To Specials Part Two (Archives)
Gardening Extra – Composts.
Bulb season has come round again, so here is a little information about compost.
Bulb Fibre is light, cheap, clean to handle and is fine if you don’t want to save the bulbs for flowering next year as it contains no fertilizer. If you want to keep the bulbs and get flowers in the following season you need to add some fertilizer to the bulb fibre to feed the
bulbs, so that they can build themselves up
again, or use ordinary potting compost to pot them up in. Bulb Fibre is just a simple growing medium that is designed to hold moisture and provide something for the bulbs roots to anchor themselves down in. Remember, then that Bulb Fibre maybe cheaper than ordinary bags of compost, but it is no good at all for potting ordinary plants in.
There are other cheap composts that are no good for general potting and one that deceives a lot of people is the compost in Tomato Grow Bags. Again this type of compost has been specially designed for a single purpose – in this case for growing Tomatoes and similar crops. Grow Bag compost has a very short life and gets quickly used up by the plants. That is fine for things like Tomatoes, because as the plants develop you start feeding them with things like Liquid Seaweed, or Tomorite, but ordinary plants need a long lasting and slow release fertilizer.
Seed sowing and cutting compost is another compost that is fine for up to about a month after the seeds have germinated and when they should be ready for potting on. However, this type of compost contains a short lasting fertilizer as well, so developing plants must be quickly potted on into ordinary potting compost. Seed compost is much finer in texture than most types of compost so that tiny seedlings can root better into it making it more expensive to buy than normal potting compost and as you will use less of it, it is normally sold in fairly small bags.
We cannot get Peat based compost now, so most compost is made from re-cycled material such as ground Bark Chippings and we find that some of it needs a lot of Horticultural grit added to it, or it seems to go “Claggy,” when watered and gets sodden. We have tried several different ones and some are very good, but a lot are very coarse and lumpy, so sometimes you need to sieve the compost from the bags before you can use it. The lumpy bits from the sieve can always be put in the bottom of big pots and tubs before filling them. One plus feature from all of the afore mentioned composts is that they are light to handle, whereas John Innes is a Loam, or soil based compost and is very heavy. This does have the advantage that large pots left standing outside are less likely to blow over, but it does make it hard work to move lots of pots. John Innes composts actually come in a range of types to cover seed sowing and all other types of potting.
We have found that a lot of the bags of ordinary compost that are generally sold are getting more expensive now and the bags are also getting a lot smaller than they used to be. Many years ago, when we used to sell them at our garden centre, some bags contained 80 litres and now the biggest offered for sale in most places are often only 50 litres. Perhaps people should listen to the TV gardeners who are always saying that you should make your own compost. Admittedly you will need to add some slow release fertilizer such as Growmore, or Chicken Pellets to homemade garden compost and maybe a little garden lime. Perhaps you will also need to add a little Horticultural Grit, or Perlite to improve the drainage and you probably wouldn’t want to use it for seed sowing and seedlings, but for potting bigger things such as garden tubs it could save you a fortune in bought compost as big tubs need a lot to fill them. A compost heap to make your own compost does not take up much room and if looked after properly does not smell. You can add most things to it such as grass cuttings scattered thinly amongst vegetable peelings and general weeds, but do not include Docks, Dandelions, or Nettles. Do not put cooked food in either. The rubbish will soon rot down to make compost that is very good for general mulching and bulking up the soil in raised beds. Instead of buying good quality Top Soil to do the job using your own compost could save you a small fortune. Most Top soil that you can buy is only skimmed off from where houses, or shops etc are going to be built and is nothing special anyway unless you buy the premium bagged sort.
Well, I hope this is useful to you. Cheerio Frances Hartley.
