Fruit

Golden toffee apples.

IMG_9980Yesterday morning, the sun came out and sparkled on the soaked landscape.  So I took our little dog Harry and sheepdog Sam on the quad bike for a big run around the pinoak paddock.  (Jack doesn’t come, he’s scared of the bike!)  And on the way, we passed the Medlar tree.  Now in its fourth year it is laden with fruit and in the watery light of the morning sun it looked incredibly beautiful.  The medlars are like golden toffee apples and are set off by the Manchurian Pear as it changes colour, and you can just see in the background (pics below) our neighbours pinoaks turning colour in the same amber tones.  Very soon their Pinot Noir vines will also turn to match and the russet tones gather together in an almost perfect autumn painting.  People ask me what we do with the medlars.  And the answer at this stage is nothing.  I just pick them and admire them in a bowl.  In times of old they were valued as a fruit that was available in winter, but you can’t eat them off the tree.  You have to wait till they spoil, either by frost or becoming ‘bletted’ (basically rotten) in storage, then they are considered a delicacy and can be served as a dessert, or as an accompaniment to cheese and port.  An acquired taste, I believe. I’ve never tried them but a friend makes them into Medlar Jelly which I’m told is delicious.   So why grow fruit that you can’t eat?  Because I saw a lovely specimen years ago in the garden of the late Christopher Lloyd, at Great Dixter and it was so beautiful I had to have one.  It has massive blossoms in the spring – almost like magnolia flowers, then this golden fruit in autumn.  When it is bigger I’m imagining great branches of it in a massive floral arrangement and will pass some on to the very talented Margaret Young Whitford to turn into some incredible installation. Which is what she does so brilliantly. And that’s another story for another day. IMG_9979 IMG_9982 bletted_medlar medlar_blossomIMG_1907 IMG_7481 IMG_7493Medlar notes (thank you Wikipedia):

Mespilus germanica, known as the medlar or common medlar, is a large shrub or small tree, and the name of the fruit of this tree. The fruit has been cultivated since Roman times, and is unusual in being available in winter, and in being eaten when ‘bletted’ (browned by rot). It is eaten raw and in a range of dishes.

Despite its Latin name, which means German or Germanic medlar, it is indigenous to southwest Asia and also southeastern Europe, especially the Black Sea coasts of Bulgaria and of modern Turkey. The medlar was already being cultivated about three thousand years ago in the Caspian Sea region of northern Iran and Azerbaijan. It was introduced to Greece around 700 BC, and to Rome about 200 BC. It was an important fruit plant during Roman and medieval times. By the 17th and 18th century, however, it had been superseded by other fruits, and is little cultivated today. M. germanica pomes are one of the few fruits that become edible in winter, making it an important tree for gardeners who wish to have fruit available all year round. Mespilus germanica fruits are hard, acidic, and high in bitter tannins. They become edible after being softened, ‘bletted’, by frost, or naturally in storage given sufficient time. Once softening begins the skin rapidly takes a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown, and the inside reduces to the consistency and flavour reminiscent of apple sauce. This process can confuse those new to medlars, as a softened fruit looks as if it has spoiled.

Once bletted, the fruit can be eaten raw, and are often eaten as a dessert, for example with cheese or tarts, or used to make medlar jelly and wine. Another dish is “medlar cheese”, which is similar to lemon curd, being made with the fruit pulp, eggs, and butter. In Iran, the fruits, leaves, bark and wood of the tree have been used as medicines for ailments including diarrhoea, bloating of the stomach, throat abscesses and fever.

Mespilus germanica requires warm summers and mild winters and prefers sunny, dry locations and slightly acidic soil. Under ideal circumstances, the deciduous plant grows up to 8 metres (26 ft) tall. Generally, it is shorter and more shrub-like than tree-like. With a lifespan of 30–50 years, the medlar tree is rather short-lived. The leaves are densely hairy and turn red in autumn before falling. It is found across Southern Europe where it is generally rare. It is reported to be naturalized in some woods in Southeast England, but is found in few gardens.
The flowers have five broadly ovate white petals and appear in late spring. They are hermaphrodite, pollinated by bees, and self-fertile. The flower is about 6 centimetres wide and the reddish-brown fruit is a pome, 2–3 centimetres diameter, with wide-spreading persistent sepals around a central pit, giving a ‘hollow’ appearance to the fruit.

 

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Plant lots of strawberries!

