James Wong's - Homegrown Revolution

Archive for September, 2012

Cocktail Kiwis Slider

MINI KIWIS: NATURE’S HARIBO

Posted on: September 15th, 2012 by James Wong 31 Comments

Mega sweet, fuzz-free mini kiwis that hail from the frozen wastes of Siberia? No I’m not making it up. Intensely sugary, super easy-to-grow and even hardy down to -35C, if haribo reinvented the kiwi this would be it!

WHAT ARE COCKTAIL KIWIS?

Cocktail Kiwis

Coming into season in mid-late September, the deliciously sweet, tangy berries of cocktail kiwis (Actinidia arguta) are summer’s last gasp of glory. Growing on little bunches, much like a grape, they are far softer and sugarier than the regular  giant fuzzy type & without that nasty acidity. A single plant is capable of producing up to an astonishing 400 mini kiwis once established! The good news for UK exotic fruit lovers is that they are perfectly hardy even in the most Arctic winters, shrugging off chills 7C colder than the UK record low.

GROWING MINI KIWIS

These guys don’t just look like kiwis, they are simply a different species (closely related the to fuzzy supermarket kind) that hails from far further north, right up into Siberia. Don’t worry there’s been no geneticist’s tinkering going on here…

THE HUGE DIVERSITY OF KIWIS: IMAGE SOURCE: THE SCIENTIFIC JOURNAL – BMC GENOMICS (CLICK PIC FOR LINK)

In fact of all the 9o different species of kiwis, the conventional kind is probably the least flavourful, hardy and nutritious! So all the more reason to opt for the adorable ‘cocktail’ type.

Don’t believe they will grow in the UK? Well here’s a pic from a recent trip I took up the my mates Sue and Bleddyn at their wonderful nursery Crug Farm Plants in North Wales, which regularly experiences freezes down to -20C! Plus pictures of commercial plantations in Belgium and Canada. As of September 2012 there is even a kiwi ‘vineyard’ in Herefordshire!

HOW TO GROW COCKTAIL KIWIS

All they need from you is a strong support to scramble over, a site in full sun and a a handful of 10-minute pruning sessions over the summer to keep their mind on fruiting. There are full details on exactly how to do this in the homegrown revolution manual (i.e. my latest book) & even a handy little video on exactly how to do it here:

BUYING THE PLANTS

Want to know where you can get your hands on one? Check out these little plants available from the lovely plant geeks at Suttons Seeds.

HOW TO EAT COCKTAIL KIWIS

Now here comes the good part!

These little fruit can be eaten in all the same ways as their larger, supermarket cousin – just being far tastier and with no fiddly peeling. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

AUTUMNAL FRUIT SALAD WITH COCKTAIL KIWIS

Simply slice the kiwis in half and mix with whatever fruit you have to hand. I’ve picked homegrown inca berries and Chilean guavas (look out for posts on these in the future). Scatter over a really good quality Greek yoghurt and drizzle with honey – pure heaven.

WINEGUMMY COCKTAIL KIWIS

I first got the idea to make these sticky sweet treats when I stumbled across this fascinating picture of sun-dried cocktail kiwis, which are apparently a hugely popular snack in Japan and China, on Kazuo Ichikawas great Flickr site (Click pic for link). After a bunch of experiments I think I have finally cracked how to do it at home.

Dried Cocktail Kiwis

1) SLICE  your cocktail kiwis in half and scatter them over a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper.

KIWIS BERRIES

2) BRUSH them with a little elderflower cordial to seal in their sticky gumminess. This also really complements their fragrant gooseberry-like sweetness.

Cocktail Kiwis

3) BAKE them in the oven on a really low setting (50C-80C) until they are just beginning to collapse. This will take roughly about 3 hours depending on your oven. Be warned though leaving them in too long or over too high a temperature and you will end up with a brown, shrivelled up mess. (This is the voice of experience talking!)

Cocktail Kiwis

4) COOL them on a kitchen worktop for 30 mins, which will see them become firmer and more ‘gummy’ as the jelly-like pulp starts to set.

5) SCOFF them just as they are or scattered over muesli, ice-cream or homemade granola. Bloody marvellous!

