James Wong's - Homegrown Revolution

Posts Tagged ‘Inca Berries’

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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!

 

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!

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!