Monday, 2 January 2017

September 2016 The squashes finally came good

The harvest continued this month unabated this month with the tomatoes continuing to ripen. The blight that has affected many gardens in the area seems to have passed us by but, with the late start this year because of cold weather, the yield this year is not as great as in previous years. Nevertheless, we have enough of a surplus to make two batches of tomato chutney and relish using recipes from the Simpson's Seeds The Tomato Book.

This is no longer available direct from Simpson's but there are a few second hand copies to be found on eBay and Amazon.

We had a good range of varieties, all very different flavours and characteristics making it difficult to choose a favourite. I suppose my top three this year would be the Purple Russian plum, Indigo Beauty and the super sweet orange cherry tomatoes. There are enough of the meatier types that are only just beginning to turn to keep and ripen indoors, hopefully until the end of November. We shall, though, leave them on the plants for as long as possible - maybe well into October if the weather holds.

This year, I had a go at preserving some of the smaller tomatoes by fermenting them in brine. I got the idea from a Radio 4 Food Programme episode on Fermentation. Olia Hercules talked about how, in the summer and early autumn in the Ukraine, they have a sort of fermenting fest during which the household spends days brining and pickling fruit and vegetables for the winter and spring. The programme and recipe for fermented tomatoes  is available on the BBC website at BBC Radio 4 - Food Programme, Ferment

I have already opened a jar after just 4 weeks and they are delicious with a wonderful "zing" to them. I have another two jars that I will attempt to leave until later in the year and at least until after we have finished the last of the fresh tomatoes. Olia Hercules has published a book, Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & beyond, that has a wonderful selection of recipes from the region. I am steadily working my through it, but it will take about a year if I am going to stick to my self-imposed rule of using only seasonal produce.

In 2015 I grew squashes for the first time, mainly by accident. Seedlings started to pop up out of the compost made from our kitchen scraps and seeds and I let some of the plants get on with it. I was so impressed by how easy they were to grow and with the size of some of them that I repeated the experiment this year, but also deliberately sowed some seeds. Although they germinated readily enough and grew well it seemed as though they would never set fruit. Most of the flowers were initially male flowers and when a few female flowers finally look as though they were about to develop into squashes they dropped off the plant. I thought I was doing something wrong but many other gardeners in Reading and Caversham reported that they had the same problem, as did some of the TV and radio gardening experts.

The squash plants did finally come good, though, and it looks as though we shall have an interesting selection of varieties. There many not be many of them and they are nowhere near the whoppers in size that we had last year, but I am content with what we have.

One really nice surprise was the unexpected reappearance of some autumn raspberries. I had tried growing some canes in pots about two years ago and failed dismally. I thought that they had died but a cane that I had left in one container as a support for another plant sprung into life. It has encouraged me to try again with a couple of other varieties, although the ultra sweet autumn fruits are my favourites.

There are still grapes to be harvested but the foliage has started to turn. I'll be glad when the leaves have all fallen so that we have a chance to untangle some of stems and train it properly rather than let it run rampant.

Still on fruit, we had one pear. Such a rarity and I forgot to take a picture! I wasn't that surprised as the tree is still settling in and we had a severe frost just as the blossom came out. I'm grateful we had even one fruit.

Back in the kitchen the usual glut of courgettes was being converted into spiced chutney. Overall, it looks as though we shall have good store of preserves to last well into next year.

And, of course, we are enjoying some great meals prepared from our freshly gathered veg!

Grey dagger moth caterpillar on the pear tree 

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