About Hidcote Gardens
I was flicking through the TV channels on Wednesday night rather late and caught the end of an interesting gardening programme. They were talking about Hidcote Gardens which is something not many people will remember. A Mr Johnson, who was one of our plant hunters, started it when he lived there in around 1923. He used to join exploration groups, going out to different parts of the world, when he came across one. Johnson had radical views that made him unpopular and would he often join groups even when he wasn’t really wanted, but he persevered and brought plants back to see if they would grow here in England. The trouble was he did not realise that different plants liked different types of soil, sun and shade, so he lost a large number, but gradually he built up the collection at Hidcote Gardens anyway. Hidcote was well known for Lavender at one time and a popular variety was named after it, but I don’t think they specialise in Lavenders now.
When Mr Johnson died aged 86 the garden became neglected, but it is now well on the road to being restored again largely due to many volunteers a lot of who are women. One of the things that made Johnson unpopular was employing lots of Women to work in the gardens as it was not the done thing, but even well into the 1950’s women did not generally take much part in gardening as it was still thought of as a man’s occupation.
I found this out when I started gardening seriously in the 1960’s and started entering exhibits in small local shows. Occasionally I would win a category and the men would query whether I had grown the particular plants. Now things are changing and women take a big part in growing plants in all sorts of occupations. Why not, it is a healthy exercise, so get your spades out ladies!
Lavender Tour At Local Garden Centre.
Russell and Sarah Heath run one of the more interesting, family garden centres in the area and on a recent visit as we walked up to the entrance for the centre we were greeted by a couple of big display tables full of Lavender plants covered in busy bees and the heavenly scent of Lavender was everywhere. In front of the benches was a big sign saying FREE Tour of Lavender Field on Saturdays and Sundays. We looked at our watches and saw that the tour was due to start in a short while, so mom agreed we should go on it. On entering the garden centre the lady on the till advised us that it was a little walk down to the field. I happened to have a yellow Courgette in the car that was fresh from my allotment a little earlier in the day, so we bribed her with that, to book the only wheelchair that was available. A quick visit to the Café for a coffee and cake and then it was time for the tour.
Russell started by telling us a little bit about the Lavender display in general and then walked us down to the Lavender field at the back of the garden centre telling us how they had planted the field.
It had taken them two, or three weeks of back-breaking work, much of it on their hands and knees, to plant the many thousands of rooted cuttings. In all the area covered about 1 acre and included over 20 varieties. Planted some 6, or 7 years ago the Lavenders are all mature bushes and make solid rows apart from where one particular variety was planted called Blue Rider that proved to be not as hardy as they had expected. A couple of years ago much of the row was lost in the last bad winter when temperatures dipped too low for it to survive.
Russell told us that it is not just a question of the cold killing some of the more delicate Lavenders though, as they like to be in well drained soil and kept on the dry side to over winter well. Having said that the French varieties in particular are only hardy down to –5 and Canariensis, from the Canary Islands, is even more tender with its feathery foliage that doesn’t look like it belongs to a lavender at all. It also has a most unusual flower and an almost “Citrussy,” scent to it.
The English Lavender, “Angustifolia Garden Beauty,” has lovely variegated foliage that also looks very different. English varieties in general will go down to –15 or even –18 in the right conditions, but, as with most variegated plants, Garden Beauty is not very hardy either.
Russell told us that because the field is permanently planted they obviously had to plant all hardier varieties that meant putting in all English types. Even so, the rows of Lavenders do look different as you glance across the field. Some like Sawyers have more of a blue grey foliage and others like Lullingstone have a slightly later flowering season. Everybody thinks of Lavender flowers as being the colour of Lavender, but types like Eidleweiss have different colours including white and others pink, although most varieties are shades of blue/purple.