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This will make my friend Guy laugh.  He once estimated that I would harvest 1 million strawberries per summer based on the number of plants I had throughout the garden.  Seven years ago when we started the garden from scratch, I was searching for a suitable plant to edge the many beds and borders I had created. Budget-wise it was a bit overwhelming. Then I had a bright idea.  I had purchased 6 strawberry plants from the local nursery almost the minute we moved in and that first autumn they sent out runners everywhere so I snipped them all off and replanted them along the edges. Soon the new plants sent out runners which were transplanted and so on, and  before I knew it there were (literally) thousands of strawberries woven through the garden.  Inexperienced then in the ‘really large garden’ metier, I soon discovered this pretty and productive edging wasn’t as co-operative as I had thought. The strawberries invaded everywhere and one really wet summer they took off … it was like The Day of the Triffids! They threaded themselves through the roses, into the shrubberies, all over the vegetable garden, spilled over banks and out onto pathways.  It was a disaster.  There was so much fruit the birds even stopped eating them!   So out they came.  Weekend after weekend I hauled plants out. But not before we’d enjoyed a series of summers of buckets and bowls of fresh, delicious fruit which was turned into jams and sauces … but mainly daiquiris!   The variety I had started with was an old favourite,  Red Gauntlet.  Not popular with commercial growers these days as they are prone to little bumps and imperfections, but to me they are still one of the most delicious.  I’ve tried over twelve other varieties and none are as hardy and fulsome in flavour, especially for jam.

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It’s really easy to increase your crop by pinning down the runners in the position you want them and a new plant quickly forms.  Strawberries are only really good for two years, so plant the runners in the alternate rows and let them grow up and remove the old row every second or third year.  They are hungry feeders so add a good organic fertiliser and mulch well, laying clean straw under the plants so the strawberries don’t get muddy and rot in the wet.

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We have some lovely pink flowering strawberries in stock at The Potting Shed (sorry, can’t remember the variety) and they are sending out runners all over the place, so for $4 you actually get about 6 or 8 plants! And the pink flowers are really lovely for a change.  We also have in stock really substantial plants of Alchemilla mollis which is now my main edging plant, thanks to advice from my friend and expert gardener, Wendy Butcher from the amazingly beautiful ‘Orchard Garden’ in Central Otago, New Zealand.  Who couldn’t believe I was using strawberries.  “Haven’t you heard of Lady’s Mantle?” she asked, in disbelief.  “It’s the perfect edging plant”

It is a beautiful plant and surprisingly hardy, even through this fierce summer she has held up wonderfully but definitely prefers a little bit of dappled shade.  Alchemilla mollis, Lady’s Mantle, is an herbaceous perennial plant native to southern Europe and grown throughout the world as an ornamental garden plant.  More on her another day.  IMG_9848 IMG_9849

The rest of the marmalade story!

IMG_0598Yesterday I started to tell you about marmalade but in my haste, I accidentally hit publish before I had finished my story! Then the day flashed by and I had no time to return to it. As I was saying, the damper with marmalade from the new cafe in the Dirty Janes Antique Market, where we are located, is delicious. The marmalade, made by Cath, one of the owners,  was a beautiful, translucent mandarin colour and was tangy and delicious.  I love a good marmalade but it is surprisingly difficult to get one with enough bite.  They’re all too sweet. I’ve hunted high and low and have tried all the usual famous brands, I’ve pounced on home made jars at school fetes, trawled through the Farmers Markets here and in Sydney, scouted through shops in English villages where they should know all about marmalade …  and still I hunger for just the right combo of chunkiness, tartness and aroma.  So I turned to Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion for help.  There on page 473 she lists this lovely entry:

Seville marmalade from a competent western-district cook.

This recipe came to me from a woman who read of my failure with my first-ever Seville marmalade.  She reminded me that it is most important to use fresh fruit – straight from the tree is ideal. 

Seville oranges, water, salt, sugar.

Thinly slice fruit, having first removed all pips and central membrane.  For every 500g prepared fruit, allow 1.8 litres water and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Simmer fruit, salt and water until peel is soft and easily squashed.  Allow to rest for 24 hours in a ceramic or stainless steel bowl.  Next day, measure fruit and water into a preserving pan or large stockpot using a cup.  Bring to a boil and for every cup of fruit and water allow an equal measure of sugar.  Return to a boil and cook for 25-30 minutes until setting or jelly stage.  Bottle into hot, sterilised jars.

