Update continued…

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In my last post I got very excited about making my first preserved chopped tomatoes from our homegrown crop. I will end that little story by saying I used them in a homemade paneer curry last night and it was great – along with homegrown onion, garlic, coriander seeds and mustard seeds in it, and homegrown runner beans on the side, of course. Here is a link to my paneer recipe if you need it, part of my old cucumber post —>¬†Cucumbers

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Now that the rain has settled in … ūüė¶ I’ve had lots of time to catch up on making preserves. Spent a busy Friday making two batches of strawberry jam and a chutney – recipe coming soon!

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But I took the chance yesterday to snap some quick pictures of the garden in the sun before the rain came back and would love to share some with you. Below is a picture of our William red rose. It is the most prolific yet at the moment. I counted 7 flowers and another 8 buds getting ready to open the other day. This after mostly just 3 at a time for the last couple of years. It shows how good feeding a rose is… It is a beautiful, delicious smelling rose I highly recommend.

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Next up we have the sweetcorn. It has grown so tall this year – taller than me, which isn’t saying much, but that makes it over 5’3… They have been loving the summer and he sprinkler and are looking really good. Next test will be to see if they have produced any kernels…

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I grew most of my tomatoes indoors this year, which I always do because the English weather is often rubbish, but we do always get a few rogue plants in the compost we spread outside. These often come to nothing but this year they are laden with fruit and look stunning!

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Below is a photo of the one chickpea plant that decided to germinate. The little brown pods are the beginning of what will hopefully turn into an actual chickpea being grown. Fingers crossed.

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Runner beans are doing very well, but I’m going to have to start using a ladder.

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Pumpkin!

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The other huge plant this year was the courgettes. The actual plants were whopping in size. I should have taken a photo earlier when they looked even more striking, but I got one now to remind myself in the future that courgettes need space!

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That’s all for now. Hope you all have a glorious twelfth – oh, fun fact, it is international elephant day on 12th August every year.

 

Roses

My mama just surprised me with (very) early birthday presents … so she didn’t have to look after them until then!

She bought me three David Austen roses.

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‘Gentle Hermione’

I love roses, they are my favourite flower. Now, my mum makes a point about not buying plants for their names (I try not to, but I am a bit of a sucker for a good name on a label), but this time she completely changed her tune. She bought me a light pink, gorgeous smelling one with little petals called ‘Desdemona’. This is the name of one of our pet ducks. Then I unwrapped another one called ‘Gentle Hermione’, another light pink one with larger flowers. This is the name of our other pet duck. I opened the third one, unsure what to find (as we had run out of duck names by this point) and was amazed to read a label saying ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. Whoever named this rose as dark red as strawberries that, is a hero.

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(Little explanation: ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ is one of Thomas Hardy’s most brilliant novels that I recently re-read for my English literature Victorian course a few months ago and loved it just as much as the first time I read it. Honestly, it is probably one of the causes for my obsession with cows, farming and the Dorset countryside… But back to Tess: she is a tragic heroine who is disgraced in the eyes of society and therefore unable to find peace and happiness. It is a beautiful book and one I highly recommend for anyone who likes Victorian fiction. And yes, the strawberries and colour red is one of those big symbols that pop up throughout the narrative. Red=blood=loss of purity/murder etc…).

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‘Desdemona’
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‘Gentle Hermione’
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‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’

We also got given a big (I mean BIG) pile of strawberry plants from our neighbour in return for looking after her veggie garden for a week in this massive heatwave going on. So, planting it is…

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‘Desdemona’¬†

 

Tomatoes

Tomato Рthe edible, often red, veg of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, commonly known as a tomato plant. The plant belongs to the nightshade family, Solanaceae (potatoes, auberinges/ eggplants). The species originated in western South America.

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Wild versions were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red.¬†A member of the deadly nightshade¬†family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious.¬†This was exacerbated by the interaction of the tomato’s acidic juice with pewter¬†plates.¬†The leaves and immature fruit in fact contain trace amounts of solanine¬†which in larger quantity would be toxic, although the ripe fruit does not. Aztecs¬†used the fruit in their cooking. The Nahuatl¬†(Aztec language) word¬†tomatl¬†gave rise to the Spanish word “tomate”, from which the English word tomato derived. The exact date of domestication is unknown, but by 500 BC it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico.¬†The Pueblo people are thought to have believed that those who witnessed the ingestion of tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination.¬†The large, lumpy variety of tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.¬†Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes¬†may have been the first to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan,¬†now Mexico City, in 1521. Christopher Columbus¬†may have taken them back as early as 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in a herbal¬†written in 1544 by¬†an Italian physician and botanist who suggested that a new type of aubergine/ eggplant¬†had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be divided into segments and eaten like an eggplant – cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. It was not until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as¬†pomi d‚Äôoro, or “golden apples”. Taken to Europe, the tomato¬†grew easily in Mediterranean climates¬†and cultivation began in the 1540s. It was probably eaten shortly after it was introduced, and was certainly being used as food by the early 17th century in Spain.

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Tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival in Italy. For example, the Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote how they “were to be sought only for their beauty”, and were grown only in gardens or flower beds. The tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy. However, even in areas where the climate supported growing tomatoes, their habit of growing to the ground suggested low status. They were not adopted as a staple of the peasant population because they were not as filling as other fruits already available.¬†The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692.

