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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.

Rumtopf

HOMEGROWN RUMTOPF RECIPE

Posted on: November 8th, 2012 by James Wong 1 Comment

Sweet, sugary & with a deadly kick, there is no more indulgent (or easy-to-make) homegrown Christmas present than a jar of rumtopf. And there’s just about enough time to knock one up right now with the last autumn fruit…

WHAT IS RUMTOPF?

A traditional German Christmas treat, Rumtopf (literally meaning ‘rum pot’) is made by simply layering a small handful of each of your fruit harvests throughout the year into a glass jar and topping it up with sweetened (and often spiced) rum. Come December a whole 365 days of harvests can be enjoyed – as if by magic – in just one deliciously sugary, boozy concoction. Somewhere in between a fruit compote and a fragrant liqueur, it’s a wonderful way to use up odds and ends of your harvests creating probably the most simple, yet dangerously indulgent treat known to man.

MY NOVEMBER RUMTOPF HARVEST

THIS MONTH’S HAUL INCLUDES (FROM TOP DOWN) BARBERRIES, INCA BERRIES, ARONIA BERRIES, GOLDEN HUCKLEBERRIES, CHILEAN GUAVAS, ASIAN PEARS, WINTERGREEN BERRIES & JAPANESE QUINCES.

As November marks the last few fruit harvests of the year I dashed out today to gather the last few layers for a few rumtopf jars that I’ve been working on through the summer. You don’t have to be a forward-planning geek like me either, if you have a glut of autumn fruit you still just about have time to start your own – as the mix needs at least 6 weeks for the fruity mix to surrender their flavours to the sugar rum bath.

MY HOMEGROWN RUMTOPF RECIPE

FROM TOP: ASIAN PEAR, JAPANESE QUINCES & CHILEAN GUAVAS

All you need to do is wash and slice up any of the larger fruit and you are good to go. This year I made two versions, one using a little bit of everything that took my fancy & another which combines the three fruit in the pic above (Asian pears, Japanese quinces and Chilean guavas) for my own oriental slant on ‘Murta con Membrillo’ – a traditional Chilean dessert using guavas and quinces steeped in booze.

THIS SEASON’S FRUIT (ON TABLE) ABOUT TO BE JOIN THE EARLIER HARVESTS IN THE SUGARY, SPICED RUM

I have been working on making a few jars of rumtopf since July, creating layers of everything fro homegrown strawberries, figs & cocktail kiwis as the seasons have progressed. As new fruit come into season, simply pop another scattering of each into a Kilner jar and top up with 1 part sugar dissolved into 3 parts white rum.

A FULL JAR ABOUT READY FOR TOPPING UP.

Pretty much any fruit is a perfect candidate for making rumtopf, but I would stay away from very watery stuff like melons (which can dilute the rum) or particularly dark coloured fruit like like blackberries, which can stain the liqueur so dark you can’t see the contents. You can even plonk in a vanilla bean, sliver or two of lemon zest or cinnamon stick if you fancy. However with the zesty, herb-like fragrances of the Chilean guavas and wintergreen berries I decided to skip the spices this year.

The only trick you need to bare in mind is to keep the fruit well immersed in the rum mixture. Lots of people recommend placing a clean saucer on top of the fruit to keep them submerged, although this hasn’t really been a problem for me. Now pop the lid on and keep it hidden away from prying eyes in a cool, dark place until Christmas.

ALL SET FOR CHRISTMAS!

After at least 6 weeks (but preferably up to 3 months of steeping) you are ready to get greedy! Rumtopf is delicious spooned over yoghurt, ice cream or even stirred into mincemeat for some blinding mince pies. So what the hell are you waiting for? Go on out and have a go!

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CHILEAN GUAVAS

Posted on: November 8th, 2012 by James Wong 17 Comments

Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit, these intensely fragrant berries somehow manage to combine the flavours of wild strawberries, pink guavas and a hint of candy floss. Easily the ultimate foodmile-free exotic fruit!

WHAT ARE CHILEAN GUAVAS?

MY FIRST CHILEAN GUAVA HARVEST IN SEPTEMBER (I WAS SCOFFING THEM UNTIL YESTERDAY!)