Reading this tip about ‘straight from the tree is ideal’, brings me to another citrus note. We have just received a lovely delivery of very healthy, vigorous, perky looking orange, lemon, cumquat, grapefruit, blood orange and lime trees.  So if you too are a marmalade lover, you might like to think about putting in your own citrus grove and in a year or two you’ll have enough for your first batch of home-grown, home-made marmalade!

Visit The Potting Shed website for location and contact details.

Autumn in the garden

rainbowchardThough it is bucketing down as I write this, I have to still tell you that autumn is the best time to plant everything as it’s still warm enough for roots to grow into their new surroundings and the whole plant gets comfortably established and growing before next summer. So … put on your Drizabone and get out into the garden and get planting for a great spring spectacle!  I’ve just planted lots of Tuscan kale (for my healthy next door shop neighbour Suzie Anderson to take home and add to her morning juice!), ornamental kale (not to eat, just to admire), artichoke, lettuce, spinach and ruby chard at The Potting Shed Kitchen Garden … and leek, broad beans, cabbage, peas and cauliflower at home in our vegie garden .. and can’t wait to harvest it over the next few months. In early spring the combo of baby broadbeans skinned and blanched, drizzled with oil and garlic butter and sprinkled with fresh mint on grilled foccacia is unbeatable! IMG_6588And if you’re lucky enough to be on acreage or have friends who will let you harvest their paddocks, autumn is mushroom season … and there’s nothing like freshly picked mushrooms sauteed in butter on toast for breakfast … or as my mother used to do, reduced right down till the flavour is really intense, and added to casseroles or as a side with bacon and eggs. Mmmm.

Vegie and herb seedlings to plant
Broad beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leek, lettuce, onion, peas, radish, shallots, spinach, silverbeet. Herbs: Coriander, rocket, chives, lemon grass, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme.

Flower seedlings to plant
Now’s the time to plant alyssum, calendula, candytuft, carnation, cinneraria, cornflower, cosmos, daisies, foxglove, lobelia, marigold, nasturtium, nemesia, pansies, poppies, primula, snapdragon, sweet peas and viola.  Most of which we have in stock at the moment at The Potting Shed.

It’s the perfect time to plant camellia sasanqua and japonica, hebe, photinia, viburnum, lilly pilly and buxus and pick your deciduous trees whilst their foliage has its vibrant autumn colour and last but not least it’s time to plant spring flowering bulbs.  More on those soon. Meantime, happy gardening!

 

 

A living gift.

I’ve noticed a lot of people are popping in to The Potting Shed to pick up potted herbs or flowers to give as gifts when they visit friends or meet for lunch. It’s a lovely idea –  the gift lasts a long time and the pot can be filled again and again with some other treasure.  My garden is filled with plants given to me by friends – one friend in particular practically transferred her entire garden to mine!  Generous boot loads of treasure would arrive week after week, month after month as I started out creating our garden from a bare paddock and she simplified and streamlined hers.  Now, years later we enjoy beds of irises, borders of agapanthas, under plantings of ajuga, hellebores and violets, drifts of catmint, paths bounded by daffodils, hyacinths and tulips,  wonderful blocks of euphorbia, penstemons, salvias and scabiosa, orchards of citrus and barrels of rhubarb all started out from bags and boxes and snippings and clippings of these gifted plants.  Another lovely friend and neighbour gave me, some years ago, another type of living gift … a basket of heirloom varieties of garlic she had grown, harvested and labelled.  Not only was it delicious, I kept a clove of each and planted them and I’m still harvesting them year after year.  One needn’t spend a lot of money on a gift … just a little thought … and time. And that gift keeps on giving for years and years and years. How perfect is that! _MG_4547

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Lemons are ‘gold’

IMG_0580In spite of the very dry season, we have a bountiful crop of lemons and limes so I picked a basketful to decorate my shop and was setting them out when a friend came by for a chat.  “Are these organic?”, she asked.  Not certified, I explained, but picked from the garden that very morning, complete with snails and certainly free from any chemical fertilisers or sprays.  Grown in the old duck yard, they thrive on the naturally rich soil.   “Did you know organic lemons are almost impossible to buy”, my friend said.  “They’re $16.95 a kilo at the Health Store because of the shortage so these will sell. They are gold!” she laughed. I wasn’t actually planning to sell them, but if there’s a shortage, why not!  So if you’re looking for beautiful fresh, home-grown lemons come by The Potting Shed and pick up a bag.  As we have several very prolific trees in our garden, I use them a lot in cooking – a lemon fresh from the tree is so completely different in flavour to those on the supermarket shelf. They’re particularly useful for a quick little lunch of chicken tenderloins, tossed in lemon thyme, butter, lemon juice, a splash of good olive oil and lemon zest.  Quickly on the grill and onto grilled rye or focaccia with fresh rocket.  Yum. We’re expecting a shipment of espaliered lemons, limes and cumquats this week at The Potting Shed.  Can’t wait to see them.  So perfect for courtyard gardens.  IMG_3041IMG_3045

