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.







feeling hot, hot, hot….

Lots and lots of sunshine.  The weather may break tonight, which will be a relief.  Meanwhile, it is ideal hay/haylage making weather.  Our neighbour was out, lickety split and had the field opposite cut in no time.

Within 2 days the whole lot bagged up for haylage.

The lad who rents the field from us wasn’t quite as fast; though he is baling for hay rather than haylage.  Still, all done ahead of the potential change in weather. It’s so much easier to rent the grazing to someone else rather than chasing a contractor to cut and bale. Everyone wants the hay cut at the same time.  The fields are looking quite bleached but within a fortnight they will be green again.

On a much smaller scale, the lovely OH cut the grass in front of the polytunnel with the sickle bar mower.  Not for hay or haylage.  I’m using the grass to earth up potatoes.  I’m afraid, given the heat, I just gathered up the cut grass as fast as I could and lumped it over the potato haulms. Not very elegant but hopefully will produce a crop.  I must go and investigate the earlies.We are finding that it pays to set the alarm a little earlier and get out onto the holding before the sun becomes too hot.  By midday we are finished with working outdoors and retreat from the heat.   In the tunnel the nasturtiums are blooming – another flower to add to the evening’s salad.

The elderflower cordial is draining fast. I’m making another batch before all the flowers disappear.

Reading this week: 60 Degrees North by Malachy Tallack

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!