I’d exhausted swopping the vegetables for other provisions with my neighbours, I made ‘bread and butter’ refridgerator pickles with sliced courgettes instead of cucumbers, (recipe used, here).

500g of courgette with pickling liquor fills about 3-4 pound jars, so making these can substantially diminish a courgette oversupply.  The pickles are ready to eat after a couple of days and can keep for a few months in the fridge.  Ours are all consumed well before then. They are delicious with bread and cheese and are a good substitute for gherkin with a burger.  I’m in no doubt that I’ll be making another batch soon.

In the tunnel, the tomatoes are starting to ripen.  I picked a bowl of the large ‘Cuore di Bue’ fruit.

Time to start making tomato sauce!


a plum job…

A recent stroll into the orchard has revealed that the plums have started to ripen. Some have already tumbled to the floor.

Now, I love to eat one or two plums, but we have far too many for this ad hoc consumption.  Time to bring out the dehydrator.

One of the first plums to ripen in our orchard is the variety ‘Sanctus Hubertus’.  This is a relatively modern variety, introduced in 1966, and is a ‘Mater Dolorosa’/’Rivers Early Prolific’ cross.  It’s an early ripening variety, and has the RHS AGM award, which is always a good sign. The fruit is medium sized, oval in shape and a dark blue/black colour with a lovely bloom.  It’s sweet enough, when ripe, to be eaten as fresh, so is often classified as a dual purpose plum.

More relevant to the task in hand, it is a ‘freestone’ style of plum, which means that the stone comes away cleanly from the flesh, perfect for splitting the fruit in two for drying.

Drying fruit takes very little effort.  We picked a basket of the plums on a sunny day, gave them a quick wash and dry and then halved each one before arranging, cut side up, on the trays.

For one shelf we inverted the halved plum to see if this made any difference to the end result.  We kept with the suggested drying temperature of 135 degrees celsius on the Excalibur dehydrator and set the timer for 6 hours.  I’ll check on progress later today.

Meanwhile I’ve been looking out potential recipes.  The BBC Good Food website has an enticing list.     I’m particularly taken with the autumnal list of desserts, such as spiced rice pudding with prune and Marsala compote, (The Hairy Bikers), or perhaps Barmbrack parfait with whisky prunes, (Donal Skehan), or maybe poached quince and winter fruit in spiced wine, (Raymond Blanc)….

Happy days!

Reading this week: The Otters’ Tale by Simon Cooper.



small batch beauty…

The polytunnel is a jungle.  It’s a good thing that I’m rather fond of the dense vegetation.

A significant contributor to the tangle is the nasturtium.  The plants have loved the heat of the tunnel.

Given that they have done so well I decided to go a little bit ‘artisan’ on our preserves and try pickling nasturtium seeds.  Apparently they can be used as a substitute for capers.

I had a leisurely rummage and managed to find enough green seeds for a small jar.  I had picked 87g; the little jar I had would probably be able to hold 100g.  There are a number of recipes on the web – all pretty much the same.  They all recommended soaking the seeds in a salt solution for at least 24 hours.  It seems the seeds are a bit too peppery without the brine bath.Once drained of the brine, rinsed and dried off, I packed the green nuggets into the sterilised jar, leaving about 1cm from the start of the neck.  Then I poured over white wine vinegar and added 2 small bay leaves and a few black peppercorns. So simple.  These little caper substitutes should be ready in a few weeks.

Reading this week: Wonderland A Year of Britain’s Wildlife Day by Day


Summertime and the living is ….. a bit frenetic

I’m delving into the classics now.  Over the last weekend, the weather had turned lovely again and we had a wave of guests.  There were a lot of mouths to feed and a desire from us to showcase GYO. When it comes to desserts it’s easy; one’s thoughts turn to summer puddings and fruit fools.

This is when soft fruit comes into its own, red and black currants; raspberries and gooseberries.  Delia provided the summer pudding fruit ratios, (though I found the 7 slices not enough to line my bowl), Nigel Slater, the gooseberry fool recipe, (no pictures of the puddings, sadly, as I was too busy).

Of course, this was the point at which I realised that there is a bit of a gap in our red berry category.  Yes, we’re good on redcurrants, plenty there, however our strawberries had finished by the first week of July and our autumn raspberries have just started to set fruit.  We’ve not grown summer fruiting raspberries for a number of years, as I always found them to be a bit disappointing.  Sadly, we didn’t have any cherries as we hadn’t got round to netting.  The birds have feasted well.