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IMG_0661Above: Lemons in Positano.   Years ago I was a guest of my dear London friend Paul who had rented for his fortieth birthday an ancient, stunningly renovated fortress on a cliff overlooking the Amalfi Coast.   To get from the carpark to the villa below, we had to walk down a series of terraces all trellised with lemons.  It was magical –  the combination of the hot, mediterranean summer air, the breathtaking views of the coastline and the perfume from the sun warmed lemons which hung down like thousands of tiny  yellow chandeliers!IMG_0658 IMG_0660 IMG_0666

Today in my garden

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The apples are bursting into life and I’m wishing I’d been more organised and ordered the heritage apples I plan to espalier around the fences enclosing the vegetable garden.  Now it will have to be next winter.  Inspired by the extraordinary orchard at RHS Wisley, I am planning an exciting display of old English and French cultivars.  First on my list was the famous Cox’s Orange Pippin which will fruit for the first season this year. It is widely regarded as the finest of all dessert apples.  Cox’s Orange Pippin  ‘Pippin’ is an old English word derived from the French word for ‘seedling’. The same word can be seen in the modern French for a plant nursery or garden centre – ‘pepiniere’. Like many old apple varieties Cox’s Orange Pippin was discovered as a chance seedling.  If you would like to research this further, here’s a link to the Heritage Fruits Society www.heritagefruitssociety.org.au/

About the Heritage Fruits Society

The Heritage Fruits Society is based in Melbourne, Australia. Their aim is to conserve heritage fruit varieties (also known as ‘heirloom fruits’) on private and public land.  They enable and encourage society members to research this wide range of varieties and to inform the public on the benefits of heritage fruits for health, sustainability and biodiversity.
You can read about their history here and you can find their list of heritage apples here.

A list of some of the Heritage/Heirloom apples you might like to consider from Petty’s Orchard in Templestowe, Victoria, Australia.  It is one of Melbourne’s oldest commercial orchards, and it holds the largest collection of heritage/heirloom apple varieties on mainland Australia, with more than two hundred varieties of old and rare apples. The maintenance of the apple tree collection is done by Heritage Fruits Society volunteers. Anyone can come and help. Find out more!

Petty’s Orchard Complete Heritage Apple Collection

Abas

Akane

Albany Beauty

Alexander

Alfriston Mother (=American Mother)

Andre Sauvage Antonovka Kameniohka

Atlanta

Autumn Tart

Baldwin

Ball’s Seedling

Barry

Bashfort

Batman’s Tree

Batt’s Seedling

Baumann’s Reinette

Beauty of Bath

Beauty of Stoke

Bec D’Oie

Bedford Pippin Cross

Bedfordshire Foundling

Belle de Boskoop

Belle de Magny

Berner Rosen

Bismarck

Blenheim Orange

Blue Pearmain

Bonza Boy’s Delight

Bramley’s Seedling

Breakwell’s Seedling

Brittle Sweet

Brown’s Apple

Browns Pippin

Bulmer’s Norman

Buncum

Butters Early Red

Carolina Red June

Cataignier

Cayuga

Cayuga Redstreak

Chandler

Cimetiere du Pays

Cleopatra

Climax

Coldstream Guard

Cornish Aromatic

Cornish Gilliflower

Cox’s Orange Pippin

Cox’s Orange Pippin Red

Cox’s Pomona

Cranberry Pippin

Crofton

Crofton Red

Dabinett

Delicious

Caldicott

Delicious Glen Vimey

Delicious Hi Early

Delicious Richared

Delicious Starkrimson

Democrat

Democrat (Black)

Devonshire Quarrenden

Dewdney’s Seedling

Discovery Doctor Hogg

Dunn’s Seedling (Monroe’s Seedling)

Duquesne

Early Victoria

Edward VII

Edwards Coronation

Eggleton Styre

Egremont Russett

Eldon Pippin

Ellison’s Orange

Emneth Early (=Early Victoria)

Esopus Spitzenburg

Esopus Sptizenburg

Fameuse (=Snow Apple)