 

Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s.¬†However, by the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopaedia Britannica¬†stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups and broths.¬†They were not part of the average person’s diet, and though by 1820 they were described as “to be seen in great abundance in all our vegetable markets” and to be “used by all our best cooks”, reference was made to their cultivation in gardens still “for the singularity of their appearance”, while their use in cooking was associated with exotic Italian cuisine.

Botanically speaking, a tomato is a fruit, a berry, consisting of the ovary together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. However, the tomato has a much lower sugar content than other edible fruits, and is therefore not as sweet. Typically served as part of a salad or main course, rather than at dessert, it is considered a culinary vegetable. One exception is that tomatoes are treated as a fruit in home canning practices: they are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as vegetables require.

Tomato plants are vines, initially decumbent, typically growing 180 cm (6 ft) or more above the ground if supported, although erect bush varieties have been bred, generally 100 cm (3 ft) tall or shorter. Tomato plants are dicots and grow as a series of branching stems, with a terminal bud at the tip that does the actual growing. When that tip eventually stops growing, whether because of pruning or flowering, lateral buds take over and grow into other, fully functional, vines. Tomato vines are covered with fine short hairs. These hairs facilitate the vining process, turning into roots wherever the plant is in contact with the ground and moisture.

The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a mutant “u” phenotype in the mid 20th century that ripened “u”niformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.

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Here are some to try growing: 

Garden Pearl¬†(Determinate) ‚Äď Sweet cherry tomatoes, happiest in large pots outdoors.

Marmande¬†(Semi-determinate) ‚Äď Large irregular fruits with excellent flavour, happiest grown outdoors.

San Marzano 2¬†(Semi-determinate) ‚Äď Classic flashy Italian plum tomato, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Golden Sunrise¬†(Indeterminate) ‚Äď Distinct sweet flavour, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Red Cherry¬†(Indeterminate) ‚Äď Prolific crops of sweet ‚Äėcherry toms‚Äô happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Tigerella¬†(Indeterminate) ‚Äď Good flavour and novel stripes on the skin, happy in the greenhouse or outdoors.

Sungold F1 (Cherry) РAttractive golden fruits with a very high sugar content balanced with some acidity, Indeterminate.

Shirley F1 –¬†A much loved variety famed for its heavy yields of well-flavoured fruits – an outstanding hybrid.¬† Indeterminate.

Loretto F1¬†–¬†sweet cherry sized fruits with excellent flavour and a good choice for outdoor containers. Resistance to blight is one of the major benefits of this cascading ‚Äėbush‚Äô tomato. Indeterminate.

Alicante F1 –¬†One of the best for flavour and very reliable yielding a good crop of medium sized tomatoes. Indeterminate.

Ferline F1¬†–¬†A top quality tomato variety producing high yields of large and tasty fruits. Trials have shown that tomato Ferline F1 has excellent resistant to blight. Indeterminate.

Indeterminate – these varieties of tomatoes are the most common and are grown as cordons (single stemmed plants with side shoots removed). They will grow very tall – sometimes taller than 2.5m in very warm conditions.

Bush/Determinate – these varieties stop growing sooner than indeterminate varieties with the stem ending in a fruit truss. They are referred to as ‘bush’ and ‘dwarf’ types (suitable as hanging basket tomatoes) and don’t require any pruning.

Semi-determinate – these are similar to indeterminate varieties (grown as cordons) only they produce shorter plants.

Types of tomatoes:

  • Beefsteak tomatoes – 10¬†cm (4¬†in) or more in diameter.¬†Their kidney-bean shape, thinner skin, and shorter shelf life makes commercial use impractical.
  • Plum tomatoes, or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes), are bred with a lower water /higher solids content for use in tomato sauce¬†for canning and are usually oblong 7‚Äď9¬†cm (3‚Äď4¬†in) long and 4‚Äď5¬†cm (1.6‚Äď2.0¬†in) diameter; like the Roma-type tomatoes.
  • Cherry tomatoes – small and round, often sweet tomatoes, about the same 1‚Äď2¬†cm (0.4‚Äď0.8¬†in) size as the wild tomato. Probably my personal favourite.
  • Grape tomatoes – are smaller and oblong, a variation on plum tomatoes.
  • Campari – are sweet and noted for their juiciness, low acidity, and lack of mealiness, bigger than cherry tomatoes, and smaller than plum tomatoes.
  • Tomberries – ¬†tiny tomatoes, about 5¬†mm in diameter.
  • Oxheart tomatoes can range in size up to beefsteaks, and are shaped like large strawberries.
  • Pear tomatoes are pear-shaped and can make¬†a rich gourmet paste.
  • “Slicing” or “globe” tomatoes are the usual tomatoes of commerce, used for a wide variety of processing and fresh eating.¬†The most widely grown commercial tomatoes tend to be in the 5‚Äď6¬†cm (2.0‚Äď2.4¬†in) diameter range.

Heirloom tomatoes are becoming popular amongst home growers as they tend to produce more interesting and flavorful crops at the cost of disease resistance and productivity. The definition of an heirloom tomato is vague, but unlike commercial hybrids, all are self-fertile varieties that have bred true for 40 years or more.

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How to grow tomatoes

In England, we can be kind-of lucky and get some tomatoes off the vines when we grow them outside, but really it is easier to do it in a greenhouse as they will prefer warmer growing conditions.

