Category Archives: Soft fruit

Blackcurrant, blooms, bogey and bindweed #gdnbloggers

Have you seen the sunshine, have you smelt the pollen?!

It’s a bit bright outside, and I don’t recall seeing anything on the weather about it. Anyway, doesn’t matter, I shall do my best to enjoy it.

From the safety of the kitchen, as  I cough, splutter and sneeze my way through conference prep.

 

It is that time of the year again, where I pootle off to the annual conference of The Association of the teaching of Psychology.  Having prepared one workshop on mental health and the classroom, I had a second one to prep, but before that, I took a walk to the plot.

I knew that this wasn’t going to be easy; I had already woken up sneezing, dopey, and full of bogey. As such, I had breakfast and dosed myself up with ant-histamine to take my second cuppa tea to the plot with me. The plan was to pick any fruit that had ripened over the last few days. I came away with most of my black and white currants-these are wellington and versaille varieties-with red ones yet to turn, as well as polka raspberries. What I forgot to do was check if any more fall gold raspberries had come through, I realised that after I had come home and had to stick the kettle on again.

The process of picking the fruit was hampered by sneezing and on loop. I was however hell bent on getting it picked, even if I was struggling to breath, coughing up my lungs and couldn’t string a coherent thought together. Up until this year, I have never ever, felt so flipping hamstrung in trying to survive hayfever. It woefully frustrating and does nothing but make me further frustrated by the lack of productivity on the plot.

Real life commitments have made it more difficult to work on the plot, I have spent increased time at work and also had training commitments. As such, bindwind has appeared as though the creature from the black lagoon. It’s a horrible, invasive thing that is probably from outer space.

However, there are some positives. Whilst they are quite diminutive, the roma and marmande tomatoes are starting to flower. I don’t think that there will be much of a bounty this year, but at least I might have some tomatoes to go with the gorgeous roses.

Gooseberry pickle anyone?

gooseberries
mixed gooseberries

The harvest may be small, but I still had half a plan as to what I might do with the gooseberries. In the past, the crop has been put into gin and jam. There was one small scale experiment of Indian Pickle. Thought I might try it again, and this time extend the recipe a bit.

 

 

Going to leave the jars in a darkened room for a bit, they will be very tart right now!

Fruitful flaming June #Gdnbloggers

Has flaming June been hot enough for you?

The last week has seen a heatwave move across Blighty. With that, the levels of UV and Pollen have skyrocketed. For me personally, this has meant staying away from the plot as the grass pollen tends to assault my senses and render me sneezy with bogey overload. I can be stood there sneezing and on loop as soon as I get there. At one point, I was dragged away and by my mother whilst trying to find roses.

Today, the weather is distinctly cooler and I can actually stand up straight without having been kiboshed by pollen.

This morning, I have taken a walk down to the plot and tied tomatoes against canes. I have Roma and Marmande varieties sunk into raised beds, and do rather fancy finding some more. If I do manage to successfully cultivate anything on the plot this year, I would like it to be tomatoes; additional plants are on my shopping list for the weekend. A simple as job is and of staking tomatoes, I am glad I did. Over the last few months, going to the plot has been a challenge. For a whole host of different reasons, I  have rather lost my zing, and I could feel it all too much. I pottered on the plot this morning, I wandered around-like the proverbial cloud-and then decided that I wanted to see what fruit was growing. I had forgotten what it was like to wander around, pull out weeds, trample over blackberry bushes and just take in the scent of roses. I stood talking with a ‘lotment neighbour, and a gentle breeze carried the scent of zingy lemons towards as we spoke.

Last weekend, I was able to harvest a handful of raspberries to put into jelly-yes, fruit and jelly-along with some black and redcurrants. There were also some red, yellow and green hinonmaki gooseberries that had appeared.