This was the first year that Russell had done the guided tours and with a short flowering season for the Lavenders of between a month and 8 weeks, depending on the varieties, the tours are unfortunately over for this year, but hopefully he will be doing them again next year. The tours were an idea that the couple had to make more use of the Lavender field as it hasn’t as yet proved itself commercially. With this in mind Russell and Sarah visited a commercial grower in Jersey some time ago to find out how to make use of their crop and see how a bigger grower dealt with harvesting. Cutting Lavender was done on that farm with a fancy tractor driven machine - something like a combined harvester and the still, that would be needed to process the crop, was 8 feet tall and cost about £10,000. With their one acre planting they decided this was all together an unrealistic outlay, so they are exploring other options. At the moment the crop is being cut with a heavy duty Strimmer and gathered by hand, but they can’t process it for the oils. What they are doing is using the plantation as stock plants to take many cuttings from so that they can grow their own plants for sale in the garden centre. Quite a lot of the cut Lavender is being used in little Lavender and potpourri type bags. Also, as an experiment, Sarah has tried putting a little, as a flavouring, in cakes and biscuits in the café. For those who go on the tour and want to buy other Lavender products there is a display stand with things like oils, candles and soaps on, in the garden centre. Hopefully, Russell and Sarah will be able to build on the Lavender sales side to make the Lavender field the success they deserve it to be.
Incidentally, it was mentioned on the tape that I forgot to give the name of the garden centre that has the Lavender Field – it is Strawberry Garden Centre at Bramshall, near Uttoxeter. I don’t really want to give them an advert, but there is a lot more to see there than the usual “Run of the mill,” garden centres. Yes, apart from the garden centre itself, they sell greenhouses and have a nice little café as do most garden centres, but they have also got an antiques shop at the back of the garden centre shop that has a good range of quality, old furniture, knick-knacks, a large second hand book section and lots of pictures on the walls all round the shop.
On the way through the garden centre shop to the antiques they have recently opened a new Patchwork Quilt sewing shop and workshop that gives lessons on site. You can even take your own things in to the workshop for advice and to complete in their informal sewing coffee mornings and get-togethers.
In the last few weeks they have also opened a small animal farm area and I do mean SMALL Animals! They have a couple of miniature; rare breed sheep, goats and Kune Kune pigs as well as some chickens. At the time of writing this, one of the chicken runs even has some newly hatched chicks in it.
They are hoping to expand on the range of animals as time goes on, but it is all nicely laid out at the back of the garden centre, with stables that have big, fenced off runs attached for all the animals with signs fastened to the fence at the end, telling you what the animals are. Of course they have also installed hand-washing facilities all around to comply with the latest health and safety regulations. It is a short walk through from the side on the garden centre to the animals and unfortunately it is not very good for wheelchairs at the moment, but that may improve with time as they develop the new set up.
What other attractions they will add in the future – who knows, but Russell and Sarah are certainly making the garden centre more interesting as the years are going by since they took over the family business.
Emptying The Greenhouse For The Summer.
The main job at home just lately has been emptying most of the plants out of the greenhouse to make room for the Tomatoes and Cucumbers. They have been potted on into big bottomless pots and stood on Growbags for extra root run. A lot of the young plants that were in the greenhouse have gone up to the allotment and some, that I was simply looking after, have been returned to my brother after he had come back from his holidays. As usual we ended up giving a lot of surplus vegetable plants such as Tomatoes and Beans away with a few going to my brother and his lady friend, a few to my mothers friend and her daughters, but most going up to moms luncheon club where, apparently, the old folks, were almost fighting over the trays of tomato plants!
Other plants that came out of the greenhouse included 3, large, old Geranium stools – the ones with the fancy coloured leaves. These came through the Winter well and looked good when they were potted into a big tub on the yard, although we had lost another two fancy ones in the Winter when they got too wet and rotted.
We had grown on some Begonias and other things to re-plant the tubs at the front of the house as the weather started to warm up, but although the Universal Pansies had not done much in the Winter they were now putting on quite a show. I don’t know why, but they did the same last year, so we decided we might as well leave them in, take out the ornamental Cabbages that were a total waste of time and squeeze in the Begonias in their place.
