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january harvest small

MY JANUARY HARVEST

Posted on: February 1st, 2013 by James Wong 8 Comments

I braved the ice & snow of a truly bitter January morning to share this little haul with you.

Just coz it’s bone chillin out doesn’t mean you can’t eat well in the 21st Century veg garden.

MY HARVEST ON 16TH JANUARY 2013

It might still be dull and grey outdoors, but just an inch or two below the frozen ground is a buried stash of all manner of weird and wonderful root veg – from florescent purple carrots to sugary skirret. Here’s just a small selection of the kinds of stuff I’ve been scoffing through January…

CARROT ‘DEEP PURPLE’

Purple carrots are becoming increasingly trendy these days in seed catalogues and farmers markets everywhere. Yet the single variety they all stock, ‘Purple Haze’, rather frustratingly only has a thin purple skin, being otherwise boring old orange at its core. What a swizz!

‘Deep Purple’ though (as the name suggests) is darkest burgundy right to its very heart, coming packed full of powerful antioxidants & with the most intensely sweet carroty flavour. These easily knock the socks of any of the ubiquitous supermarket types on every count, from flavour to nutrition.

Although sadly not (yet) stocked by any major catalogues on this side of the Atlantic, for just the cost of a pint or two the many Stateside suppliers will happily deliver the seeds to you anywhere in the world. I picked mine up from Tradewinds Fruit.

Intrigued? Look out for a post on making ‘Deep Purple’ carrot cake with these in a couple of weeks!

SKIRRET Sium sisarum

See these long white roots that look like stretched out parsnips? These are skirret: an ancient British crop cultivated on these islands long before its notoriously tricky-to-grow supermarket cousin (the parsnip) & with a infinitely more crisp, sugary bite. They are also perennial, meaning you will get years of harvests from a single 5-minute planting, just make sure to leave a couple in the ground (tasty as they may be) for next season.

Cook ‘em just like you would parsnips – roasted, mashed or boiled – with thier slightly higher starch content making them even more rich and comforting in the dark days of winter. You can even crunch into them raw like little white sugar sticks – in fact the word “skirret” comes from a corruption of its Dutch name meaning “sugar root”

PERUVIAN GROUND APPLE Smallanthus sonchifolius

The great white sweet potato look-a-likes in this picture are they fresh, crisp roots of the Peruvian Ground Apple – which taste somewhere like a cross between Asian pears and waterchestnuts. Probably the single most productive root veg you can grow in the UK (at least for me) capable of producing yields of up to 10kg per plant under ideal conditions.

Curious to know how to grow, cook & eat them? Watch this space for an imminent blog post on exactly how to do this in the next couple of weeks.

CHINESE ARTICHOKES

Vegetarian ‘witchetty grubs’ with a fresh, nutty crunch. Sadly the continuous driving rain last year didn’t agree with them at all, meaning that instead of being pure creamy white and semi translucent, this year’s tubers sadly aren’t the best quality. This is such a shame as my little clump have kicked out fistfuls of perfect specimens for the last 4 years without fail. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Hugely popular in Japanese, Chinese & French cuisine, they are lovely raw in salads, served as cruditee or briefly pan roasted with lardons and butter. However arguably the most popular way to serve them in Asia is lightly pickled in a sweet brine – often flavoured and coloured with the bright red leaves of Japanese Beefsteak plants (check the pic below, without a single e-number in sight). Truly amazing as part of an Eastern-inspired ploughman’s lunch. Yum!

December Harvest

MY DECEMBER HARVEST

Posted on: January 6th, 2013 by James Wong 3 Comments

Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of foodie treats in the 21st Century veg garden. Behold the dazzling world of exotic root veg that absolutely anyone can grow, even on our chilly little island.

MY HARVEST ON 21st DECEMBER

As the frosts start to bite, fruit and leafy greens are making way for a bumper harvest of root veg. With this year being almost apocalyptic for potato growers, it’s great to see so many of the more exotic tubers – from New Zealand yams to Dahlia roots – fairing so well, as if completely unaware of the scourge of blight that has devastated spud growers. Plus a couple of other exciting bits and pieces – let me walk you through them….

NEW ZEALAND YAMS  Oxalis tuberosa

No photoshop I promise! These highlighter-pink, mini-spuds are the tart Bramley apple-flavoured tubers of New Zealand Yams. Second only in importance to the potato to the Incas, these natives of the Peruvian highlands (ignore their rather misleading common name) are by far my favourite spud substitute.