There are gooseberries and raspberries on my plot and also Mama F’s, so I have picked a few of these to take home. I think I have got most of the gooseberries, having had a fight with the bushes; I had forgotten how vicious the damned things can be. Last year, I had made gooseberry and chilli jam. Prior to that, I had steeped some in Gin-now that was interesting-I have yet to work out what I will do this year. It is currently a toss up, between jam and Indian Amla Pickle.  It has been far too long since I played with my preserving pan; I need to find the moments, my mojo and a bit of fruit to do it with.

Mum has more raspberries than I; the pinks ones on my plot have never actually taken root and flourished, with the yellows being something of a saving grace when they do crop. A small harvest was made of raspberries and currants; mostly red as I am waiting on the black and white ones to ripen.

Seeing red and purple cherries did make me smile. This is by far the largest harvest that we have to date; I’ve picked those eight, with a few still left to ripen on the morello. The varieties that I have are stella and morello, and these were from Victoriana Nursery in Kent. So far, I have been lucky and not lost them the birds on the allotment.

Given how the weather has only just found it’s footing, the three plot grapevines are foliated and the some. Amongst all of the leaves are small clutches of baby grapes. I don’t remember having any grapes last year, so seeing the bunches is heartening. Not sure if they will make it to homebrew, but there is always grape jelly as an alternative.

 

As well as the fruit, there are the plot blooms. Roses are coming up lovely , and filling the floral trug with blooms is always nice. I am waiting for the glads to kick off; right now, they have risen blade-like from the dirt and are very green and leafy.  I cannot even begin to calculate how much the rose blooms might actually cost.  They are by no means perfect; they are au naturale, if you like; but they do smell and look lovely!

Strawberry wine and beyond #gdnbloggers

From the last post, you will have seen that there was an experiment on the go with strawberries. It is time now to move the experiment on.

The youtube version can be seen here.

 

Having left the fruit to ferment for three days, the must  is suitably calm and ready to be transferred into the demi-john. It was a slow but steady process to strain the must through the scalded muslin, as I was doing it pint by by pint and there were five litres in the bucket. As you can see, this has nicely filled the glass demi-john. For now, I am using the demi john and will most likely be transferring and racking into five litre water bottles fitted with a grommet. I know that  second had glass demi -johns are available, and this is something that I might look into should the experiments work. The plan is to now leave the demi john alone, for about three months. I will need to keep any eye on the bubbles.

There is still a lot of fruit to use, and the next experiment is going to involve rhubarb and red currants. These are sat on the side defrosting.

Beyond this experiment, there is the small matter of the plot grapes.

There are three vines on the plot, red and white. These are boskoop glory and madeline sylvaner, which are dessert varieties. These can be used to make wine, the second hand wine making book suggests that acid is added to them, if these are the only ones available. I am not aware of any of the plot neighbours having vines, and there was a crop last year. So the plan-I think this has always been the plan really-is to wait til October when the now baby grapes have ripened to harvest and to try and make some wine out of them. Other than making vinegar, my other concerns in the volume grapes required. The recipes all require a significant amount of grapes, at least 13-14 lbs of fruit. Right now, the wine being produced is using 4 lbs of fruit, so that is a significant difference and depends on the vines producing enough. That, or the quantity will have to be scaled down.

At least now, there is a big enough fermenting bucket.

Plot experiments abound! #gdnbloggers

Since I have yet to play with the preserving pan and make jam, jellies and chutneys, I have been looking for experiments do. It doesn’t help that I have a lower than expected courgette threshold.

This week, I have considered two things.

  1. ooh, dehydrator; could do home made chilli powder
  2. And hold on, you have a home brew kit that you have yet to christen.

But first, let’s look at what is actually working on the plot.

Plot tomatoes are sprawling, having absorbed a fair bit of sunshine and have sent out lots of yellow flowers. It is quite easy then to spot the red smudge of tomatoes as they turn red beneath the foliage. I somewhat revel in the going red, as with previous experience I have had to ripen tomatoes at home. The raspberries are a combination of polka, a well established set of canes and newly planted ones. Above, you will see that the trug is rather full. Contained in that trug was coriander and fenugreek from Mum’s half plot and my mint. I still have mint to harvest actually, it really is very productive.