With the advent of the warmer weather we decided it was time to move the slightly tougher exotics like the Lemon, Orange, Olives, Callistemons and Abutilons out onto the yard, to be followed by the Banana and Lime that are both supposed to be quite tender. Previous years we have kept the more tender exotics in the warmth of the house during the cold weather, but they all seem to have over Wintered well in the greenhouse and benefited by the better light levels along with being watered by rainwater instead of the tap-water that they got in the house.
The outdoor exotics also seem to have come through the Winter well with the Fig trees shooting nicely with lots of figs swelling on them and even the Pomegranate is budding up, although it is last as always. Both the ordinary Kiwi and the Mini variety are also shooting very well, although I am not hopeful for fruit yet. The Peach tree, however, seems to be loaded with embryo fruit, the same as the ordinary apples, pears and cherries.
As the greenhouse was being emptied, I removed all of the metal staging and simply stood it outside, behind the greenhouse. In the Summer, plants that are growing on, are stood on top of it and dormant pots of bulbs, ferns and the like, underneath it, thereby maximising what little outdoor space there is. The empty shelving was also removed from the greenhouse and stored in the garage. This all gave me a lot more space to grow the Tomatoes, etc. We don’t normally grow Cucumbers, but have decided to compare the indoor type to some outdoor ones grown on the allotment. Admittedly the outdoor are really different plants giving much smaller fruits compared to the traditional indoor types, but the number of fruit produced is supposed to be much higher giving a comparable weight for weight yield. Along with the Cucumbers we are trying a couple of the new Cucamelons in the greenhouse and are again going to compare their production to some grown outdoors. The way things are looking at the moment we should have a bumper year for fruit and vegetables.
Ever on the lookout for new and exotic fruit that can be grown at home I was fascinated to read a piece in a national newspaper about a novel new fruit that was being promoted by one of the TV cooks in his own personalised range of seeds. The article in the paper was a blatant advert as it gave all the details about the range of seeds and the seed company, but it was still of great interest to me. I had heard of the Cucamelon before and not been that impressed, but after someone on the allotments had asked me if I knew of it and then seeing it in the paper, I thought I must give it a try. Needless to say mom and I had to go to several garden centres before we tracked a packet of seeds down to the Plant Plot in Lichfield. The seeds had some information on the back of the packet, but the seed company’s website gave a lot more information and made them sound a lot more fun. Sowing time for the seeds is later in the Spring, so it is going to be some months before I find out if the following is true; -
The Cucamelon is a name given as a marketing ploy to the Melothria Scabra that has been grown and harvested for hundreds of years in Central America where it goes under the names of “Mouse Melon” and “Mexican Sour Gherkin,” amongst others. The names give a clue to the appearance and flavour of the fruits that are indeed like grape-sized watermelons with a taste of cucumber and tang of Citrus. Unlike a Melon though, it only has a thin skin, so it can be eaten whole, which is just as well because no one would want to peel a grape sized fruit, although it has been said that some people do indeed peel grapes!
With this unusual combination of size, texture and taste, the culinary uses for the Cucamelon are wide and varied. It lends itself to being used in stir-fries and eaten raw in salads. Size wise, it is similar to an Olive and with its citrus tang, it makes a fun addition to after dinner cocktails!
The Cucamelon is a member of the Curcurbitacaea family along with Cucumbers, Melons, Courgettes and Gourds, and like these it is a vigorous grower. However, unlike most of these it is supposed to be both pest and drought resistant.
The Cucamelon can easily be grown as a climber that will reach 6-10n feet, although sometimes the plants are left to trail along the ground. It is said that plants will also do well indoors in a greenhouse, but will grow happily in a sunny and sheltered site outside in England.
Melothria Scabra is a rampant vine that should produce a constant supply of its miniature, melon like fruit throughout the Summer until the first frosts come. Most people will grow it as an annual, but it is said that it is possible to treat it as a Perennial if you lift its thick root in late Autumn and store it in frost free conditions in much the same way that you might store Dahlia Tubers and the like. It can then be replanted outside, after the Spring frosts have finished, to give an extra early crop the following year.