I had to nip to the shop for raspberries.

To avoid this in future summers, I’ve been investigating late season strawberries, fruit that will crop into late July and perhaps even August.  Some of the newer varieties seem to fit the bill.  I’ve plumped on Florence from East Malling, (always good to see that this emminent research station is still producing the goods), so I’ll place an order for 50 runners this autumn.

I did an amble along the field boundaries; the shelter belt is bulking up nicely and the brambles in the hedgerow are full of insects.

It definitely pays to be a bit lax towards the edges of the garden.




cool as a cucumber…

The weather has been decidedly cool and showery over the last week.  It has been a case of dipping in and out of working on the holding and interleaving with other activities like PICKLING.

I’ve never made pickled gherkins before; eaten quite a few though.  So this year we grew several gherkin plants, as well as ridge cucumbers.  The variety is ‘Piccolo di Parigi’. I turned to the web for a recipe and plumped for a sweet vinegar version.  The taste is good, though I’m not sure about all the powdered spices used, as they have fallen to form a layer at the bottom of the jar.

Also, the recipe didn’t include dill, which is my favourite herb in the garden right now.  It’s looking fabulous at the moment, (one for the ornamental garden I think), and the umbellifer flowers attract masses of insects, including parasitic wasps which is why I grow dill in the polytunnel. So the next batch of pickles must be a dill version though I may try a ‘bread and butter’ recipe as well.  After all, practice makes perfect.

Back to the subject of cucumbers.  I’m growing all of my plants together in the polytunnel.   According to my, belated, research, this might not be a good idea if I have any ‘greenhouse’ varieties as apparently cross pollination from a male flower, (and ridge cucumbers have both male and female flowers), can produce bitter fruit in the ‘greenhouse’ types.  However, as I’m still trying to get my head round the different cucumber categories, parthenocarpic, (seedless) types and gynecoecous types, (for increased yields, as they produce few male flowers) etc. I’m not too concerned.  I’ll double check the seed before I sow next year. 

The first slicing cucumber we harvested this year is a very pale green, thin skinned, variety, and it is delicious.

So, I decided to make good use of this first cucumber of the growing season and made finger sandwiches, served alongside an egg mayonnaise version and strawberry scones. Afternoon tea, delicious!

ever and ever, forever and ever…

Ahhh, Demis Roussos.  The sound of 1970s summers.  That’ll be a earworm now.

In fact, I’m thinking about perennials and specifically the perennials in our wildflower border.  The first year the verge along our track was a riot of cornfield annuals (see below).

Some of these, such as the corn marigold and cornflower haven’t put in an appearance this second year, in spite of us diligently sowing collected seed as well as leaving seed to fall in situ.  Even so, we still have good showings of annuals such as the corn chamomile, poppies, and the corn cockle.

However, this year it’s the perennials that have caught my eye.  They’re not as showy as the annuals but these should come back year on year. Most prolific have been the campions, red, Silene dioica, and white, Silene latifolia.  The red campion started flowering back in April and is just coming to the end.

I’m collecting seed pods and shaking them into the wildflower strip in the orchard as the campion is meant to be quite tenacious; I’m hoping it will take.

The plantains have also put on a good show, as have the yarrows, Achillea millefolium.  The latter come in soft pink and white marshmallow colours. The common knapweed, Centaurea nigra, is also making an appearance now.

In amongst, we have a scatter of birdsfoot trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, musk mallow, Malva moschata,

and the great mullein, Verbascum thapsus, though these were made short work of by the mullein moth.

The dyer’s rocket, Reseda luteola, looks spectacular this year, but it is biennial so I need to make sure I save seed from this,

and we have a few bits of Lady’s bedstraw, Galium verum,

There are so many different grasses; I need to buff up my grass identification skills as I have no idea what the different species are.

We managed to get some germination from our collected seed in our trial wildflower strip in the orchard, there are some strong patches amongst the grazing grass, however, most exciting has been the appearance of yellow rattle.  This seed came from a local meadow.

Yellow rattle is semi parasitic and weakens grass.  Whilst it is an annual, the hope is that it will set seed throughout the orchard, suppress the growth of the predominant rye grass, and allow us to increase the diversity of wildflower species.

I might not have many cultivated flowers, we are still preparing the ground, (15 tonnes of compost will be delivered next week), but I can still pick a jug of sweet peas from the vegetable plot every other day.