Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Still Life With Vegetable

 Okay, today I have some Classic Examples of Vegetables for you to consider this winter as you sit round the table reading garden catalogues as they come in. What's good about seeing Classic Examples of Vegetables from someone else's garden is that they can be vastly more informative than what you might see on the packet itself. And yes, I'm talking to you White Sprouting Broccoli.

First, a Mouse Melon. This might not be a familiar plant to many of you now but I feel fairly confident you'll see more of it next year, because it's an oddly compelling and weird-tasting example of a miniature cucumber. I bought it as a seedling. It was small, slightly shrivelled, and looked in imminent need of a quick death. I stuck it in my beautiful fabulous glorious new glass greenhouse and its managed to rebrand itself as an Octopus of Goliath proportions, all the while covered in these teeny watermelon dopplegangers. It's, as we like to say in my family, strangely compelling.

I'm going to try to propagate this but wish me luck, because cucumbers and I, while I love to make things with them, have never really clicked in the garden. Or let's say that they underperform and I watch, uncomprehending.

Touchstone Gold Beets. This shot is so gorgeous it's verging on Foodie Porn, don't you think? (that's why you're getting the Full Frontal Assault Shot) This is what a beet should look like: globular, firm, squeaky-leafed, and glowing with colour. And to think that it all happened because I paid careful attention to the spacing requirements on the packet. Never done that before.

Here's a Tomato Size Tutorial (from left to right): Mortgage Lifter, Tibetan Bush, Taxi, I Don't Know, Tigerella, Yellow Pear, Sungold.

The Mortgage Lifter really is a giant - those ones are bigger than the spread of my palm. The Tigerella is slightly green because we've had a few days of torrential downpours and they are starting to crack, so I'm picking them earlier because I don't want a deluge of slightly green tomatoes to deal with. The I Don't Know might be a poorly shaped San Marzano but I genuinely don't know; we have the squirrel with no tail to thank for this: she broke into the cold frame and dug up everything (and scattered the plant tags in the process). Even more irritatingly, it took some Official Fruiting to sort out the pumpkins, which she even MORE irritatingly dug up THREE TIMES. What is it about a pumpkin root that she liked so much?

Which tomatoes do we like the best? At the moment the cherries and the Tigerellas are winning out, simply because they are the most adaptable, not to mention prolific. We've been slicing them  in half and dowsing them with pesto. Putting them on toast, with a scattering of cayenne. Making bake pasta dishes. The rest I skin, puree, then store in the fridge for canning. This year I mixed some leftover peach butter with some Taxi puree, added a few cherry tomatoes, some chilies and hey presto we had the most amazing salsa. The other quality in Tigerella's favour is its sheer productiveness: it produces more tomatoes per plant than any variety I've ever grown. (Tip: when saving seed use the biggest Tigerella tomato you can find on the plant, so you get good-sized fruit)

Blue Lake Beans: first time growing these. I usually grow Scarlet Runners but these are nice - I'm liking the smooth skin more than I thought I would. I'll probably grow these again.

The only trouble (if this could be called a trouble) with beans is that they come in veritable onslaughts. In some ways they are better than zucchini at Building Self Esteem For The First Time Gardener. It takes a lot for a bean to do poorly.

In my experience beans are one of the most useful items to put in your freezer: for use in soups, chow mein, omelets, or even as a side dish or thawed on a salad. And because of their onslaught-like qualities I can freeze enough to last us all winter. Simply pick, top and tail, slice thinly (on a bit of a diagonal), then blanch and freeze in small ziplocks. I do a number of them in one go, package them like rectangular flat envelopes, and freeze them lined up on a cookie sheet. Once they've frozen remove the cookie sheet and leave them stacked and they won't hog the room in your freezer. Much.

Sungolds and Yellow Pears. Just looking at them is a bit breath-taking, isn't it? Unless of course you are two of my picky picky children...

So glossy and fresh-looking.

Potimarron Squash: grew this on on the recommendation of our newspaper's garden columnist. The seed is from Seed Savers, which is good to remember because I've never seen any other company carry this particular one. It's a nice little squash but not terribly productive in my garden so I'm torn about whether or not I'll grow it again.

Finally, apples. I love it when the apples are ripe. Right now we have six apple trees in the back yard, all with pretty decent crops on them. From left to right: Granny Smith, Cox's Orange Pippin, Macintosh. This is not a stellar example of a Mac, but I put it in because of the bloom on the red part. I never knew this but Macs on a tree look (and taste) nothing like Macs in a store. Sometimes I think that they are the BEST apple in my backyard, a fact which stuns me slightly because I grew up hating Macintosh apples. They remind me of bleak rainy winters when I was a kid, slogging to school and having them confront me rudely in my lunchbox at recess, in all their horrible mealy moosh. This prejudice is probably why it took me so long to identify them when we bought this house (two apple trees were already here): I had no idea a Macintosh could taste so crisp and sweet and intensely delicious. 

So there you have it: Fecundity and Felicity In The Garden. 

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