Category Archives: strawberry

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.

 

 

 

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always time for tea…

Come the beginning of summer, one’s thoughts turn to afternoon tea.  The weather is not too hot, not too cold and the breeze is balmy.  In truth, I was helped on my thought journey by watching ‘The Durrells,’ followed by ‘Mary Berry Cooks’ on catch up, whilst doing the ironing.  The wind is still quite blustery round here.

Oh, the fabulous 1930s clothes, all gorgeous prints and georgette pin tucked shirts, (Durrells, not Mary Berry – though she’s no slouch in the dress department), and Mary baking up a storm as well as visiting an estate in Cornwall, (Tregothnan), that has a tea plantation. Watching the clip on Tregothnan, I’ve been captivated by the idea of growing my own.  I am a dyed-in-the-wool tea drinker, (must be leaf, thank you).  I might track down a few Camellia sinensis var. sinensis bushes for the kitchen garden, they’re meant to be quite tough plants.  They need acidic soil conditions, so perhaps in a pot.  I can put them with the blueberries.

In the meantime, we have a glut of strawberries, so in homage to afternoon tea, I’ve hauled out the preserving pan and pectin sugar for a spot of jam making a la Mary Berry’s recipe.

As it’s jam not a conserve, it’s a 1:1 ratio fruit to sugar, and I’ve used jam sugar, which has added pectin to help the set of low pectin fruit like strawberries.

So here’s MB’s method:

1 kg strawberries, with the juice of a lemon, softened over a low heat.  Then 1 kg sugar in, stirred until it dissolves, boil 5-6 minutes, check using the wrinkle method, leave for 10 minutes then stir to evenly distribute the fruit. Ladle into sterilised jars.  Done, all ready for scones.

As well as tea, I can serve up some refreshing elderflower cordial… I just need the cucumbers to hurry up growing for the finger sandwiches!

 

 

a cordial relationship…

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.

a stitch in time…

saves nine.  So the saying goes.  I used to hear this, mostly when the hem of my school skirt was adrift, (though I usually thought ‘that’s what sellotape is for’).  Why the saying?  We had heavy frosts in the middle of April. Though I fleeced newly planted peas we didn’t have enough fabric to cover all the crops and I’ve noticed that some of the strawberry plants are showing symptons of ‘black eye’.

This has been caused by the frost.  I’ve been picking off the flowers as these won’t develop fruit.  We’ll need to see if there has been any other effects once the strawberries start to develop.   The kiwi also took a hit, certainly on the leaves.

The flowers might not be affected as they were in bud and until the cultivar ‘Jenny’ starts flowering we won’t get fruit from the kiwis anyway.

The apples were starting in flower when the frosts came; I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed for them.  Elsewhere it all looks pretty good.

I will have to start on the thinning soon.

 

 

toad in the hole…

We have been turning over the mypex.  If it is left down for too long, it starts to meld to the earth, pinned through by coarse grass and dock.

We know this from experience.

On turning a piece in the growing area next to the polytunnel, we chanced upon a common toad, Bufo bufo.

DSC_0029The OH picked him/her up and relocated to the compost heap area.

DSC_0030In my humble opinion, I think the toad has been a bit slack on the slug devouring front.  Whilst I have managed to coax the new artichoke plants to come through – on the second attempt, the squashes have been wiped out by marauding molluscs. Although I do have squashes planted in the main vegetable plot, more toad dining activity wouldn’t go amiss.

Less troubled by slugs are the strawberries.  We are picking the early variety which is planted beneath the pear trees next to the outer piggery pen wall.  The soil is dryer here and probably deters the slug invasion.

strawberriesThese are salad days – crisp Little Gem lettuces, nutty artichoke hearts and tiny peas and broad beans.  I pick bunches of sweet peas every day…

 

 

 

 

Strawberry fields forever…

(title courtesy of Mr John Lennon)

DSC_0098Well not actually a field so much as a strip that runs beneath the pear trees at the base of the piggery sty brick wall.   This is year 2 for the plants so the potential cropping is looking good.  Thing is you can’t ripen strawberries once you’ve picked them – they’ll redden but not get any sweeter, which is why most supermarket fruits taste so awful.  In order to have fruit that will stand up to transporting the supermarket strawberry is picked when it is hard, before it is ripe. So those lovely plump, shiny, red supermarket strawberries are truly horrid.  And it’s no use trying the ‘stick in a paper bag with a banana’ approach.  The strawberry is a ‘non-climacteric’  fruit.  The fruit doesn’t respond to ethylene treatment.  The best way to obtain sweet strawberries is either to grow them yourself or visit your local PYO and pick at the point of ripeness.

Hence, chez nous, the netting.  The red strawberry is the candy choice for all and sundry, and I’m determined to have a crop.  The netting arrangement looked most effective until I found the chicklets ducking underneath.  I’ll have to rummage through the potting shed to locate some pegs, bent snips of wire coat-hanger are always handy.  I am, to be honest, a bit concerned with my planting distance – where sweetness is concerned  growing conditions are nearly everything,  (variety has some influence), and I may possibly have crammed in far, far too many plants ….. I may still be reaching for the sugar…..

Anyone for strawberry and rose petal jam?

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