Tomato seed is normally sown 6-8 weeks before the last frost date (March/April) although they can be sown earlier for greenhouse cultivation. Sprinkle your tomato seed thinly on the surface of good quality seed compost. Cover the seed with about 1.5mm (1/16in) of compost and water lightly with a fine-rose watering can. If only a few plants are required sow two seeds into a 7.5cm (3in) pot and after germination remove the smaller plant. The seeds generally germinate in about 7 to 14 days at a temperature of around 21C (70F). Keep the compost moist.¬†Pot on the tomato seedlings when large enough to handle, taking care not to touch the stem. Handle the plants by the leaves and transplant them carefully into 7.5cm (3in) pots. Take care not to expose the plants to frost, cold winds and draughts as this may kill them.¬†Tomatoes need a lot of water and feed (high potash) to get the best fruit. Water little and often for the best results. If growing outdoors,¬†plant approximately 45cm (18 in) between the plants and 75cm (30in) between the rows.¬†Regularly pinching out of tomato side shoots will concentrate the plant’s energy into producing fruit.

One of the most common problems when growing tomatoes is tomato blight, which spreads quickly throughout the plant in wet weather, causing the plant to die and the fruits to decay. The symptoms are brown patches on all parts of the plant. It is much more common in tomatoes growing outside than tomatoes growing in a greenhouse.

Start picking your tomatoes as the fruits ripen and gain full colour. When frost threatens at the end of the season, lift any plants with unripe fruit on them and hang them upside down under cover.

Tomatoes contain excellent amounts of fiber, vitamins A, C (to resist infections), and K, potassium (controlling heart rate and blood pressure), and manganese. Good amounts of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper are other resources. In daily value, tomatoes provide 38% of what is needed in vitamin C, 30% in vitamin A, and 18% in vitamin K. Tests suggest tomatoes may be a preventive factor against prostate cancer. Lycopene flavonoid antioxidant has the ability to protect the cells even as it protects the skin from ultraviolet damage, and as a possible result, skin cancer. Lycopene in tomatoes has been proven to decrease oxidative stress and risk of osteoporosis and prevent serum lipid oxidation, thus exerting a protective effect against cardiovascular diseases. The coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid, in tomatoes, fight against nitrosamines, which are the main carcinogens found in cigarettes. The presence of vitamin A in high quantities has been shown to reduce the effects of carcinogens and can protect you against lung cancer. Tomatoes keep the digestive system healthy by preventing both constipation and diarrhoea. They also prevent jaundice and effectively remove toxins from the body.

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There are so many ways of using tomatoes and they are such a valuable crop to grow yourself. You can eat them raw, as part of a salad or cheese sandwich, cheese¬†toasty, stuff them, cook with them to make a sauce for any dish, fry them to go with your English breakfast, sun dry them, bottle or can to make your own tinned tomatoes, always a handy thing to have at hand for a quick meal…¬†

Here are some recipes that use tomatoes. Plenty more on the site!

Recipe: Mushroom Tomato Risotto

Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

 

Recipe: Fried courgette-tomato sauce with spaghetti

Updated recipe: homemade pizza

Quinoa РChicken Casserole

Recipe: Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

Salad ‚Äď Rocket¬†– Pasta and tinned tomatoes and rocket

Keep searching for more recipes! 

Borlotti Beans

The¬†borlotti bean (singular borlotto in Italian), also known as the¬†cranberry bean,¬†Roman bean¬†or¬†romano bean¬†(not to be confused with the Italian flat bean, a green bean¬†also called “romano bean”),¬†saluggia bean (named¬†after the town Saluggia in Italy where borlotti beans have been grown since the early 1900s), or¬†rosecoco bean,¬†is a variety of ¬†common bean¬†(Phaseolus vulgaris) first bred in Colombia¬†as the¬†cargamanto.¬†The bean is a medium to large tan or hazelnut-colored bean splashed or streaked with red. They come in large beige and red pods with colours that resemble the dried beans.

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They originated in Colombia in South America and were one of the crops that found their way into Europe with the Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The Italians were the first Europeans to embrace the borlotti bean (as well as the tomato). Now you can eat these beans in Italy in stews with polenta and in salads as well in appetizers along with prosciutto and lots of parsley and olive oil.

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The borlotti bean is a variety of the American cranberry bred in Italy to have a thicker skin. It is used in Italian, Portuguese (Catarino bean), Turkish, and Greek cuisine. When cooked the beans will lose some of their bright markings and turn a light brown colour.

Borlotti beans are potassium rich so are good for the muscles and for the proper functioning of the kidneys, as well as maintaining good blood pressure. They also contain other minerals such as¬†sodium, zinc, selenium, copper (good for stimulating blood cell formation), calcium, manganese, magnesium, iron and phosphorous as well as Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. They¬†contain vitamin A and several of the B-complex¬†vitamins including B1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Borlotti beans also contain 18 amino acids¬†along with dietary fibre (good for the digestion), folate (good for pregnant women and enhancing the nervous system) and protein. If you are trying to grow your own vegetarian protein, beans are a good place to start…