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat Cocktail Kiwis check out pg 226 of my new book Homegrown Revolution!

CHICKPEA 'EDAMAME'

CHICKPEA ‘EDAMAME’

Posted on: September 6th, 2012 by James Wong 19 Comments

Love those deliciously nutty pods of edamame beans you get in Japanese restaurants, but frustrated you can’t grow them in the UK? Well I think I have gone one better with super easy-to-grow chickpea ‘edamame’!

WHAT ARE CHICKPEA ‘EDAMAME’?

Chickpeas

Chickpeas might be a common sight in the UK in cans & blitzed into hummus, but the fresh pods of the young green ones have yet to make it to the shelves of even the fanciest supermarkets. So all the more reason to grow your own!

The mini pods, each containing just one or two ‘peas’ are far more sweet and nutty than regular edamame, which is now sold frozen in huge packs for just a couple of quid.

HOW TO GROW CHICKPEAS

THE VARIETY ‘PRINCIPE’ GROWING IN MY GARDEN

The plants make a excellent ground cover crop of ferny silver leaves and pretty white flowers & the best thing is they are virtually foolproof to grow. Ridiculously drought resistant, free from pests and can even be sown from a supermarket packet of dried (not canned!) chickpeas. So what on earth is stopping you?

THE PODS ARE READY WHEN THEY LOOK LIKE THIS

Pods are ready to harvest when they are slightly hard to the touch, but still a bright, fresh green. Brown papery pods with contain starchy dried up seeds. You should even be able to judge the size of them by holding them up to the light.

THE HARVEST FROM JUST ONE SMALL PLANT

Just one plant will provide a pretty decent starter for two people. With three plants offering up a gluttonous treat. To prepare and cook them simply snip off the pods and cook them just like regular edamame – more on this later.

FUZZY LITTLE GREEN PODS READY TO BE COOKED

HOW TO EAT CHICKPEA ‘EDAMAME’

You can also shell them first, boil for 1 minute or so and toss into salads, cous cous or rice dishes. You can even mash a cup of the cooked peas with an avocado and stir in 1 tbsp olive oil, a clove of chopped garlic & 1/2 tsp of chopped mint to create a mean dip somewhere between guacamole and a fresh green hummus!

CHICKPEA ‘EDAMAME’ JAPANESE  STYLE

FROM GARDEN TO KITCHEN IN 5 MINS FLAT.

For lazy sods like me though the simplest way to to dunk them in a pan of briskly boiling water for just a minute or two and serve them drizzles with sesame oil & a sprinkling of sea salt.

CHICKPEA ‘EDAMAME’ SPANISH STYLE

CHARRING BRINGS OUT THEIR PISTACHIO FLAVOUR

The same mix can be given a Spanish twist by charring the whole pods in a dry pan just until the begin to blacken on the outside. Douse with olive oil, smoked paprika and sea salt and scoff with a cold beer. Finally a beer snack you don’t have to feel guilty about!

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat Chickpea ‘Edamame’ check out pg 96 of my new book Homegrown Revolution!

September Harvest Intro

MY SEPTEMBER HARVEST

Posted on: September 6th, 2012 by James Wong 4 Comments

Check out what’s growing on at my trial ground this month. From fiesta popcorn & green tea, to chickpea ‘edamame’ & inca berries, September really is the the month of plenty in the 21st century veg garden.

MY HARVEST ON 19th SEPTEMBER

September Harvest

THE RESULTS OF A 15 MINUTE FORAGE IN MY 5X5M FRONT GARDEN. ALL GROWN OUTDOORS IN WHAT WE ALL MUST AGREE WAS A PRETTY MISERABLE SUMMER EVEN FOR THE UK!

The haul includes fiesta popcorn, inca berries, tomatillos, Chinese chives, Chilean Guavas & cocktail kiwis (all available – or soon to be available- through my Suttons Seeds range). Other bits and pieces include Squash ‘Sunburst’, Chickpea ‘Edamame’, Tomato ‘Hundreds & Thousands’ & several fancy Chili varieties.