Coming in a range of dazzling colours from ivory white to deep purple, they are as versatile to eat as they are to look at. Raw they have a fresh acidic crunch, more like a fruit than a root veg, but once cooked this all but disappears, leaving a much more conventional Jersey royal-type flavour. Look out for my upcoming blog post on these (including recipes) very soon.

DAHLIA ‘YAMS’ Dahlia sp.

The pointy, white ‘sweet potatoes’ in this snap are the roots of the common garden Dahlia, originally introduced to our shores from Mexico not as an ornamental but a promising root veg much loved by the Aztecs.

Their sweet, waxy tubers are a delicious blight-resistant veg at this time of year after a summer of showy flowers. Just make sure not to scoff ‘am all or you won’t have any plants next year. :)

Skeptical? I’ll be blogging about these guys in greater depth (including a recipe) in a week or two, so watch this space!

INCA BERRRIES Physalis peruviana

The plants might have been well and truly blasted by a couple of hard frosts in the middle of the month, but the fruit in their little lantern-like cases have remained well and truly intact. Cutting the frosted stems down, I picked off dozens of these little fellas to chuck into winter fruit salads for that last taste of summer sunshine in the depths of a rather soggy winter.

TASMANIAN MOUNTAIN PEPPER Tasmannia lanceolata

A tough and reliable evergreen, the glossy dark green foliage and burgundy stems of the Tasmanian Mountain Pepper make it an increasingly popular garden plant all over the UK. What most people don’t know however is that its fragrant leaves – that taste like a cross between fiery wasabi & fragrant bay leaves – are an uber trendy spice Down Under, found in all sorts of bush tucker herb blends (even McCormick make one). Amazing dried, crushed and seared onto steaks, steeped into Bolognese sauce or soaked in the marinate for a truly stunning BBQ chicken. Yum!

MASHUA Tropaeloum tuberosum

A close relative of the common garden nasturtium, these stunning mini radishes are the tubers of another Andean root veg known as mashua. Vigourous and virtually indestructable, these vines are resistant to drought, pests, poor soils and virtually anything else that can be thrown at them.

MASHUA FLOWERS

They even come with pretty flowers to boot, in fact they are already grown in gardens all over the UK as a garden ornamental. Now here comes the catch, while I love their flavour – somewhere between chestnuts and vanilla – they are often described as the marmite of the veg kingdom – either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Intrigued? Well there is only one way to find out.

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat everything in this post check out 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!

Octoberslider

MY OCTOBER HARVEST

Posted on: October 29th, 2012 by James Wong 8 Comments

Get the low down on what’s growing on at my trial ground this month. From musk melons and Asian pears to Chilean guavas and golden huckleberries, autumnal eating could be so much more exciting than spuds & swedes.

MY HARVEST ON 9th OCTOBER

FROM TOP DOWN: MUSK MELONS, CHILEAN GUAVAS, ASIAN PEARS, INCA BERRIES, GOLDEN HUCKLEBERRIES, TOMATOS, INCA GHERKINS & TOMATILLOS.

The leaves might be falling, but October is still a hugely productive season in the fruit & vegetable garden. Here are a quick couple of snaps of the harvests from my tiny 5x5m suburban front garden, all grown outdoors in a soggy Croydon summer.

MY HARVEST ON 23rd OCTOBER

FROM TOP DOWN: SQUASH ‘SUNBURST’, TOMATO ‘ORANGINO’, PUMPKIN ‘WINDSOR’, CUCAMELONS, INCA BERRIES, CHILEAN GUAVAS, GOLDEN HUCKLEBERRIES & DWARF TAMARILLOS

With the first frosts forecast I dashed out to gather all my fruit crops before they got clobbered. Notice that while the tomatoes (widely thought of as an easy-to-grow common veg crop) weren’t able to fully mature outdoors, the more exotic stuff ripened up absolutely fine.

TOMATILLOS (Physalis philadelphica)

Deliciously tart Mexican tomato-relatives that taste like a cross between a zesty lime and a beefsteak tomato. These guys are truly spectacular in salsas, dips or spreads & absolutely essential to the culinary arsenal of any ‘South of the Border’ food fanatic.

