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Archive for December, 2012

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GROWING INCA BERRIES

Posted on: December 27th, 2012 by James Wong 12 Comments

Sticky, sweet & incredibly exotic, you might not believe it but uber trendy South American inca berries are infinitely easier to grow than the lowly tomato. If you plant just 1 fruit crop next year, make this it!

WHAT ARE INCA BERRIES?

With their delicious tropical fruit flavour of ripe pineapples mixed with fresh kiwis, you might think the shiny golden fruit of inca berries would be terribly tricky to grow in the UK, requiring fancy heated greenhouses and teamfuls of staff. However despite their exotic appearance & chef’s penchant for using them in chic patisserie and posh cocktails, I believe the plants have to be the most overlooked and easiest to grow of all annual fruits.

HOW TO GROW INCA BERRIES

Sown just like their relative the tomato in March or April and planted outdoors when all risk of frost has past, these make super-productive, fast-growing plants that require none of the slavish devotion to feeding, watering & training that their cousins do, yet will provide you with a crop that’s twice as expensive to buy in the shops.

Drought tolerant and resistant to most pests and diseases (including the dreaded blight), come late September you will be rewarded with handfuls of sticky sweet berries for very little work in return.

Given just a little coddling the plants can often prove hardy in most parts of the UK, with my 3 plants kicking out hundreds of fruit every year despite having been left to fend for themselves outdoors over two of the coldest winters in a century. Not bad for a fruit we usually fly in from Colombia hey?

Give ‘em a sheltered spot & a nice thick mulch (an insulating layer of compost laid over their bases) and they should pop back up each spring after being knocked down by December frosts.

Don’t believe me? Well inca berries, under the name ‘Tipparees’, were once a common outdoor crop all over the UK in Victorian times. Mrs Beeton even made jam out of them! Check out my simplified twist on her classic recipe below.

HOW TO EAT INCA BERRIES

Apart from their winning flavour, inca berries also have an extremely long shelf-life, staying fresh for up to 3 months from a September picking – making them the only fresh homegrown berry you can eat on your Christmas dinner table. They are also packed full of pectin, meaning a perfect set for jams & jellies everytime without the need to use fancy jam sugars or adding liquid pectin.

Delicious straight from the bush, simmered up in pies, tumbled into crumbles or even chopped into fruity salsas, the berries are as versatile as they are easy to grow. However above all else, this is my absolute favourite inca berry recipe – shamelessly adapted from a Beetonian classic.

BUTTERED INCA BERRY & PINEAPPLE JAM (Makes 1 jar) 

1) De husk 40 inca berries & slice them in half.

2) Pop all the sliced fruit into a pan with 100g caster sugar and 1/2 cup of pineapple juice & stir together. Bring to the boil and simmer over a medium heat for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

3) After simmering for 15 minutes you will have a pan of softened fruit with wrinkly skins, floating in what looks like a disconcerting amount of syrupy liquid. Don’t panic, this will soon thicken during the next step. Blitz the whole lot up with a stick blender, or alternatively, mash them up with the back of a fork and whisk briskly to combine.

4) Stir in 1/2 tsp of butter until it melts and is entirely incorporated. This comparatively tiny amount of butter entirely transforms the flavour of the jam, turning it from fresh and fruity into something altogether more deep, rich & exotic.

5) Whilst still piping hot pour the mix into sterilised jars (just run ‘em through the dishwasher to do this) & seal the lids. The smoothie-like consistency will soon set on cooling.

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat Inca Berries check out pg 236 of my new book Homegrown Revolution!

 

Raw rhubarb & rosewater daiquiri

RAW RHUBARB: SURPRISING TREAT

Posted on: December 12th, 2012 by James Wong 4 Comments

Crisp, bright & with an almost tropical fruitiness, raw rhubarb is a truly unexpected treat. Swap the simmering for an overnight soaking & transform a ration book staple into something altogether more far-away & exotic.