Having Fun With Seeds.
My fascination with strange and unusual fruit trees started me thinking about the price I was having to pay for some specimens and that led to considering trying to grow them from seeds. Talking to mom about it she remembered having dealt with a company called Chilterns many years ago when she had the garden centre. Naturally they now have a website, so I soon found myself going through their catalogue, that doesn’t have any pictures and ordering 10 packets of seeds for exotic, fruiting trees and bushes, for just under £30. That price might just pay for one pot grown specimen from a garden centre, whereas the 10 packets could easily yield up to maybe 100 plants, with a decent germination rate. Admittedly, I might have to wait a good few years for some of them to reach maturity, but at that price I think I can develop a little patience!
After buying the assorted tree seeds and putting them in, I read a piece in a national newspaper about a variety of lemon that hadn’t been imported before and was going to be trialed by one of the big supermarket chains. The report said that the Meyer lemon was thin skinned, peeled more like a Satsuma Orange and could be eaten like a grapefruit, but was even less tangy. The claim was made that the Meyer lemon was hardier than other varieties of Lemon standing temperatures of minus 5, or more as the tree matured. That immediately set me thinking, because if that is true, young plants should over winter in a cold greenhouse as you might over winter small Olive trees. The supermarket was offering a pack 4 lemons for just under £2 which made them very expensive Lemons, but they had seeds in and a normal packet of seeds is at least 2 or 3 pounds without getting the fruit to eat as well! My only hope was that the seeds weren’t sterile!
Actually eating the Lemons was a bit of a let down, as although they were not anywhere near as sharp as a normal Lemon, I think they had still been over hyped as I thought they were still practically inedible unless sweetened with a lot of sugar. On the plus side though, the seeds did germinate well and I have over a dozen tiny Lemon trees growing already!
At Christmas time I had bought some Sweet Chestnuts from the supermarket and I know that I have said before that it is not worth growing vegetables, etc from shop bought specimens, but I did put in a handful of the Chestnuts to germinate in some compost and about a dozen little seedlings have come up.
One of the bought packets of seeds was of the Dioscoria Batatas, or Cinnamon Vine that I have been after for some time and they were amongst the first few pots of seeds to germinate. If the tales about how big the single, edible root – tuber, gets, are true, I shall find out next year! Another plant that I have wanted for a while is Sea Buckthorn, which again was in my order and they too have started to germinate. The instructions that came with the seeds advised me that some of them could take up to 2 years to germinate, so not to get impatient and throw the pots away if nothing happened for a while. I was also advised that some of the seeds had been stored in a freezer to “Stratify,” them and aid germination by making the seeds think that they had been through a winter. In fact this was what I did with another batch of seeds that I had collected from our own garden. Things like Rowan and Cotoneaster berries, along with seeds from our Leycestaria, had all been placed in pots, in an outdoor cold frame to “Stratify,” them some time before Christmas and after bringing the pots inside a little while ago, some of those seeds have started to germinate as well.
What I am going to do with all my surplus trees I don’t know, but I think that I am going to make a lot of new friends on the allotments next year!
Unable to resist the imported sweet fruits!
It had been a few weeks since we last visited “that Supermarket,” so we decided to make another little trip to our neighbouring town and see what was on offer. The last couple of times we tried to be good and paid a little more attention to the unusual vegetables on display ignoring the temptation to get our “sugar fix,” from the exotic fruits. However, this time we could resist no more and went to the fruit section. Strictly speaking that is not actually true because our first choice was a couple of large Plantains. Plantains are a member of the Banana family, but not so sweet and normally eaten cooked as a vegetable. I expected to be able to peel it like a Banana, but it was much firmer than a Banana although the skin looked very ripe and it was surprisingly difficult to peel really needing a sharp knife to cut the skin off and trim it. Mom hadn’t a clue how they should be cooked, so I looked them up on the Internet and most recipes said to slice and fry them. I decided to slice one lengthways and try roasting it for half an hour or so, with a liberal with coating of oil. It was cooked until golden brown and crisp on the outside, but turned out very dry inside really needing a sauce as the recipe had suggested. Maybe a lower cooking temperature would have stopped it being so crisp, or maybe it would have been better boiled. I did keep one for another cooking attempt which I will try in a few days.
