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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
OLIVES Olea europea
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!