‘JADE BLUE’ CORN

Blue corn

I’ve had loads of questions about these little guys. Bonsai-sized, ‘Jade Blue’ corn that instead being sugary (notice I don’t call ‘em ‘SWEETcorn’) have a deliciously starchy texture, like a cross between roast chestnuts and waxy Jersey royal spuds. I had ‘em grilled on the BBQ and rolled in butter and parmesan. Total foodie heaven.

The plants too are super-dwarf, growing only to 40cm high, yet produce a good 2-3 cobs per plant. Perfect for containers. Definitely passed my tests! Don’t believe me? Here’s a pic of a plant from one of my favourite US websites…

JADE BLUE CORN PLANT – (Click pic for link)

I got mine from Tradewinds Fruit in the States – bought over the net. OK the delivery here is a little pricey, but if you buy enough packets it works out OK.

COCKTAIL KIWIS

Cocktail Kiwis

Grape-sized, super-sweet kiwi fruit that are hardy down to -35C and commercially cultivated in Herefordshire. Want more info? Then check out my blog post on them.

MANUKA 

Manuka Flowers

Although normally in season in the late-spring and early summer, this year the cool weather has triggered mine into a second flush of flower right now. Their leaves add a richly herbal bay leaf /eucalyptus fragrance to all manner of sweet or savoury dishes, including my homespun ‘Mock-nuka’ honey. You don’t need a hive, just steep them in shop bought honey to create a pretty convincing counterfeit blend that will taste just as good as the stuff that costs £15 in fancy supermarkets imported from the other side of the planet. There’ll be a blog post on exactly how to do this soon…

CHICKPEA ‘EDAMAME’

CHICKPEA HARVEST

Love those deliciously nutty pods of edamame beans you get in Japanese restaurants, but frustrated you can’t grow them in the UK? Well I think I have gone one better with super easy-to-grow chickpea ‘edamame’! Check out my blog post on how to grow, cook and eat ‘em.

QUINOA GREENS

Quinoa

OK so the delicious, gluten-free seed heads might not be all quite ready to harvest just yet, but the stunning flowers have been cheering up my garden for weeks. Related to spinach, the tasty leaves have a flavour which is virtually identical and are SO much easier to grow.

Wanna track down the seeds? They are available as part of my Suttons Seeds range.

JAPANESE QUINCES

Chaenomeles

This is a widely planted ornamental plant, a favourite of council roundabouts and supermarket carparks, yet produces masses of little ‘mini-quinces’ for next to no effort and can be used in the same way. In Japan they are highly prized in scented liqueurs, believed to be good for the voices of public speakers. Hopefully they’ll come in handy as I continue my national tour of talks!

OREGON GRAPES

Mahonia

Recognise this? Yes, it’s Mahonia aquifolia, the enormously popular, ‘thrives on neglect’ garden plant. What us Brits haven’t cottoned onto though is that those powdery blue fruit are a popular ‘wild food’ staple Stateside – hence the common name ‘Oregon Grapes’. Simmered up into jams, jellies, syrups and sauces, cooking magically transforms their tart, pea-like flavour when raw into sticky, gooey blackcurrant-scented goodness.

INCA GHERKINS (AKA. ACHOCHA)

Achocha

A newcomer to my trial ground this year, these vines from the cucumber family stunned me by their ability to swallow up my beds and borders in scrambling branches loaded with hundreds of curious hedgehoggy fruit – even in this chilly, soggy summer.

You cook ‘em just like a green pepper, with a delicate cucumber flavour and rich, roasted pepper texture.

 CHILEAN GUAVAS 

Chilean Guavas

Reputedly Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit and once widely cultivated in the UK. They have a flavour like a cross between pink guavas and wild strawberries, with a sophisticated myrtle-like fragrance. Hardy down to around -10C, they have to be one of my favourite air-freight free exotic fruit, producing 100′s of berries on just 3 small plants. They are at least twice as productive as blueberries and half as tricky to grow. They are lovely in an autumnal fruit salad with homegrown cocktail kiwis and inca berries. Here is my recipe on how to make it (scroll about half way down the link).

