Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Bean Feast November 2014 – Top of the crops

Flavour is one of the main reasons most people grow their own food. You might be able to buy bags of low cost veg in the supermarket, but you can never replicate that just picked, fresh, harvest taste and by growing your own, you can have ingredients that are hard to find in the shops, and food that you have raised to your own high standards.

Outside my greenhouse at the moment is a young crab apple tree, still dripping with perfect mini apples. There’s enough there to make a few pots of crab apple jelly and leave plenty for the birds for the winter too. When frosted and frozen the remaining fruit is excellent fodder for the ground feeders, such as blackbirds and thrushes, when there is little else around. The great thing about crab apples is that they are packed full of pectin, so any jams and jellies will set no problem and it all turns the most beautiful shade of pale pink that looks just beautiful in the jars.

Inside the greenhouse a compact chilli bears a handful of fat, rich red fruit, ripe for picking. Of course you can buy these readily in the supermarkets, but it’s much more fun growing your own. Add the chillies to the crab apples as you boil them all up and it creates wonderful warmth to the jelly. You can also add ginger root if you have some, though I have never added chilli and ginger together.

The tart, fruity, warm taste is delicious with peanut butter (the palm oil free variety) and some toasted pitta breads and you’ve got a very easy veggie brunch.

Grow Your Own is all about flavour; Flavour that money can rarely buy. The greenhouse adds a whole new dimension to enhancing flavour, it concentrates the warmth of the sun and helps keep your plants and harvest sheltered from excessive rain, to keep the flavour intense. It’s well known that stressed plants make more sugars and have a better taste than mass-produced, pampered equivalents. And I’m sure there’s a lot to be said for small crops that are tended and nurtured carefully and every gram savoured and relished than for crops that result in gluts that you often can’t give away.

Taste Trials

The greenhouse is sprouting winter salads at the moment. Pots of lambs lettuce, mustards and the last delicious, sun ripened tomatoes. It’s been a season of taste with a few new experiences. Some good and some bad.

I trialed the TomTato this season from Thompson & Morgan (http://www.thompson-morgan.com). An interesting graft between tomato on the top and potato underneath. The tomatoes have cropped all summer and are still ripening on one plant. The potatoes? Well I ate them, but they were few and far between. One plant produced four, less than a lb. in weight in total, and another just one, I kept rummaging through the roots to find more, but that was it, and the other plant had made eight pretty small ones. But I loved growing them, loved the new take on the age old technique of grafting and secretly enjoyed knowing that deep below my productive tomatoes, some potatoes were lurking.

It was a precious harvest in more ways than one, and each potato carefully washed and roasted with some root veg to preserve their vital taste. Delicious but disappointingly meager.

I also fell for the fantastic marketing campaign for the Cucamelon this year (http://www.suttons.co.uk). These mouse size melons, with all the livery of a full sized watermelon packed into a tiny stripy green fruit that would be perfect for a doll’s house banquet, look divine. Just don’t get overexcited by them. They are not called the Mexican Sour Gherkin for nothing. Taste is subjective, and maybe it was the hot summer concentrating the sours, but yuck. I won’t be growing them again next year. But that’s all part of the fun of growing. You need to try new things and push the boundaries a bit. If we all liked the same things, life would be incredibly boring. With a garden and greenhouse you can experiment with plants and grow some ingredients that are hard to find or costly to buy and maybe even invent some of your own. Some things won’t grow in our climate, even with a trusty greenhouse, but there are plenty of great things that will, like peaches, mustards, saffron, strawberries, herbs and Jerusalem artichokes. Widen your garden and greenhouse repertoire and try something new.