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Sow indoors for surest results April-May, 2.5cm (1″) deep into individual pots of compost (I use tall yoghurt pots, they give the plant lots of root room). Water well and place in a warm position. A temperature of 15-20¬įC (60-68¬įF) is ideal.¬†Gradually accustom plants to outside conditions (avoid frosts), before planting out when 15cm tall, 25cm (10″) apart, during May-June when frosts are over. Allow 45cm (18″) between rows. Like runner beans, insert canes into the ground along with the bean plant to allow them to climb up it. If it is sunny, cold or windy when you first plant them out, rig up some covering (I use left over horticultural fleece) to give them shade or protection from the elements that might damage them before they are fully established. You can harvest borlotti beans from July-October. To harvest, pick the pods before they set seed and slice them up and cook them like you would do to runner beans. Or, leave the pods on the plants and allow them to grow very big and to set seed. The pods will turn a pale straw colour as they start to dry out towards the end of summer or early autumn. Harvest and take them inside to continue drying before you pod the beans. The pods will rattle once they are ready. You can cook them straight away, freeze them or dry them out and store them in glass jars in the cupboard. They can be shelled into trays and placed in a warm place to continue drying. The beans should ultimately be light and hollow-sounding when tapped, at which point they can be decanted into glass jars for storage in a cool, dark place. Discard the pods at this stage, they get too tough to eat.

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Dried beans contain high amounts of lectin, a natural chemical which can cause stomach upsets. Soak the beans overnight or for at least eight hours then place into cool water. Bring the water up to a vigorous boil and boil like this for ten minute before turning down the heat and simmering till soft.

Grow borlotti beans from Mr Fothergills: ‘Climbing Bean Borlotto lingua di fuoco 2 Seeds‘.

Borlotti beans can be added to any dish for vegetarian protein.

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Coconut Borlotti Beans

Serves 4

-450g borlotti beans, pre-cooked -1dsp coconut oil -1 onion, finely sliced -2 generous handfuls of spinach leaves

  1. Warm the coconut oil in a frying pan. Add the sliced onion and fry until golden brown.
  2. Add the spinach leaves. Stir in until wilted before adding the borlotti beans. Combine and leave briefly so that the beans warm up.
  3. Remove from the heat and serve with rice or potatoes, as a side dish, or in a wrap.

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Onion

The¬†onion¬†(Allium cepa¬†L., from Latin¬†cepa¬†“onion”), the¬†most widely cultivated vegetable of the genus Allium.¬†Its close relatives include the garlic, shallot, leek, chive and Chinese onion.¬†The word onion comes from the Latin word ‚Äėunio‚Äô meaning unity, because it grows as a single bulb.

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The onion is most frequently a biennial or a perennial plant but is usually treated as an annual and harvested in its first growing season. Onions are cultivated and used around the world. As a food item, they are usually served cooked, as a vegetable or part of a prepared savoury dish, but can also be eaten raw or used to make pickles or chutneys.

The onion plant has a fan of hollow green leaves and its bulb at the base of the plant begins to swell when a certain day-length is reached. The bulbs are composed of shortened, compressed, underground stems surrounded by fleshy modified scale (leaves) that envelop a central bud at the tip of the stem. In the autumn (or in spring, in the case of overwintering onions), the foliage dies down and the outer layers of the bulb become dry and brittle. The crop is harvested and dried and the onions are ready for use or storage.

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The geographic origin of the onion is uncertain because the wild onion is extinct and ancient records of using onions span all over¬†Asia.¬†The first cultivated onions are the subject of much debate, but the two regions that many archaeologists, botanists, and food historians point to are central Asia or Persia. They were probably almost simultaneously domesticated by peoples all over the globe, as there are species of the onion found the world over.¬†Food uses of onions date back thousands of years in China, Egypt and Persia.¬†Traces of onions recovered from Bronze Age settlements in China suggest onions were used as far back as 5000 BC, not only for their flavour, but the bulb’s durability in storage and transport.¬†Ancient Egyptians¬†revered the onion bulb, viewing its spherical shape and concentric rings as symbols of eternal life.¬†Onions were used in Egyptian burials, as evidenced by onion traces found in the eye sockets of Ramessess IV. The¬†fourth book of the Hebrew Bible¬†composed around the 5th century BC mentions onions when recounting scarce foodstuffs available: 11:5 ‚ÄĒ We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt,¬†the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. In the 6th century BCE, the Charake Samhita, one of the primary works in the Ayurvedic¬†tradition, documents the onion’s use as a medicinal plant, a ‘diuretic, good for digestion, the heart, the eyes, and the joints’. Pliny the Elder¬†wrote about the use of onions and cabbage in Pompeii.¬†He documented Roman beliefs about the onion’s ability to improve ocular ailments, aid in sleep, and heal everything from oral sores and toothaches to dog bites, lumbago¬†and dysentery.¬†Archaeologists unearthing Pompeii long after its 79 CE volcanic burial have found gardens resembling those in Pliny’s detailed narratives where the onions would have been grown. Onions were taken to North America by the first European settlers¬†only to discover the plant readily available, and in wide use in Native American cooking.¬†According to diaries kept by certain of the first English colonists, the bulb onion was one of the first crops planted by the Pilgrims.

Shallots are a type of onion, but  was formerly classified as a separate species, A. ascalonicum. Like garlic, shallots are formed in clusters of offsets with a head composed of multiple cloves. The skin colour of shallots can vary from golden brown to gray to rose red, and their off-white flesh is usually tinged with green or magenta. You can use shallots in the place of onions when cooking, but they do make smaller harvests.

In the gardening world, we are used to three different colours of onions. We grow the brown/yellow/golden, the red/purple and then the white, which I must admit, I have never tried. Across the world the brown is often used in everyday cooking, the red is often served raw as it is sweeter, and the white are often used in Mexican styled cuisine as they are very sweet once sautéed.