And at last! The plot glads are coming through. It does feel a little delayed in happening, but I have spotted two of the blooms breaking up the green tomato foliage. I do rather like the purple ones. Though somewhere on the plot are black ones, and I’ve never seen those in bloom before.

Now, I said something about experiments.

The experiments are two fold. In the first instance, I decided to find  dehydrator. Primarily as I fancied dehydrating chillies for chilli powder. However, we also have lots of mint and fenugreek. These were the first things to go in, as well as some garlic, red habaneros and also some mango. Garlic, didn’t go so well; perhaps I should have sliced it a little thinner. Ir’s still usable, just very very dry. Red Habaneros, had me sneezing and took over a day to dehydrate. These were shop bought though, from a local Indian supermarket and were effectively a pilot study should I actually get a few chillies from the poly tunnel. The mango was also shop bought, and was a collection of under ripe fruit that I wanted to make mango powder. I use mango powder for chutneys, it has further uses in Indian Cuisine. Again, an experiment; as it took two dozen mangoes to get 100g powder. I shall be reflecting further on the merits of garlic and mango dehydration. What did work well, and took hardly any time at all, was the drying of the herbs. I was rather pleasantly surprised by how green the powdered fenugreek was.

Then there is the second experiment. The rather boozy one.

First thing first, I have parental consent (There are people who will huff and puff at this, I assure you; as an activity that a bollywood young lady ought not to do. So let’s make clear, that :: blows raspberries::  Beyond that, not my roof, there are still agreed understandings). I am old enough-yes, I am-to imbibe it, and I’m not distilling anything. Look, there are far worse hobbies, and with less palatable outcomes. With the parental consent, comes the first refusal of quality control and production management.

(I had actually decanted a year old steeping of Cherry brandy actually, as Pop’s wondered where my experiments had gone from the pantry; so it’s not as though the experiments have noses turned up at them. Was a case of “Punam, you had bottles of gooseberry gin, where did they go?” You’ll have to imagine it being said in Punjanbi).

strawberryferment
Fermenting strawberries

As you may already be aware, I dislike strawberries. However, the strawberry God was kind this year and blessed us with with pounds of the things. All frozen, they were waiting for their fate to be decided. With the preserving mojo a little off kilter, I wasn’t too sure about what to do with them. Then I remembered that I had a brewing kit, yet to be christened, and a second hand wine making book. Not to mention, some rather lovely Grape Family members who are rather experienced home brewers. (My immense and heartfelt thanks to these lovelies who have been so supportive in getting my experiments of the ground.)

It just had to be done really.

Fruit was defrosted and the kit actioned. There was a bit of drama this morning, as it became apparent that we were having a ‘Jaws’ moment.

We needed a bigger bucket.

Over night, as expected there was fermentation; happens when you add yeast, sugar and water. I awoke to the smell of fruity boozy-ness, and found myself fighting strawberries off with a plastic spoon. All in an attempt to not make a mess of the carpet in the garage.

Needless to say, we have found a bigger bucket. There is just over five litres of liquid in there. A demijohn is at the ready, to decant the must in the next few days. This is my first foray in proper home brewing, so you can imagine the nervousness, and the first of a list. But first, let’s get this one done.

Experiments. Always the best way to learn.

(Sat here, it is impossible to avoid the waft of fermenting strawberries.)

Chillies and Cherries #gdnbloggers @Victoriana_NG

I very nearly forgot! Whilst I have picked one purple haze already, I have also grappled with a jalapeno and a couple of hungarian hot wax. They are both unripe, they both could go red on the plant. However, I have removed them so that other fruit get something of a chance to develop. The are both varieties that have a kick anyway, so i’m taking my chances with them as they are.