Our second purchase was a Dragonfruit that we have seen regularly on sale in other supermarkets, but not tried before. It was quite a large fruit, the size and shape of a smallish, oblong Melon, but with a bright red skin and scaly appearance, hence the name I suppose. Nearly all of the exotic fruits that we have ever tried before have been listed with some detail in one of the popular series of expert gardening books, but the exception was the Dragon fruit, so we didn’t have a clue what to expect. I don’t know if you are supposed to peel it, or let it ripen a little more and then scoop out the middle, but the thick skin came off fairly easily in large pieces without squashing the firmish pulp inside. The centre of the fruit was grey looking and full of tiny black pips with a sweetness a little bit like a cross between the sweetness of a melon and the appearance of a Kiwi, but the firmness and graininess of a pear. The Plantains worked out at about 60 pence each and at that price weren’t worth the money in my opinion, but even though the Dragon fruit was £2 it was a much more interesting buy as a tasty treat and could easily have been quartered to serve 4 people making the price a little easier to accept.
The fruit selection on display in the supermarket does change a little as the seasons go round, but I am surprised that we have not seen any fresh Goji Berries offered. We have been making the occasional picking at home from our bush over the winter, so they are obviously easy enough to grow, but all we ever see are packets of dried berries. Fresh berries are as different to dried, as Grapes are to Sultanas, or Currents.
Another Winter fruit that we have never seen offered are the fruits of the Strawberry tree. One of the local Garden Centres has a very large bush planted in its grounds near the entrance and before the snows came we used to enjoy being naughty by picking the odd ripe berry as we entered the centre before they went to waste and the wildlife got them!
The gardening catalogues all seem to be advertising Pink Blueberries and they are on sale on the net, but again I haven’t seen any fruit offered in the shops even though vast quantities of ordinary Blueberries are everywhere. I have planted one bush in our garden, so I am looking forwards to next year and a few berries of my own. It is still generally a good time to plant fruit bushes between the frosts and another ordinary tree with unusual coloured fruit that I planted recently was a red Hazel tree. It is supposed to have red leaves and red nuts, although disappointingly the inside of the nuts is still said to be white. The tree should add a splash of colour though amongst the plain greens of the other bushes and trees around it.
I have written before about our Fig tree, Medlar tree and several others that happily bear fruit, so with it being possible to grow so many different fruits in this country maybe that supermarket could source some unusual fruit from enterprising English growers instead of importing everything from overseas.
More Special Vegetables And Some Not So Special!
The other week we paid another visit to “That,” supermarket to have a look at their strange and unusual vegetables again. The fruit display doesn’t seem to change so much as the vegetables and as we are trying to be good by not eating so much of the imported exotic fruits we were quite pleased to see a few new additions to the vegetable display. I was particularly interested to see that the shop has started selling Jerusalem, or Root Artichokes. Admittedly they weren’t the knobbly, traditional ones, but were the newer, rounder, smoother variety. Neither my mother, nor myself have ever seen root Artichokes offered for sale anywhere before even though we have grown them for many
years ourselves. More recently of course, we have also grown the flowery, Thistle like type of Artichoke
that they also sell.
It was nice to see the new Romanesco variety of Green Cauliflower being offered as well. There has been quite a bit of publicity about it on the TV and the like, because of its suitability for growing in wet conditions with its resistance to mould etc. The Cauliflower is more pointed than the normal one and looks very different to the normal pure white flesh of the traditional Cauliflower. The green Cauliflowers are popping up in shops and on market stalls all over the place and one or two people even grew them on our allotments last season. I’ve got a packet of seed and am definitely going to give them a go this year.