HOW TO NOT COOK RHUBARB

Despite having been grown for millennia for its medicinal roots, rhubarb’s edible charms were surprisingly only discovered two hundred years ago right here in Old Blighty, making it one of the world’s most modern food crops. This comparatively tiny history as a cook’s ingredient, means that we have only just started tapping into its true culinary potential & amazing versatility – as crisp, raw vegetable for instance. Skeptical? Give a couple of these recipe a go & let me know what you think.

RAW RHUBARB ACHAR - with pineapple, chilies & cashews

Raw rhubarb achar

A cross between a fruity salsa & crisp veggie pickles, Achar is a Malaysian salad that adds a bright, zingy note to rich curries, grilled fish  & satay. Here is my fusion take that uses rhubarb much like green mangos or green papayas to add a fresh zesty note to an old-school street food favourite.

Serves 4 as a side dish

What you need:

2 sticks of forced winter rhubarb (summer rhubarb can be a little tough & stringy), sliced very thinly

1/4 cucumber, finely sliced into bite-sized pieces

1/4 pineapple, finely sliced into bite-sized pieces

1/4 red onion, finely sliced

1 red chili, finely slice

1 tbsp of sugar

1/4 tsp of salt

2 tbsp of white vinegar

1 small sprig of mint, finely chopped

2 tbsp of roast cashews, finely chopped.

What to do:

1. Combine all the ingredients, except for the cashews, in a large mixing bowl and toss together to combine.

2.Cover and pop in the fridge for the flavours to meld overnight (or for at least 2 hours). The vinegar will part pickle the vegetables, with the sugar and salt will drawing out the excess moisture & making them firmer and crisper.

3.Before serving, drain off the excess liquid & scatter over the roast cashews.

4.Serve cold with grilled fish, rich curries or satay.

RAW RHUBARB COMPOTE – with candied ginger & pistachios

Fresh & zesty this super-simple raw compote is a world away from the soggy, over-boiled school dinner version.

Serves 4

What you need:

2 sticks of forced winter rhubarb, sliced very thinly

5 dried apricots, finely diced

2 tbsp of sultanas, finely chopped

1 tbsp candied ginger

1 tbsp honey

1 tbsp sugar

The juice & zest of 1/2 a lime

2 tbsp pistachios, halved

What to do:

1. Tip all the ingredients together in a small mixing bowl and toss to combine.

2. Cover and place in the fridge overnight (or for at least 2 hours) to let the flavours meld.

3. Serve with greek yoghurt & granola, with french toast & clotted cream or even as a sweet chutney with cheese and crackers.

RAW RHUBARB DAIQUIRI – with rosewater & strawberries

Raw rhubarb & rosewater daiquiri

For a glimpse of summer right in the depths of winter, nothing beats this concoction of rhubarb, rosewater & strawberries.

Makes 4 glasses

What you need:

4 sticks of forced winter rhubarb, sliced into chunks

The juice and zest of 1 lime

100g of caster sugar

5 frozen strawberries (fresh will work just fine too)

2 tsp rosewater

100ml tonic water

2 shots of white rum

What to do:

1.Whizz all the ingredients in a blender until you get a smooth pulp.

2.Strain the pulp through a sieve & pour over glasses full of ice.

3.Scatter over a few thin shards of rhubarb and lime slices.

CUCAMELONS INTRO

CUCAMELONS: GRAPE-SIZED CUKES

Posted on: December 2nd, 2012 by James Wong 73 Comments

Doll’s house-sized ‘watermelons’ that taste of pure cucumber with a tinge of lime. These little guys are officially the cutest food known to man & oh-so-easy to grow even for real beginners. Let me show you how to get started…

HOW TO GROW CUCAMELONS:

Cucamelons can be grown in pretty much the exact same way as regular cucumbers, only they are far easier. They don’t need the cover of a greenhouse, fancy pruning or training techniques and suffer from very few pests. Sow the seed from April to May indoors and plant out when all risk of frost is over. Give them a support the scramble over, keep well watered and that’s pretty much all you will need to do!