Then there are the cherries, morello to be precise. I have managed to grow cherries!! And in Birmingham! That might sound reasonable to you, but I didn’t expect the tree to crop having only been in situ less than a year. Alas, we had a handful of cherries. And my, how nice they did taste!  I simply cannot be detailed enough. This small harvest, I think we had one each, tasted so superior to shop bought ones.

I thoroughly recommend this variety, and just growing cherries anyway. The tree in question, a bought two-one morello and sylvia-was from Victoriana Nursery.

Chillies and cherries, both a success.

 

Sweet and Spiced #gdnbloggers

You know, I haven’t sneezed so much this week. This may be down to the slightly wibbly wobbly weather. I am however now rather tired of seeing strawberries. As Wimbledon has drawn to a close, and the single handed champion-yes, that’s what the men’s winner is called-was told game, set and match; the crop has started to reduce.

With the strawberries waning, there are other things compensating.

We have blackcurrants and red currants; in an increased quantity to previous experience. In fact, when the rain abates, I will go double check the red currants that need harvesting. There are strings of the things, and the plants themselves are relatively new. I have yet to figure out what to do with the white Versailles currants. The red ones are most likely to be jammed or preserved in one way or another.  In harvesting black currants, I do quell and resist the urge to say  ‘this children, is where your ribena comes from’. And these are not diddly things, they are rather round and squishy berries, that really do evoke the memory of ribena.

As mentioned before, the strawberries are now dwindling. There are several pounds that have been frozen. As well as currants, raspberries are starting to come through. Having replaced the slightly dodgy canes, the newer ones are establishing. Donated by a friend and colleague,  this is a polka cane and this the pink fruit that you see. These are rather plump and juicy things that are being stored for jams and things. The yellow one that you see, is technically an autumn variety called ‘Fall Gold’. These do kick off rather early, and are just as good as the pink ones.

So there is a lots of sweet stuff.

Now the spicy

In the poly tunnel there are a number of different chilli varieties. What you see above are examples of purple haze cayenne and jalapeno. I have removed the purple haze as the poly is cooler than expected at this time of the year. It is now sat on the window sill next to unripe tomatoes, and hopefully it will turn to the bright red cayenne that is so familiar to chilli eaters. The jalapeno that you see, I found by fluke and you can see that it is actually a decent size. There are few other fruits forming on the plant, and I will keeping an eye on this one to see how it changes. Apparently, jalapeno crackle as they ripen and change colour. I have in the past, made jalepeno chilli jam. And I remember, the pain of having chopped them up. The moral being to wear gloves on handling. I have also spotted white flowers on the adopted apache, as well as the chillies such as prairie fire, patio sizzle, sparkler, orange habanero, coffee bean and devils rib. These are chillies that are smaller and a different shape to the familiar cayenne and jalapenos, with an altogether different flavour as well. Previously, there as been a good level of success with the patio sizzle. Small and pointy fruit, with one hell of a kick.

And no….I don’t paint my nails so that they match plot produce. Not really….honest.

Jubilant July #gdnbloggers

If it wasn’t for this lot; I would wholly miserable. There are no runner beans on the plot, the courgettes have all mostly been written off. I should at this stage in the growing season be starting to swim in courgettes. At the moment, I have the grand total of zero. All the plants have been subject to carnage by slugs and snails. I would be very surprised to get something, if anything, over the coming weeks from the courgettes and the rather spiny and spindly looking courgette and runner beans.

On the other hand, I am very close to throwing a small histrionic fit over strawberries. Every other day, I have been harvesting between 1-2lbs of strawberries. I say harvesting, it’s a case of picking the fruit before the slugs get to them. I would really like someone to invent a machine for hulling and chopping. Fruit has been stashed in the freezer; I am hoping that my jam making mojo returns so that the strawberries can be spiced with chilli and redcurrants maybe.