The Supermarket normally stocks a big range of various salad type ingredients that we don’t usually bother to look at, but I did see some Japanese, winter Radishes, or Mooli that we found had a lovely, fresh taste even when eaten raw like an ordinary Radish, but being something like a foot in length you can just chop off a few inches as you want. The green Mooli, on the other hand, which was a different shape – more like a fat courgette, had a much stronger taste and was a bit tough, or rubbery. However, sliced and boiled it was totally different losing its strong peppery taste and
it became very pleasant.
A weird looking vegetable is the Karela that resembles a very warty Courgette and is said to be an alternative for it when used in cooking. The thick knobbly outer skin covers a white pith that is full of big seeds. When you have removed the seeds all you are really left with is the outer skin. One recipe I found said serve with potato and yoghurt, so being adventurous and artistic, I used slices of Sweet Potato alternated with slices of Karela and a yoghurt dip on the side of the plate. The cooking instructions said that the Karela is quite bitter and I would certainly agree. Mom said it reminded her of a bitter Cucumber that hasn’t had the male flowers removed. Neither of us were the least bit impressed with the Karela and we shall not be having it again!
I have spoken of Okra, or Ladies Fingers before and in the past have tried growing it without much success as mine turned out far too woody to eat, but we have not seen it on sale in any normal supermarket before. Most of the recipes we came across said to use it in stews or fried, but I boiled it
and that gave it an odd jelly like texture, unusual taste and a strange sensation in the mouth.
We don’t go to that supermarket very often, but the trip usually results in some strange cooking and tastes. For the price of a few pounds you can make a couple of ordinary, home cooked meals, a bit of a treat, or a bit special and you can have some fun.
Being Good With Vegetables?
After my last gardening special, in which I expressed my concern that my mother and myself were eating too
many imported exotic fruits instead of trying some of the more unusual vegetables, we decided that we would buy only vegetables on our next trip to THAT supermarket. We were as good as our decision as we bought Eddoes, Samphire, Chayote and White Asparagus. Admittedly we should have bought British vegetables, but at least they were vegetables and not sweet fruits to get our “Sugar Fix!”
I’ll start with the Eddoes which come mostly from Africa, although they are also grown in parts of America. They are an alternative to Potatoes, but to look at them they look and feel at best like little hairy balls of wood and unkindly more like lumps of dried up animal dung! Surprisingly, they peeled easily and their pure white flesh under their skins felt very waxy. Eddoes have a much lower moisture content than Potatoes, so need to be well cooked and for rather longer, but otherwise they can be used in any potato recipe. After cooking they lose their pure white colour, but retain their waxy feel and have a faintly nutty flavour with the unusual texture causing a lingering sensation in the mouth that made me want to lick and smack my lips. They were definitely a vegetable to go back to again and again and were not unreasonably priced for something different.
The Chayote was a vegetable that is a small member of the Squash family and not a vicious American dog! Chayote are roundish, or Pear shaped, green and can be cooked in any way that other squashes can be cooked, although I thought that it was more like a Courgette in it’s texture as it is a little firmer and also after cooking, leftovers can be served cold in salads.
Chayote are grown in Mexico and the New World countries including Australia. We all agreed that this vegetable was not anything special unlike the Samphire that was very definitely something different. When I was selecting what to buy I saw the price on the display and nearly had a heart attack, because at £14 per Kilo it seemed a tad on the expensive side. However, after taking a sizeable pinch in a bag to the till and being charged a whopping 35 pence, I realised that, because of its airy-fairy nature you would need a bucketful to get a kilo! The instructions said that it could be lightly boiled, or steamed and could be eaten raw, but because of it’s saltiness it is better rinsed and cooked. I decided to steam it with the White Asparagus and serve it with butter and a few bits of quartered Tomato, Cucumber and our own sliced, raw, Oca. As you might expect the Samphire had a seaside like taste that was a little bit sea-weedy and quite unusual, but very interesting unlike the White asparagus that was bland to my mind and even more over rated than ordinary Asparagus that at least does have some taste. The display card said that the Asparagus had been blanched by earthing it up and in my opinion they shouldn’t bother as, although it looked good on the plate, there are some purple varieties that look just as interesting.