PUMPKIN ‘WINDSOR’

Squash

Don’t ever let it be said that I am against all conventional fruit & veg. Plenty are brilliantly easy & much tastier and cheaper to grow than they are to buy. This year I am growing an infinite variety of tomatoes, dwarf pumpkins (like this little guy in the pic above), runner beans, Florence fennel, beetroot & even some purple carrots and raspberries.

MEADOWSWEET3

COOKING WITH MEADOWSWEET: ELDERFLOWER ONLY BETTER

Posted on: September 1st, 2012 by James Wong 3 Comments

Fragrant, sweet & with a delicate almondiness, meadowsweet is easily one of the most overlooked of all herbs. It even has the power to relieve pain! (Being the original source of aspirin.)

WHAT IS MEADOWSWEET?

MEADOWSWEET

Why meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) isn’ t a standard flavouring all over the world I will never know. With all the floral sweetness and lychee-like flavour of Elderflower ending in a rich marzipan finish, it can be used just like its for common coluinary cousin in all manner of cordials, jellies & even a mean homemade Turkish Delight. The frothy white blossoms pair fantastically with summer fruit like peaches, strawberries and gooseberries.

HOW TO GROW MEADOWSWEET

HOW TO GROW MEADOWSWEET

Being a native wildflower, Meadowsweet is perfectly adapted to our less than idyllic climate, thriving in rich, moist soil. The tall plumes make perfect horticultural bedfellows for the creeping matts of strawberries, with the two working just as well together in the kitchen as they do in the garden.

I have mine planted out with ever-breaing strawberries and the feathery leaves of sweet cicely (another native wildflower) in a chunky woven planter on my sunny patio, where they form a pretty, low maintenance garden feature that thrives on near total neglect under a young Asian pear tree. There are full details on exactly how to grow, cook and eat them in the homegrown revolution manual (i.e. my latest book)

FINDING MEADOWSWEET PLANTS

Loads of herb and wildflower nurseries all over the country stock both the seeds and plants of meadowsweet. You can even order them in a matter of minutes online. Here is a nifty list of suppliers to get you started.

HOW TO COOK & EAT MEADOWSWEET

MEADOWSWEET

Cooking with meadowsweet couldn’t be easier and can be used in all the same ways elderflower can.  My favourites meadowsweet recipes team the herb up with summer fruits like peaches or raspberries. It works incredibly well with the fresh strawberries and sweet cicely (pictured above) both in the garden and in the kitchen. Come early July I gather all three to whip up into simple summer sorbet or blitz into a fruity smoothie (often with a cheeky spoonful of clotted cream whizzed in.) With it’s anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving chemicals, which have a very similar effect to aspirin, I feel that this indulgence can be justified under a medicinal guise.

However this summer was so soggy and wet, I thought what was really needed was something altogether warmer and more comforting so here is my take on a summer rice pudding.

MEADOWSWEET & STRAWBERRY RICE PUDDING

1) STIR 4 sprigs of meadowdweet together in a bowl with 100g of strawberries (wild or cultivated) into quarters & 1 tbsp of sugar. Cover the mix and leave in the fridge to macerate (soak) while you get on with the rest.

2) STEEP Another 8 heads of meadowsweet and 4 large sweet cicely leaves (optional) in 2 pints of whole milk in a saucepan. Flick on the heat and bring to the boil. Just as it begins to simmer take the pan off the heat and leave to infuse for 15 mins.

The sweet cicely adds a very mild hint of aniseed, but more importantly it has the almost miraculous ability to significantly reduce the amount of sugar needed to sweeten the recipe – in fact by up to 50%!

COOKING WITH MEADOWSWEET

3) STRAIN the steeped milk through a sieve to remove the spent flowers and leaves & return this milk to the saucepan.This infused milk also makes a wonderful base of custards, ice creams, panna cottas, creme brûlées and cream caramels.

4) STIR in 100g of pudding rice into the infused milk (this will look way too little – but keep the faith!) & simmer gentley over a medium / low heat for 30 mins or so until cooked, stirring occasionally.

5) MELT in 2 tbsp of butter and 4tbsp of sugar into the cooked rice mixture &  serve with in small bowls with the macerated strawberries spooned over.
MEADOWSWEET DESERT

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat Meadowsweet check out pg 190 of my new book Homegrown Revolution!