Tomatoes have filled out and up, with fruit forming after the bright yellow flowers. Mum had a lovely large marmande one, only for it to explode. I suspect that it might have become over ripe; a couple of money make have turned as has one single solitary tigerella. The surprise however, has to be the fleshy and fruity morello cherries. This is the first year on the plot and the tree has done very well to have survived frosts and inclement weather. There are less than a dozen cherries, but these are rather special in being the first ever crop. Have only pinched three ripe ones, so we shall see about the others. All being well, they will be harvested before the wildlife gets to them. I think I actually jumped to see that the cherries had turned, they were squishy to the touch, that’s the only way I can describe it. Though I have probably picked them a little early. I guess they could have done with a little more sunshine perhaps, and turned a little darker still. There are three sat on the kitchen window sill next to the tomatoes, so they may turn yet.

With the roses blooming on an almost daily basis, the gloom does lift a little. I have been waiting for William Shakespeare 2000 to bloom, and you can see the first three blooms that have developed this year.  The bouquet above also contains a raft of lost label roses, the yellow one is rather productive. No idea what it is called, but it’s a brown limbed creature that cascades outs. Might even be a climber, but it is rather nice to pick.

In the poly tunnel, the chillies are also getting going. There are lots of white flowers and also purple tinged purple haze flowers. Jalepenos are starting to form as are hungarian hot wax. You see the one purple haze chilli, that I am hoping will turn red. The jalaepeno, apache chilli, orange habanero and devil’s rib have formed large white flowers. In comparison, patio sizzle, prairie fire and sparkler are forming the most delicate, tiniest of white flowers. With all the plants in flower, this means feeding regularly and making sure that the plants don’t get too arid. They do dry out, but too little water and the flowers will drop off.

So there we have it, we can’t be too miserable, now can we?

Pudding, potting up and moolis #gdnbloggers

The initial plan for the day was to pot up rescued chilli plants. I had decided that i wanted some more in the poly tunnel; and in the coming days I try and find some more. I popped down first thing to have a general mooch, also to harvest gooseberries. More on the gooseberries later. Early on in the day, I was okay, I wasn’t sneezing so much; all was well. Fast forwards three hours to when I wanted to pot up the peppers; and I kid you not. Whooping sneezing; the horrible, squelchy, bogey-fied, ‘all right, there, Punam?” sort that has your plot neighbours wondering if you are okay and shouldn’t go home and lie down. With my “Yes, thank you, it’s just hay fever” response, I did try and carry on. I was going to pot up the chillies even if my brain made an exit. It took forever, to pot up those peppers and add slug tape. Once completed, I cried off; left Mama F and scarpered home whilst clutching rolled up balls of tissue. Mama F heard her first born whine and snort that she was going home.

Today was all about food. Making the most of what was harvested. Mum’s focus was all about the moolis-the things that I can’t grow-and mine was pudding based with gooseberries.

A lot gets written on this blog about growing, but not an awful lot gets written about eating; surely as a GYO thing, that is important! I was rather glad to see that the tomatoes aren’t doing too badly; the courgettes on the other hand, are a cause for concern with not a lot a fruit as they are slug/snail damaged.

So, first thing first. Mum harvested a few mooli. Declared that these would be dad’s lunch as she raised one aloft. There was also a handful of coriander that was harvested. I simply cannot get mooli’s to grow, I get seed pods. My mum on the other hand, was and is committed to the cause; she has sown loads on her plot and is now reaping rewards. Mooli-or japanese radish-is used not only as a salad crop, but Mum stuffs it into chappatis. With the coriander that she also harvested, today’s harvest was lunch. With atta (dough) already made, Mum grated the radish, added salt to the squeeze out the water; before seasoning with the contents of her spice tin. Adding to a rolled roti, this was then cooked on a tava. I had mine with a 5 minute raita as an accompaniment. You can also stuff chappatis with fenugreek, and this is next on Mum’s agenda. A note of caution, mooli’s are spicy, hot and blowaway the cobwebs. So if you don’t fancy the heat, stick with conventional radishes.