I think that my own, “Home Grown,” Oca would be a worthy candidate for THAT supermarket to sell as they have a very distinct, lemony, flavour served up raw like a Radish and added greatly to the salad on the starter dishes I prepared that day. They were, also grown here on my allotment in Hixon, England, instead of being imported from God Knows where!
Imported Exotic Fruit.
From some comments made in the Media it would seem that the Governments promotional campaign of 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day is not working, in fact there are claims that we are eating less fruit and vegetables than before the campaign started, or at least only a little more fruit and quite a bit less veg. It has been said that a bigger proportion of the fruit that we are eating is of the exotic type that has to be imported. We are not eating so much of our own British grown fruit. Even the apples and pears that we are eating are mostly imported, because we want all fruit all year round instead of buying it seasonally as we used to decades ago. It seems that imported exotic vegetables don’t even get us excited unlike the way our craving for sweetness drives us to buy exotic fruit imports that are relatively cheap letting us get carried away with our treats in the same way as chocaholics do in search of their chocolate fix. I have to admit that I am as guilty as most people of making a “Bee Line,” for the strange fruit and skirting round the unusual vegetables in our nearby, futuristic, supermarket display.
I must promise myself that I will buy exotic vegetables next time I go in that shop! However, this week I bought fruit – again!
The spotty Custard Apple, or Cherimoya was the first into my basket. At home I quartered the fruit, cutting through its, thick inedible skin, enabling us to spoon out its very soft and almost custard like flesh that had a fair number of big, hard, black seeds in. There are several varieties of these fruits that occasionally find their way into supermarkets these days and they all have different shapes and sizes, but are all related to the Pinapple.
Although not so popular in recent years, Pomegranates were very popular as a treat when I was a child with my mother telling me that I had to sit and eat them, by picking out the seeds with their bit of flesh attached, using a pin. It would take forever to eat one, but they were relatively expensive then compared with the 4 for a pound that they have been selling at recently. At that price they are nearly as cheap as Apples, Bananas and Pears. Perhaps their lack of popularity in recent years has been because they are not easy to eat. However, one of the chefs on television showed a trade secret some months ago illustrating the way top chefs deal with them. They simply get a big spoon and bash the Pomegranate all over while standing it on a hard surface. After quartering it, the fruit then simply falls out of the skin if it is ripe enough for the trick to work.
A far more exotic specimen was the Star Fruit that I bought. Quite often small slices are served up in restaurants on the side of a plate of things like Melon, but they are not normally seen anywhere otherwise. The small slices may be star shaped, but the fruit is actually oblong and only star shaped in cross section as you cut it. We both decide that although it was refreshing with its firm, crisp, tangy taste it was not really the sort of fruit that you would sit and eat whole. Ideal for decorating plates at dinner parties, but that’s all.
The shrivelled up, but ripe Passion fruit is another one that you would not really sit down to eat a plateful of. However, there is very little flesh inside the fruits, but what there is, has very intense and tangy flavour flavour that makes it ideal to flavour things with that might otherwise be a little bland.
Sharron fruits and the related Japanese Persimmon have been around some time, but the Persimmon is several times bigger in volume and at 3 for a pound looked a bargain. They weren’t as ripe as they might have been, but were still almost clawingly sweet, gave us our “Fix,” and coming from Spain were from one of our trading partners in the EU, so that was alright as they weren’t really imported from exotic climes far away! For years I have been telling everyone that we had a Sharron fruit in the garden, but when I actually looked at the label it clearly said Japanese Persimmon, so if it ever does fruit we won’t even have to buy Spanish imported fruit to get that particular sugar “Fix!”