Fantastically easy-to-grow, and with a single fruit costing up to £2 in fancy ethnic delis, I don’t know why they aren’t more popular with us Brits. Fancy giving them a go? The seeds are part of my new Suttons Seeds range available to buy right here.

CHILEAN GUAVAS (Myrtus ugni aka. Ugni mollinae)

Reputedly Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit, Chilean guavas are infinitely easier to grow than a boring old blueberry yet far more delicious. Once cultivated commercially all over the South West, their flavour somehow combines the fragrance of exotic pink guavas with the fruitiness of ripe red strawbs, ending in a curious candy floss like sugariness. Pure heaven for the incorrigibly sweet-toothed.

MUSK MELON ‘EMIR’ (Cucumis melo ‘Emir’)

Thought growing melons outdoors in the UK was an impossibility? Well think again! A new generation of early-ripening, ‘personal sized’ melons like the variety ‘Emir’ have been specifically bred for the UK climate, which will fruit outdoors quite happily given a warm, sunny site.

Chose a grafted plant & give ‘em the shelter of a cloche while establishing (OK, I know this is slightly cheating) and outdoor melons a real possibility throughout pretty much the whole of the UK – not just the balmy south.

Fancy giving them a go? The seeds are part of my new Suttons Seeds range available to buy right here.

 INCA BERRIES (Physalis peruviana)

MY TWO INCA BERRY PLANTS, EACH OF WHICH KICKS OUT UP TO 100 BERRIES EACH SUMMER.

The impossibly exotic shiny, golden berries each come wrapped in their own papery ‘chinese lantern’. Combining the flavours of pineapple, kiwi & peaches, hailing from Peru and originally domesticated by the Inca, you might think they were impossible to grow in the UK without a Eden Project style biodome.

Yet incredibly these plants were once widely cultivated outdoors in Victorian Britain (they actually fruit quite poorly in the warmth of a greenhouse). Mrs Beeton even had a jam recipe for them, calling them by their Victorian name ‘Tipparees’. Look out for a post on my 21st century take on this in a few weeks. :)

The best thing about this food-mile free exotic fruit? Kept in their papery calyxes (cases) and popped in the fridge they have a shelf life of up to 3 months, making them the only homegrown berry you can eat fresh on your Christmas dinner table.

Add to that their ridiculous resistance to drought, pests and even light frosts, not to mention their sky high vitamin content & this has to be one of the most foolproof crops that can be grown in the UK.

Wanna get hold of the seed? They are part of my new Suttons Seeds range available to buy right here.

GOLDEN HUCKLEBERRIES (Solanum villosum)

These guys were new to my trials this year & boy did they prove their merit. Combining a rich apricot-like flavour and mega-productive habit, so far just three plants have thrown up over a kilo of berries. A relatively new introduction from Africa these plants are closely-related to our native common weed the black nightshade and have proved (for me at least) to be equally indestructible.

My only complaint about them is that the berries have a habit of bursting when removed from their little clusters, which can make them a little fiddley to prepare. It is also important to only harvest them when they have turned bright orange and are on the soft side, as half-ripened yellow fruit have only a bland, tomato-like flavour until they reach their full golden ripeness. In fact, I had initially dismissed them as flavourless and boring when I first picked them in July, until tasting them again several weeks later to discover that they had miraculously gone from watery to apricot cordial in a fortnight or two.

Wanna get your hands on some? I got mine from Plant World Seeds, who have a great range of weird & wonderful edibles. Definitely a site worth checking out for the experimental foodie grower.

PUTTING THEM ALL TOGETHER….

MY MUSK MELON, INCA BERRY, CHILEAN GUAVA & GOLDEN HUCKLEBERRY HARVEST IN EARLY OCTOBER.

FOOD-MILE FREE FRUIT SALAD 

A rinse, slice and sprinkle of homemade lemongrass cordial later & here was what I was scoffing: all the flavour of a pool-side cocktail, grown outdoors in sunny Croydon.

TOMATOES!

Never let it be said that I’m anti-conventional veg. I’m no exotic crop Nazi & love growing traditional stuff like heritage tomatoes, sweetcorn, beetroot & fancy coloured carrots alongside more exotic fodder. If it’s easy-to-grow and more exciting to eat than its supermarket cousin, I’ll give just about anything a go.

For full instructions on how to grow, cook and eat Tomatillos, Musk Melons, Chilean Guavas & Inca Berries Cucamelons check out 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.