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Here are some varieties to try:

Brown: Radar (one of my favourites), Alisa Craig, Stuttgarter, Centurion, Hercules, Sturon, Hytech

Red: Red Baron, Electric (another favourite)

White: Snowball

Shallot: Griselle (good), Jermor, Bistro, Golden Gourmet, Picasso, Mikor, Yellow Moon, Vigarmor

Onions are best cultivated in fertile soils that are well-drained. Sandy loams are good as they are low in sulphur, while clayey soils usually have a high sulphur content and produce pungent bulbs. Onions require a high level of nutrients¬†in the soil. Phosphorous¬†is often present in sufficient quantities, but may be applied before planting because of its low level of availability in cold soils. Nitrogen and potash¬†can be applied at regular intervals during the growing season, the last application of nitrogen being at least four weeks before harvesting. Or try planting them in your crop rotation after the runner beans.¬†Bulbing onions are day-length sensitive; their bulbs begin growing only after the number of daylight hours has surpassed some minimal quantity. Most traditional European onions produce bulbs only after 14 hours or more of daylight. Southern European and North African varieties are often known as “intermediate-day” types, requiring only 12‚Äď13 hours of daylight to stimulate bulb formation. “Short-day” onions, which have been developed in more recent times, are planted in mild-winter areas in the autumn and form bulbs in the early spring, and require only 11‚Äď12 hours of daylight to stimulate bulb formation.¬†Onions are a cool-weather crop.¬†Hot temperatures or other stressful conditions cause them to bolt, meaning that a flower stem begins to grow.

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Onions may be grown from seeds or from sets. We often use sets (I’ve tried shallot seeds and grown a total of two miniature shallots that were the size of my pinkie’s fingernail…) Onion seeds are short-lived and fresh seeds germinate better.¬†The seeds are sown thinly in shallow drills, thinning the plants in stages. In suitable climates, certain cultivars can be sown in late summer and autumn to overwinter in the ground and produce early crops the following year.¬†Onion sets are produced by sowing seed thickly in early summer in poor soil and the small bulbs produced are harvested in the autumn. These bulbs are planted the following spring and grow into mature bulbs later in the year.¬†Certain cultivars are used for this purpose and these may not have such good storage characteristics as those grown directly from seed.

If growing from seed, sow 1cm (¬Ĺin) deep in rows 20cm (8in) apart from late February through to early April. Thin by removing weaker seedlings, first to 5cm (2in) apart and then later to 10cm (4in) apart. Plant spring sets March – April and harvest August – September. Plant winter sets in September and harvest May – June.¬†Plant onion sets 10cm (4in) apart in rows 30cm (12in) apart.¬†Gently push the sets into soft, well-worked soil so that the tip is just showing, and firm the soil around them.

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Routine care during the growing season involves keeping the rows free of competing weeds, especially when the plants are young. The plants are shallow-rooted and do not need a great deal of water when established. Bulbing usually takes place after 12 to 18 weeks. The bulbs can be gathered when needed to eat fresh, but if they will be kept in storage, they should be harvested after the leaves have died back naturally. In dry weather, they can be left on the surface of the soil for a few days to dry out properly, then they can be placed in nets, roped into strings, or laid in layers in shallow boxes. They should be stored in a well-ventilated, cool place such as a shed.

Freshly cut onions often cause a stinging sensation in the eyes of people nearby, and often uncontrollable tears. This is caused by the release of a volatile gas, syn-propanethial-S-oxide, which stimulates nerves in the eye creating a stinging sensation. This gas is produced by a chain of reactions which serve as a defence mechanism. Chopping an onion causes damage to cells which releases enzymes called alliinases, generating sulfenic acids. Lacrimal glands produce tears to dilute and flush out the irritant.

Onions are rich in carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium. They are a very good source of vitamin C and so good for building your immunity. They are also a good source of enzyme-activating manganese and molybdenum as well as heart-healthy vitamin B6, fiber, folate, and potassium. Onions are surprisingly high in flavenoids, one of the top ten vegetables with Quercetin content. If you want to retain the flavonoid, peel off only the outer dry skin as the outer layers are more concentrated with flavenoids. Onions have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and help in problems like rheumatoid arthritis or allergic airway inflammation. Studies show that onions help balance blood sugar levels. Onions also have anti bacterial properties. There are many stories and folklore. It is supposed to have saved families from plague and other infections. The anti bacterial effects of the onions act against the streptococcus mutants that cause various dental cavities and gum diseases. Studies suggest that the consumption of onions enhances the anti clotting capacity of blood. Onions have been known to increase bone density, reducing the risk of fractures. The sulphur content in onions is excellent for the connective tissues as well.

Natural treatments that use onion:

-Onions are also used in the treatment of piles or haemorrhoids. The juice of 30g of onion mixed with water and sugar is administered to the patient twice a day.

-In alopecia (hair loss), a topical application of onion juice has been said to initiate the re-growth of hair.

Cough, cold and asthma is often treated with a serving of onions, as it is known to decrease bronchial spasms. Onion juice mixed with honey helps cure bronchitis and influenza.

-Onions are also known to stimulate the growth of good bacteria while suppressing the growth of harmful bacteria in the colon, reducing the risk of colon cancer.

-The juice of Tulsi leaves (holy basil) with equal quantities of lemon juice and onion extract applied on the skin takes care of many skin diseases.

