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.
I’m a hit and miss forager. I might set out a few times a year when a particular hedgerow crop is in season. Blackberries absolutely, rowan and crab apples occasionally, mushrooms never. However when the harvest in question is on your doorstep, in fact, right next to the lean to cowshed, then it pays to set aside a little time to indulge in some foraging.
The elderflower, Sambucus nigra, has been in flower for some weeks, and I’ve been intending to make cordial for a while. May came and went and June has been too wet so far for picking. It’s best to gather the flowerheads on the morning of a sunny day, because it’s the pollen that imparts the delicious flavour. So you don’t want wet flowerheads where the pollen has been washed away, but leave it too late on a sunny day and the insects have taken all the pollen. Speaking of which, it’s best not to shake the heads to remove insects as this shakes off the pollen. I find most insects drop to the bottom of the bowl anyway. This morning was warm and sunny so off I went with a big bowl and picked 25 or so heads of newly opened flowers.
To the heads I’ve added the zest of 3 lemons and one orange plus 1.5 litres of boiling water. I’ve covered the bowl and this can steep for the next 24 hours. Tomorrow I’ll strain add 1kg of sugar and the juice from the citrus fruit and warm through until the sugar has dissolved. A quick simmer and then bottled. The cordial will keep for a few weeks in the fridge or can be decanted into ice cube trays and frozen. Added to sparkling water, the cordial makes a thirst quenching drink, or to G&T, vodka and tonic or prosecco for an elegant sundowner.
A classic pairing with the elderflower is gooseberry, and the fruit on our bushes is starting to ripen…
I’m thinking elderflower and gooseberry fool, elderberry and gooseberry icecream, elderflower infused gooseberry puree with yoghurt, an elderflower panna cotta with gooseberry compote perhaps.
In the meantime we have plenty of strawberries to pick.
May has ended. It was a month of lots of lovely summery weather and enough rain so as not to feel the pressure of watering the vegetable patches. From now on we will have plenty of produce gluts from the garden.
We have been picking salads and herbs from the polytunnel since the end of April. I’ll add peppery nastursium leaves and turnip thinnings to tonight’s salad bowl.
Along with succession sowing and planting out, I have been pinching out the side shoots on the cordon tomatoes and removing the lower leaves up to the first truss.
In the heat of the polytunnel, scent volatiles fill the air. I only discovered this year what a lovely perfume broad bean flowers have. Having moved the plantings to the far end of the tunnel I was concerned that the bees wouldn’t find the plants. I shouldn’t have worried. The pollinators have been hard at work alongside me. I’m always amazed to see the formation of the pods on the broadbeans. These tiny beans along with the season first garden peas will be added to a spring risotto – tonight’s supper.
Working in the tunnel is a delight. I often run my hands through the herbs for a free aromatherapy session – variations on dill, rosemary, thyme and sage. The sweet basil is starting to come through and I have been pinching out the tops of the pot sown Basil ‘Aristotle’ to garnish the risotto.
I have been thinning the peaches and apricots and the gooseberries are fattening. We already need to think about preserving the abundance – kept in oil, artichoke hearts make a lovely antipasti…
and I shall gather some heads of the elderflower to make a cordial.
Summer is here.
Posted in apricot, artichoke, broadbean, forage, gooseberry, herb, lettuce, pea, peach, salad, tomato, turnip, wildflower
Winter pruning is upon us. So to ease us into the task we started with the easy stuff! Redcurrants; whitecurrants and gooseberries. All the bushes have been in for 3 years.
In the fruit cage redcurrants are to the left, gooseberries to the right with a whitecurrant at the end of the line of gooseberries; the last row partially out of site is of blackcurrants which have a different pruning regime. The closest redcurrant has just been pruned. 2 to 3 year old wood is the most productive so the idea is to have mostly wood of that age with some new wood coming through to replace the older.
Wood produced this year, (see above), is easy to distinguish from older, (see below) because it is much paler.
So we set about pruning the bushes – first up the 3 D’s, removing anything dead, damaged or diseased. Then the centre of each bush was opened out to create an open bowl. This discourages sawfly infestations by allowing the wind to blow through the structure as pest seems to prefer to lay its eggs in dense foliage. Any low lying branches were removed or pruned to a rising branch to prevent the fruit from lying on the ground. Some of the oldest wood was removed entirely where we had a strong new shoot coming through. Side shoots were cut back to one or 2 buds and the new wood bit of the leaders tipped by a third to a bud facing the way we wanted the structure to go.
Onto the apples and pears…
The summer soft fruit is falling from the bushes. We started the picking with early season redcurrants and moved on to the gooseberries, starting with (Ribes uva-crispa), ‘Invicta’. The berries are huge, the size of a shooter marble, pale green with milky white veining. This variety has been awarded the RHS AGM and with good reason. It is a very heavy cropper with large fruits, plus the bush showed no sign of pest or disease attack. Given the issue we had last year when we lost two gooseberry bushes I was pleased to see that this variety lived up to its reputation of having excellent mildew resistance. The very ripe berries are sweet and the fruit holds its shape when cooked so ‘Invicta’ is a good option for jam making.
Next to ripen looks like the ‘Hinnomaki Red’. This variety was bred in Finland and again the bush showed no sign of mildew. The habit is very upright which makes it a bit easier to harvest. Some of the other cultivars have a more spreading habit with drooping branches. This is not a problem for us as the fruit cage floor is covered with mypex but if the sheet wasn’t present the fruit would rest on soil which could spoil the berries. The yield of the ‘Hinnomaki Red’ isn’t a patch on ‘Invicta’ but the berries are a very pretty colour. The flesh is meant to be sweet though the skin is less so.
Gooseberries have been cultivated in the UK since the sixteenth century. Many new varieties were bred during the 19th century and amateur ‘gooseberry clubs‘ sprung up, particularly in the Midlands and north of England. I’m not sure that our berries would have taken any prizes at the shows but if you only have space for one bush I would most certainly plump for ‘Invicta’.
Took another trip today and we swung past a new friend who has a pick your own business. The strawberry season is so late this year so I opted for some rhubarb and gooseberries. Our rhubarb plants are still too young to crop from, ditto the gooseberry bushes so I have forgiven myself for my lack of produce on that front. On the vegetable side – wellllll – it is all a bit late and whilst I can try, I can’t blame the weather entirely – (although the snow did squash the early sowing of Aquadulce broad beans resulting in a late sowing of Sutton). Anyhow the gooseberry PYO choice was very much influenced by the magnificent crop of elderflower we have (though no credit to me). Gooseberry and elderflower fool is ABSOLUTELY delicious, and of course I’m looking foward to a bumper crop of elderberries. This year I shall try to use as much of the crop as possible, elderberry cordial is a definite.
Something I can take, (a little), credit for is the progress of my rescue medlar, (the firm I used to work for had it earmarked for the skip!), and whilst it has a way to go on its road to recovery – I am pleased with progress.
Potential – that’s what it is all about!