Harvest them when they are the size of a grape, but still nice and firm.

They make pretty, high-yielding vines that can be planted really close together to get the most out of a small space – as little as 15cm between plants around a trellis.

My harvest from just 4 plants!

FINDING CUCAMELON SEEDS:

Want to know where you can get your hands a little plant?

I have teamed up with the lovely plant geeks at Suttons Seeds to sell Cucamelon Seeds as part a brand new ‘Homegrown Revolution’ range of weird and wonderful edibles. Why now check ‘em out?

HOW TO EAT CUCAMELONS:

The fruit can be eaten straight off the plant, or tossed with olives, slivers of pepper and a dousing of olive oil. Perfect for a quirky snack with drinks – or even popped like an olive in a cheeky martini.

PICKLED CUCAMELONS WITH MINT & DILL

To preserve their virtues right in to the depth of winter, you can even make cucamelon dill pickles. Fantastic in a simple ham sandwich or with a fancy cheeseboard.

 

They can be pickled whole, however slicing these little fruit in half and pre-salting them will result in far more crisp result – not to mention that fact that they will be ready in half the time.

Pre-salting simply involves sprinkling the sliced fruit with a really generous amount of sea salt in a colander (about 1 tbsp per cup of cucamelons) and setting them over a bowl for 20 minutes or so. This will draw out the excess water from the fruit, which prevents the fruit from diluting the vinegar during the pickling process.

After the 20 minutes are up give them a good rinse, pat dry with some paper towels and you are ready to go!

You can flavour the pickling vinegar with anything you fancy. My favourite mix combines dill, mint, pickling spice and a sprinkling of pink peppercorns. Add a generous sprinkling of sugar and salt and stir the mix to combine.

Adding an (optional) scrunched up vine or oak leaf will further help ensure a crisp result, as the tannins in the leaves will inhibit natural enzymes within the fruit that can cause softness.

Top up with a good quality vinegar to cover the fruit, seal the jar and give it a good shake.

Pop it in the fridge and they will be ready in a just a week!

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat Cucamelons check out pg 101 of my new book Homegrown Revolution!

November Harvest

MY NOVEMBER HARVEST

Posted on: December 2nd, 2012 by James Wong 2 Comments

Temperatures may be plummeting but there are still plenty of edible treats out there in the 21st century veggie patch. From saffron to sweet potatoes, chilly weather need not mean a season of bland, boring food!

MY HARVEST ON 16th OCTOBER

My November Harvest

FROM THE TOP DOWN: SWEET POTATOES, INCA BERRIES, BARBERRIES, SAFFRON, DWARF PUMPKIN, GOLDEN HUCKLEBERRIES, JAPANESE QUINCE & OLIVES.

My November Harvest

Just a quick peek at a small selection of what I’ve been scoffing this November. As always, everything has been grown outdoors in my tiny 5 x 5m front garden this (undeniably soggy) summer. Scroll on down to learn what they all are and how you scoff ‘em. :)

SWEET POTATOES  Ipomea batatas

Sweet potatoes

Despite a truly miserable summer I was really impressed with my sweet potato plants which offered up nearly 4 kilos of mini ‘new’ sweet potatoes from a modest 2m square bed.

After a couple of years of trial and error my secrets to success are picking the right varieties (this is absolutely essential) & starting the plants off not from ‘slips’ (limp cuttings posted out by mail order companies) but from vigorous established small plants that a few companies have now started stocking in the spring. I plant mine out in a raised bed, enriched with loads of organic matter in the sunniest, warmest spot available, then just let them get on with it.