-A slice of cut onion rubbed over acne is supposed to clear up the skin quickly by taking off the bacterial infections.

-Naturopaths recommend eating onion and jaggery to increase body weight.

-Eating one raw onion a day reduces cholesterol in the blood.

-A remedy for warts is the application of the juice of one finely chopped onion sprinkled with salt and left for a few hours. This needs to be repeated 3 to 4 times a day until the wart dries up.

-The cure for cholera in Indian households is one onion pounded with 7 black peppers. It lessens vomiting and diarrhoea immediately. A little sugar could be added to the mixture to increase its effectiveness.

-A tea made of onions boiled in water, cooled, strained, and given to patients suffering from urinary infections gives immediate relief.

-Slice an onion and rub it over the sting of a bee, wasp or a mosquito to ease the discomfort.

-In the treatment for chicken pox, Indian women would serve the afflicted person a bowl of curd rice with chopped onions.

 

Onions can be added to anything. They are the base of all sauces, add flavour to a salad when served raw, and are just fundamental in the kitchen for pizza toppings, curries, stir fries, pies…

Here are some wonderful recipes using onions:

Pasta salad with fried onions and tomatoes : Autumn planting … and a recipe!

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Recipe: Baked Potatoes and Kidney Beans

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Aubergine (Eggplant) Curry

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And lots more Рjust type onion into the search bar on the home page. 

 

Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis, commonly known as¬†rosemary, is a woody, perennial herb¬†with fragrant, evergreen,¬†needle-like leaves (similar to hemlock needles) and white, pink, purple, or blue flowers.¬†It is a member of the mint family Lamiaceae. The name “rosemary” derives from the Latin¬†for “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus), or “dew of the sea” – how beautiful!

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From the internet – I have a lack of rosemary photos…

The plant is also sometimes called anthos¬†from the ancient Greek word ŠľĄőĹőłőŅŌā, meaning “flower”.¬†Rosemary has a fibrous root system.¬†It is native to the Mediterranean and Asia, but is reasonably hardy in cool climates. It can withstand droughts, surviving a severe lack of water for lengthy periods so perfect for the really sandy soil gardens.¬†Forms range from upright to trailing; the upright forms can reach 1.5¬†m (5¬†ft) tall, rarely 2¬†m (6¬†ft 7¬†in). The leaves are evergreen, 2‚Äď4¬†cm (0.8‚Äď1.6¬†in) long and 2‚Äď5¬†mm broad, green above, and white below, with dense, short, woolly hair. The plant flowers in spring and summer in temperate¬†climates, but the plants can be in constant bloom in warm climates; flowers are white, pink, purple or deep blue.¬†Rosemary also has a tendency to flower outside its normal flowering season. It has been known to flower as late as early December, and as early as mid-February (in the northern hemisphere).

The Virgin Mary¬†is said to have spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting, and the flowers turned blue. The shrub then became known as the “Rose of Mary”.¬†Rosemary was considered sacred to ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.

In the Middle Ages,¬†rosemary was associated with wedding ceremonies. The bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary.¬†Rosemary was often entwined into a wreath, dipped in scented water and worn by brides at the alter. The wreath symbolized fidelity, love, abiding friendship and remembrance of the life the woman had led prior to her marriage.¬†The crowns and garlands of rosemary at weddings, in turn, led to the lays, or amorous ballads of the Troubadours, 1100 ‚Äď 1350, referring to rosemary as ‚ÄúCoronary‚ÄĚ.¬†Anne of Cleves (1515 ‚Äď 1557), Henry the Eighth‚Äôs 4th wife, wore a rosemary wreath at their wedding. At that time, wealthy bridal couples would also present a gilded branch of rosemary to each wedding guest.¬†Robert Hacket, in a wedding sermon in 1607 said, ‚ÄúLet this Rosemarinus, this flower of men, ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your heads and hearts.‚ÄĚ Rosemary root was ‚Äúseethed in wine vinegar‚ÄĚ and the lotion was then used to wash the feet of a thief. The lotion was thought to sap the strength of the robber so that he would not longer commit robbery, steal or do any further harm.¬†The Countess of Hainault, Jeanne of Valois (1294 ‚Äď 1342), sent her daughter Queen Phillippa (1311 ‚Äď 1369), wife of King Edward III of England (1312 ‚Äď 1377), an accounting of the virtues of rosemary and it is presumed a number of plants or cuttings accompanied the gift. The original manuscript can be found in the British Museum. The Countess suggests that laying the leaves under the head of a man while he sleeps will ‚Äúdoth away evell sprirites and suffereth not the dreeme fowl dremes ne to be afearde.‚ÄĚ

Bancke, in his work¬†Herball¬†from 1525, suggests techniques to use rosemary as a remedy for both gout of the legs and to keep the teeth from all evils. He also recommended that smelling rosemary regularly would ‚Äúkeep thee youngly”.¬†Serapio suggested that a garland of rosemary worn about the head was a remedy for the ‚Äústuffing of the head, that commeth through coldnes of the brain”. He also says that rosemary grew so plentifully in Languedoc (a former province in south-eastern France) that ‚Äúthe inhabitants burne scarce anie other fuel”.