Fenouillet Gris

Forfar Pippin

Forge

French Crab (=Winter Greening)

Freyberg

Frost

Fuji

Gala

Geante D’Exposition

Geeveston Fanny

Geoff’s Tree

George Carpenter

George Neilson

Gildering Sage D’espagne

Gladstone

Golden Delicious

Golden Harvey (=Brandy Apple)

Grandmere

Granny Smith

Gravenstein

Gravenstein Early

Grosseille

Hollow Crown

Holly

Hubbardton Nonsuch

Hyslop Crab

Ida Red

Improved Foxwhelp

Irish Peach

Isaac Newton’s Tree

James Grieve

Jaunet

Jerseymac

Jonagold

Jonared

Jonathan

Jonathan Red

Jongrimes

July Red

Keswick Codlin

Kidds Orange Red

King Cole

King David

King of the Pippins

King of Tompkins County

Kingston Black

Kirk’s Seedling

Lady Finger

Lady William

Lalla

Laxton’s Fortune

Laxton’s Superb

Legana

Lodi

London Pippin (Five Crown)

Lord Derby

Lord Lambourne

Lord Nelson

Lord Suffield

MacIntosh Early

Magnolia

Maigold

McIntosh Early

Melba

Melrose

Merton Worcester

Michelin

Minjon

Monarch Cross

Monroe

Murray Gem

Mutsu

Newtown Green Pippin

Nickajack

Norfolk

Northern Spy

Opalescent

Orange de per

Orleans Reinette

Ortley (=Cleopatra)

Peasgood’s Nonsuch

Pine Golden Pippin

Pittmaston Pineapple Fameuse (=Pomme de Neige)

Poor House

Potts’ Seedling

Prima

Prince Alfred

Prince Edward

Queen Cox

Quinte

Ranger

Red Astrachan

Red Delicious

Red Granny Smith

Red Winesap

Red Winter Pearmain (=Buncombe)

Reinette d’Angleterre

Reinette du Canada

Reinette Musque Rheinette de Macon

Rhode Island Greening

Ribston Pippin

Rokewood

Rome Beauty

Roundway Magnum Bonum

Rous La Tour

Royal Jubilee

Saint Edmunds Pippin

Saint Edmunds Russet

Scarlet Nonpariel

Scarlet Staymared

Scotia

Spartan

Splendour

Starkes Earliest

Starking Hi Early

Statesman

Stayman’s Winesap

Stewart’s Seedling

Summer Strawberry

Sunbury Late

Sundowner

Sweet Coppin

Symond’s Winter

Twenty Ounce

Tydeman’s Early Worcester

Upton Pyne

Vista Bella

Winter transparent Early

Woolbrook Russet

Worcester Pearmain

Yarlington Mill

Yates

The wonders of La Chassagnette in Camargue

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La ChassagnetteI found this article in France Today which I thought you might enjoy.

The Camargue—that wide strip of land between sky and sea that stretches across arms of the Rhône—is not just a paradise for birds and white horses. Its marshes are put to work producing crystalline salt, its broad flatlands produce some of the world’s finest rice, and its grassy fields are home to black cattle whose lean, delicious meat is recognized for its healthful properties.

If you have time for only one restaurant in the Camargue, it should be Armand Arnal’s La Chassagnette. Seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, the tall, quiet chef presides over a restaurant both simple and sophisticated. Simple, because he uses only fruits and vegetables from his own organic garden, no matter the season. His immense potager, which inspires rapt admiration in most visitors, produces treasures he transforms into the most elegant of dishes. For Arnal, vegetables are not an accompaniment but a noble product, worthy of all his attention, and ours. It’s sophisticated, because he knows how to take a fish, caught that morning or the night before, and use it to compose a dish that seems quite unpretentious but is the result of some fairly profound thought. Take the marinated lisette, a small mackerel that he serves with a broccoli purée, black sesame and preserved lemon; or the duck raised in the rice fields, served with ribbons of root vegetables in a sweet-and-sour sauce and a sprinkling of caramelized pine nuts; or the dessert of fennel sorbet, vanilla granité and fennel confit. Born in Montpellier, Arnal formerly worked with Alain Ducasse, notably in his New York restaurant for several years. Arriving at La Chassagnette in 2006, he won a Michelin star in 2009. Although he’s proud of it, he says a star was not his primary motivation— what he likes is creating cuisine tied to its locality, and in the Camargue he has found his niche. Route de Sambuc (betwee Arles and Le Sambuc)04.90.97.26.96 www.chassagnette.fr