My favourites varieties so far are ‘Beauregard’, the orange fleshed, orange skinned ones in the photo above, and ‘T65′ with their bright pink skin and creamy white interior. Although looks and flavourwise ‘Beauregard’ the closest possible match to the traditional supermarket kind, I can’t recommend enough going that extra mile and hunting down alternatives like ‘T65′, with its intense flavour that’s virtually identical to rose cordial. Stunning made into chips, wedges, boiled or even grated raw into salads and coleslaw. Yum!

INCA BERRIES Physalis peruviana

Inca berries

Mega productive & super easy-to-grow, the shiny golden fruit of Inca berries have to be the most overlooked fruit crop for UK growers. My 3 plants kick out hundreds of fruit every year despite having been left to fend for themselves outdoors over two of the coldest winters in a century. Not bad for a fruit we usually fly in from Colombia hey? Give ‘em a sheltered spot & a nice thick mulch (an insulating layer of compost laid over their bases) and they should pop back up each spring after being knocked down by December frosts.

Don’t believe me? Well Inca berries, under the name ‘Tipparees’, were once a common outdoor crop all over the UK in Victorian times. Mrs Beeton even had jam recipe for them. Look out for a post on this in the very near future….

JAPANESE QUINCES Chaenomeles japonica

Japanese Quince

These might be an incredibly common plant, grown all over the UK as a popular garden ornamental for its stunning satin petals, but for some arcane reason the delicious perfumed fruit of this neglect-proof bush have stayed well under the foodie radar.

Japanese Quince Flowers

THE STUNNING SPRING FLOWERS OF JAPANESE QUINCES

A quick-growing, patio-sized bush that can be shoe-horned into even the smallest garden, these neat little shrubs will reward you with great handfuls of freckled yellow fruit and scarlet spring blossom for the 10 minutes it takes you to plant them.

Japanese Quince Liqueur

MAKING ‘KARINSHU’ (JAPANESE QUINCE LIQUEUR). CLICK ON THE PIC FOR A LINK TO A GREAT RECIPE FROM KYOTOFOODIE.COM.

Just like with European quinces, a touch of sugar miraculously turns the raw fruit from rock hard and mouth dryingly astringent into a true culinary treat of deep, perfumed mellowness. In fact they can be cooked and eaten in exactly the same ways as their European cousins in jellies, jams & pies. However undoubtedly my favourite recipe is to turn them into ‘Karinshu’ a traditional Japanese liqueur that can be enjoyed both as a delicious after dinner drink or as a throat-soothing cough medicine, apparently hugely popular with public speakers and actors in Japan.

Wanna know more? Check out this brilliant website all about this much-underestimated exotic crop. How to grow, cook & eat Japanese Quince.

SAFFRON Crocus sativus

Saffron

The world’s most expensive spice worth literally its weight in gold, saffron is nevertheless far easier to grow than onions in our cold, blustery climate. Despite its exotic and heat-loving image, saffron is actually a thoroughly British crop and was once grown here on a massive commercial scale for over a thousand years. Given its mood-boosting & mildly psychoactive properties I have no idea why we ever stopped! Wanna know more? I’ve written a whole post on it (plus a fun saffron martini recipe) right here. A very British saffron harvest

BARBERRIES  Berberis thunbergii

Barberries

Another boring UK garden plant that lives a double life as a huge commercial crop and much loved delicacy in other countries, the tangy, cranberry-flavoured fruit of the barberry is an essential ingredient in the cuisines of Iran, Lebanon & Turkey.

In fact made into a crystal-clear jelly, the fruit were once a key part of a whole range of Victorian dishes, served like redcurrant jelly with cheese or roast meats like lamb and game.

Persian Barberry Chicken

PERSIAN BARBERRY CHICKEN WITH SAFFRON RICE. CLICK FOR THE FULL RECIPE.

OLIVES Olea europea

Olives

Last but certainly not least, here’s a little cheat, my harvest of UK grown green olives thanks to the generosity of one of my neighbours. Watch out for a post on this (including a recipe for curing them) in the near future.

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat everything in this post check out my new book Homegrown Revolution!