Rosemary was also believed to offer protection from the plague. In 1603, when bubonic plague killed 38,000 Londoners, the demand was so high that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful. To put that price increase into perspective, one price list from 1625 indicated that one could obtain 18 gallons of good ale or double beer with carriage delivery for only 3 shillings or an entire ‚Äėfat pig‚Äô for 1 shilling.

Rosemary has long had a popular reputation for improving memory. The Guardian¬†reported in 2017 that sales of Rosemary oil to students in the UK¬†studying for exams had skyrocketed because of Rosemary’s perceived benefits to memory (that was the summer my mum started feeding my sister rosemary for her A-Level exams…).¬†The plant has also been used as a symbol for remembrance during war commemorations and funerals in Europe and Australia.¬†Mourners would throw it into graves as a symbol of remembrance for the dead. In Shakespeare’s¬†Hamlet, Ophelia¬†says, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance” (Hamlet, iv. 5.). In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are worn on ANZAC Day¬†to signify remembrance; the herb grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula.¬†Rosemary history includes a number of references to its reputation for strengthening the memory and as a symbol for remembrance. Greek scholars were known to twine rosemary in their hair when studying for exams in the hope of aiding their memories. According to one old ballad:

“Rosemary is for remembrance
Between us day and night,
Wishing that I may always have
You present in my sight.‚ÄĚ

Parkinson (1567-1650), the King’s Botanist to Charles I, mentions that in countries where rosemary was well-suited and grows to a large size that thin boards of rosemary were used to make lutes and other instruments, carpenters rules, and a myriad of other implements. The French believed that combing their hair once a day with a rosemary wood comb would prevent giddiness. Rosemary wood was so prized that unscrupulous merchants would often use less expensive woods and simply scent them with rosemary oil. In Spain, rosemary was used as a protection against witchcraft and menaces on the road. George Borrow mentioned how he came to learn about this superstition in his work The Bible in Spain (1843). He first mentions meeting a traveler who had adorned his hat with rosemary and later mentions a lady, who concerned for Borrow’s own safety, offered him some for his own hat.

In 1987, researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey patented a food preservative derived from rosemary. The chemical called rosmaridiphenol, is a very stable antioxidant useful in cosmetics and plastic food packaging.

Set out rosemary in spring, planting seedlings 2 to 3 feet apart. Plants are slow growing at first, but pick up speed in their second year. Feed with a good fertiliser and keep well watered. Mulch your plants to keep roots moist in summer and insulated in winter, but take care to keep mulch away from the crown of the plant. In the spring, prune dead wood out of the plants.

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From the internet

Since it is attractive and drought-tolerant, rosemary is used as an ornamental plant in gardens and for xeriscape¬†landscaping, especially in regions of Mediterranean climate. It is considered easy to grow and pest-resistant. Rosemary can grow quite large and retain attractiveness for many years, can be pruned into formal shapes and low hedges, and has been used for topiary.¬†It is easily grown in pots and the ground cover ¬†cultivars spread widely, with a dense texture.¬†Rosemary grows on friable loam soil with good drainage in an open, sunny position. It will not withstand waterlogging and some varieties are susceptible to frost. It grows best in neutral to alkaline conditions (pH 7‚Äď7.8) with average fertility. It can be propagated from an existing plant by clipping a shoot (from a soft new growth) 10‚Äď15¬†cm (4‚Äď6¬†in) long, stripping a few leaves from the bottom, and planting it directly into soil.

Rosemary leaves are used as a flavoring in foods such as stuffing and roast lamb, pork, chicken and turkey. Fresh or dried leaves are used in traditional Mediterranean cuisine. They have a bitter, astringent taste and a characteristic aroma which complements many cooked foods. Herbal tea can be made from the leaves. When roasted with meats or vegetables, the leaves leave a mustard-like aroma with an additional fragrance of charred wood, compatible with barbecues.

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Mum’s Herby Bread

Serves 10

-1tsp fast-action dried yeast -500g strong white bread flour -1tsp salt -1tbsp sugar -380ml tepid water -20ml olive oil

For the herbs: -1 handful rosemary -1 handful thyme -1 handful sage -2-4 large garlic cloves, diced -olive oil, for brushing

  1. Add 1tsp of yeast to a large bowl. Add the flour, salt and sugar. Mix in a little bit of water at a time, turning over the ingredients with your hands or an electric machine’s dough hook. Once you have a sticky, but not soggy dough consistency, tip into another large bowl coated with the olive oil. Cover with a tea-towel or a plastic bag and place in a warm location (airing cupboard is good), for about an hour or two, or until the loaf has risen.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C. Roll out the dough onto a surface dusted with semolina or flour and knead into a round shape. Place on a lined baking tray. Brush with olive oil before scattering a handful of rosemary, thyme, sage and diced garlic cloves on top.
  3. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. The bread will be golden on top and will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

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Mustard

Mustard plants are any of several plant species in the genera Brassica and Sinapis in the family Brassicaceae. Mustard seed is used as a spice ( Collecting Mustard Seeds). Grinding and mixing the seeds with water, vinegar, or other liquids, creates the yellow condiment we buy from the supermarkets. The seeds can also be pressed to make mustard oil, and the leaves can be eaten as mustard greens.

The word mustard is derived from the Latin mustum or must, the grape juice that the Romans mixed¬†with honey and the ground seeds of the mustard plant (sinapi) to create their mustum ardens, or ‚Äėburning must‚Äô.