Hailing from the wilds of Southern Chile, these impossibly exotic mini-guavas were surprisingly once commercially cultivated all over the South West of Britain in Victorian times. Yet fast forward 150 years and the  only mention of this popular ornamental plant’s berries in gardening texts usually refers to how to get the stains out of your patio!

Funnily enough that doesn’t stop specialist food importers flying them in from the other side of the planet, labelling them as a ‘tropical’ fruit & charging a small fortune for tiny punnets. Strange really since they might already be sitting planted in the back gardens of the customers who pay through the nose for them. :)

A GUAVA BY ANY OTHER NAME….

FROM TOP LEFT: ‘TAZZIBERRIES’ FLOWN IN FROM AUSTRALIA, CHILEAN GUAVA AND QUINCE IN SYRUP AT A SANTIAGO FARMERS’ MARKET & MY UK HARVEST. TRICKY TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE HEY?

Enterprising Aussie growers have now rebranded the fruit  as”Tazziberries” and Kiwi farmers are fighting back with the equally catchy “New Zealand Cranberries”. In their native country of Chile too there is keen interest in turning this common woodland berry into a major global crop, where they are simmered up into all manner of syrups, jams & liqueurs – often combined with fresh quinces. Yet with the plants positively revelling in the UK’s cool, maritime climate – they after all hail from a similar region to the monkey puzzle tree – why on earth has it taken us Brits so long to catch on to their charms?

HOW TO GROW CHILEAN GUAVAS

WITH STUNNING, SCENTED FLOWERS & SHINY EVERGREEN LEAVES, NO WONDER CHILEAN GUAVAS ARE ALREADY A POPULAR ORNAMENTAL PLANT. WHO KNOWS? YOU MIGHT HAVE ONE IN YOUR GARDEN ALREADY!

Chilean guavas can be grown just like their relatives the blueberries, albeit being far more high-yielding and less fussy about the ericaceous (acid soiled) growing conditions that their super-fussy, super-fruit cousins demand. They have evergreen leaves and deliciously fragrant lily of the valley-like flowers & are even ignored by birds that would otherwise decimate a blueberry patch. Could it get any better?

Their only let down is their slight frost sensitivity, so if you are gardening up North site them in against a south-facing wall and drape them in a layer of horticultural fleece when hard frosts are forecast. If you are a nervous disposition, you can even give them a home in a pot on a sunny patio and bring them a home on a covered porch or cold greenhouse over winter.

CHILEAN GUAVA RECIPES

With a exotic fragrance and familiar strawberry-like fruitiness, Chilean guavas are one of the most versatile berries in the kitchen – not to mention my favourite fruit. I love munching them straight off the plant, studding them through cupcakes, simmering ‘em into jams or plopping ‘em into booze with generous sprinkle of sugar to make truly heavenly liqueurs.

AUTUMNAL FRUIT SALAD WITH CHILEAN GUAVAS

This is so simple it really doesn’t need a recipe. Just tumble the Chilean guavas with a mix of whatever fruit you fancy (here I have used homegrown inca berries and cocktail kiwis) over some really good quality Greek yoghurt, drizzle over some honey & attack with a spoon. True autumnal bliss.

CHILEAN GUAVA HOTCAKES  

With vanilla ricotta & Chilean guava-scented maple syrup

A super-simple twist on the classic blueberry hotcakes, simply press a few fresh berries into the batter of these door-stop-thick American-style pancakes as they cook. True heaven doused with a maple-syrup scented by a quick simmer with a scattering of any extra berries that didn’t make it into the hotcakes.

For the full recipe check out my new book Homegrown Revolution

RUMTOPF WITH CHILEAN GUAVAS

In their native Southern Chile, the most popular way to enjoy these little berries is steeped in a sugary blend of rum & sliced quinces – an interesting fusion of the region’s German & Spanish foodie heritages. All you need to do is fill a Kilner jar with layers of sliced quinces & sprinklings of guavas (all whatever fruit you fancy) and top up with a mix of 1 part sugar diluted in 3 parts rum. Leave to sit in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks and scoff spooned over a decent quality vanilla ice-cream.

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat Chilean guavas check out pg 259 of my new book Homegrown Revolution!

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!