{You can find recipes for both of these in #plantpottales -the yellow one!}

As mentioned, before my focus was more sweet rather than savoury. This years gooseberry crop is exactly double compared to last year. Last, 250g came from the then new bushes. This year, with 500g, I’m making cake rather than jam, pickle or gin. I seem to have lost my jamming mojo, and will try to get it back at some point. The crop was added to a sponge mix containing desiccated coconut and golden caster sugar; one of the tins is still in the oven as I type. I fancied making a pudding, rather than jam as it seemed an interesting experiment to do.

So what happened with the cakes?

goosecoconutcake.JPG

Now cooling. I assure you, they are golden and not burned!

Anyway, I am now dosed up with anti-hay fevers stuff. Exiting stage left; to feed to the veggies and harvest some roses.

Fruit ‘n’ flowers #gdnbloggers

I am temporarily hiding from the allotment. If I head down there now,  rather than be able to stay upright and water things; I will be standing in the poly tunnel sneezing and repeatedly. Admittedly, this is only the second time that I have reacted badly to the airborne pollen. I know that there are people out there who have suffered for longer and with arguably more severe symptoms. They have my empathy, as the anti-histamines turn me into something of a bumbling zombie. The choice is difficult to make, between sneezing so hard you wonder whether you brain is going to fall out through your nose, your ribcage feels a little like it will  crack and explode or feeling so zoned you have no idea what time it, what day is it, and how did you lose six hours whilst asleep?

The aim is to go play on the plot tomorrow during the middle of the say.

Yesterday though, I found fruit and flowers.

In the polytunnel, there are increasing number of purple haze chilli flowers, with one rather pointy purple chilli already formed. The other chillies are at varying stages, but there are buds forming that in some cases have formed lovely  white flowers. There is a distinct size difference. The larger chillies, such as jalepenos and hungarian hot wax form much larger flowers compared to smaller chillies such as prairie fire, sparkler and patio sizzler. I had to try very hard not to jump, as on close inspection, I found that a lovely lady spider-complete with a white spherical ball of a belly-had made her home in the leaves of a devil’s rib chilli. She is far braver than me, and I left her alone; she really wasn’t bothering me. I have started to water the chilli plants once a week. Given how it gets in the poly tunnel, that does mean that the soil does dry out in between feeding, so once fed the soil is moist for long enough. One thing I will say, is that the so far, the copper slug tape is helping. There is the odd nibble of leaves, but nothing has so far been reduced to a stalk.  There are blue pellets of doom, I’m afraid; these are sprinkled sparingly, but are in use.

Then there is actual fruit developing. Aside for the handful of tomatoes that now visible, and the red, ripening strawberries are being picked. I have noticed, that this time last year, I had made gooseberry and chilli jam. Which, seeing as I have gooseberry bushes now laden with fruit is no real surprise. They are all green, the ones that I can see. Though there are red, green, yellow, and one’s called invicta on the plot. This means that I will have to check the colour for ripeness, and probably try and squish them. One just to happen to fall off as I brushed passed, and was just asking to be bitten into. The result being, that I don’t particularly like tartness. I think I leave them for a while, whilst I determine what I might actually do with them. There was both pickle and jam made last year, and I need to decide which I fancy doing again.

Last year, we had a small harvest of currants. This year promises to be a little larger, as observed when riffling through leaves. The fruit hang like beads, and can be found  beneath a canopy of leaves. The bushes are still young, and still become established. The varieties that I have are red lake red currant, versailles white currant and wellington blackcurrant. The blackcurrants just happen to match my current nail varnish.I will be keeping an eye on them for ripening fruit, and again trying to decide what to do with them.

(And yes, that is slug, hovering in the fruit bushes)