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(Photo from the internet – I don’t have many clear pictures of mustard plants despite there being such a huge quantity in my veg patches…)

Some varieties of mustard plants were well-established crops in Hellenistic and Roman times but it is historically noted that:¬†“There are almost no archeological¬†records available for any of these crops”. Wild forms of mustard and its relatives, the radish and turnip, can be located in west Asia and Europe, suggesting that their domestication took place somewhere in that area. However, historians have concluded:¬†“Suggestions as to the origins of these plants are necessarily based on linguistic¬†considerations”.¬†Encyclop√¶dia Britannica states that mustard was grown by the Indus Civilisation¬†of 2500-1700 BCE.¬†According to the Saskatchewan Mustard Development Commission, “Some of the earliest known documentation of mustard’s use dates back to Sumerian and Sanskrit texts from 3000 BC”.

The mustard plant was brought to Britain by the Romans via France and there are numerous Roman recipes that use mustard as an ingredient. However serious mustard production was first recorded in France in the 9th century, usually based in religious establishments and this then spread to Britain in the 9th century. By the 14th century mustard was being grown in various parts of the country including the area around Tewkesbury, where the mustard was mixed with horseradish and took the name of the town. Most mustard produced in the Middle Ages was based on using the whole or crushed seeds, mixing them with liquid and letting the mix mature. The mix was often dried, making it easier for transportation, and then liquid added again when required for use.

In the 18th century, with the developments in milling techniques the husks of the seeds could be more easily removed and the seeds finely ground. The first record of the production of mustard flour is credited to Mrs Clements of Durham in 1720 who managed to keep the milling technique used a secret for some time allowing Durham to become the centre of mustard production in the country and allowing herself to accumulate considerable sums of money selling her mustard flour. Once her milling secret was discovered, other entrepreneurs began to invest in mustard production. Most notable in the 19th century was Jeremiah Colman who began milling mustard at his flour mill in Norwich. His mustard became the English mustard, a finely milled flour, yellow in colour (assisted by the addition of turmeric) and very hot in taste.

Mustard is now a world-wide condiment and there are numerous companies involved in making, using and marketing the product. The whole or ground seeds are still an important ingredient in cooking, especially in India and Asia, while in Europe and the Americas the processed seeds are still used as a table condiment.

There are three main varieties: white (Brassica alba) brown (Brassica juncea) and black (Brassica nigra).

Recent research has studied varieties of mustards with high oil contents for use in the production of biodiesel, a renewable liquid fuel similar to diesel fuel. The biodiesel made from mustard oil has good cold flow properties and cetane ratings. The leftover meal after pressing out he oil has also been found to be an effective pesticide.

We use mustard as green manure. Green manure is created by leaving uprooted or sown crop parts to wither on a field so that they serve as a mulch and soil amendment.  Typically, they are ploughed under and incorporated into the soil while green or shortly after flowering. Green manure is commonly associated with organic farming and can play an important role in sustainable annual cropping systems.The value of green manure was recognized by farmers in India for thousands of years, as mentioned in treatises like Vrikshayurveda. In Ancient Greece too, farmers ploughed broad bean plants into the soil. Chinese agricultural texts dating back hundreds of years refer to the importance of grasses and weeds in providing nutrients for farm soil. It was also known to early North American colonists arriving from Europe. Common colonial green manure crops were rye, buckwheat and oats. Incorporation of green manures into a farming system can drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the need for additional products such as supplemental fertilizers and pesticides.

Benefits of using mustard or any other crop as a green manure:

  • When allowed to flower, the crop¬†provides forage¬†for pollinating insects. Green manure crops also often provide habitat for predatory beneficial insects, which allow for a reduction in the application of insecticides where cover crops are planted.
  • Suppresses other weeds from growing.
  • Green manure acts mainly as soil-acidifying¬†matter to decrease the alkalinity/pH of alkali soils¬†by generating humic acid¬†and acetic acid.
  • Incorporation of cover crops into the soil allows the nutrients held within the green manure to be released and made available to the succeeding crops. This results from an increase in abundance of soil microorganisms from the degradation of plant material that aid in the decomposition of this fresh material.
  • Releases nutrients that improves the soil structure.
  • Reduces likeliness of plant or insect disease, notably verticillium wilt of potatoes.
  • Controls erosion.
  • Used for animal grazing, especially poultry.
  • Contains nitrogen that fertilises the soil without the need of commercial products.

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So I’ve continued to harvest mustard seeds to put in homemade curries, but my mum has gone one step further – she has started harvesting little young mustards and adding them to her egg sandwiches at lunch time. Here is her recipe:

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Egg and Mustard Green sandwich open (with beetroot in it and lettuce on the side)

Egg and Mustard Green Sandwich

(Serves 1)

-1 egg -2 slices of bread (or 1 large cut in half) -Butter -1 tbsp mayonnaise -1 handful of mustard -Lettuce, tomatoes or other salad, to serve

  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Stick a pin into the top of the egg and remove. Put the egg into the pan of boiling water and leave until it has become a hard boiled egg (completely solid). This could be between 5-10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat, drain the hot water and cover the egg in cold water, leaving it to cool.
  3. Spread butter over the bread so that both halves of the bread are covered on one side.
  4. Once cold, remove the egg from the pan and peel away the shell. Cut the egg into thin slices, then dice so that it is in lots of cubes.
  5. Mix the egg into the mayonnaise and then spread over the buttered bread. Add the mustard greens on top. Close the sandwich and serve with salad.

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