"Gardening makes my heart bloom" -- mum

"The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat." -- Confucius

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Tomato harvest

Tomato growing was one of my most exciting projects this summer.  Having tried planting tomato seeds many times in the tropics as a child and watching the seedlings flop over at about 3 inches high, I had never attempted growing this fruit again until now.

Early this year, whilst unpacking some boxes, I found a packet of unopened heritage tomato seeds from Diggers Club Australia.  It had been in a box for three years but I thought I would stick some in compost to see if they would germinate. 

It was a lottery as there were eight types of 'heirloom' varieties in the packet.  Amazingly, every single seed germinated.
I tucked some amongst the calendulas as I've read that these plants would help to repel pests.  Others were grown next to the sweetcorn further down the garden and one was planted in a pot. 

It was exciting, watching and waiting, not knowing what variety each plant was going to be until later in the season.

In the end, one tomato plant grew into a bush variety called 'Brown Berry'.  The fruits were juicy and very sweet.  I'd definitely grow more of these next year.
Brown Berry amongst the calendulas
Another plant turned out to be a vigorous growing Grosse Lisse with big potato leaves.  The fruits grew so large and heavy that the entire plant, even with stakes, eventually collapsed onto the calendulas and pea plants behind it.  Stronger stakes next year!
Grosse Lisse in early summer
Four fruits were left after pinching out
Mid-summer after rain
Early autumn
The rest were mid-sized plants which I 'stopped' at 2-3 feet high.  The fruits were elongated with light green streaks but as they ripened, the lot turned to a lovely yellow colour.  It was quite a mystery at first why one yellow fruit would taste so different from another yellow fruit.  After some 'Googling' the penny dropped:  they are two different varieties, Cream Sausage and Banana Legs!

Banana Legs ripening in late summer
Both varieties were prolific and very showy.  The Banana Legs tomatoes thrived in the ground as well as in a pot on the warm patio, the fruit turning into a beautiful canary yellow which remained hanging on the plant like big pendulous baubles until harvested.  The fruit is meaty with a very subtle flavour.  Apparently yellow tomatoes have less acidity and this variety definitely fits the bill.
Pot grown Banana Legs in early autumn
The Cream Sausage tomatoes are, true to their name, a light creamy yellow when ripe.  They are juicy, full of flavour and great for salads.   They grew very well in clay soil and required additional staking when the fruits got bigger.  Due to its thin skin, this variety is favoured by slugs and snails and must be kept off the ground! 

Cream Sausage ripening in mid-summer
The last tomatoes were picked today and none had suffered from blight.  Was it beginner's luck, companion planting with calendulas or wind direction?
Grosse Lisse, Banana Legs and Cream Sausage tomatoes

All in all, a very worthwhile effort and a very tomatoey summer was had by all!  

Brown Berry and Banana Legs tomatoes

Friday, 8 October 2010

Rose hip jam

I had not considered roses as being 'edible' until recently when I noticed that the rose bush by the front door was absolutely dripping with rose hips.  The hips had turned a beautiful fire engine red and I thought it would be a terrible waste to let them fall to the ground.

Having read that jam, syrup, jelly, soup, pie and even wine could be made out of rose hips, I decided to give jam-making a go. 

I 'googled' and found this popular recipe from the 1700s:  1 pound prepared rose hip pulp, 1 cup water and 1 pound sugar.  There were no specifics on how to 'prepare' the hips - it seemed everyone had a different method.  Here's how I made mine......

Harvest carefully, wearing gloves and an old jacket to prevent scratches to oneself. 
Put the very ripe and soft fruit aside.  Select fruit which are firm and trim off both ends.
Cut these in half and scrape off the seeds with the sharp end of a vegetable peeler or knife. Try not to touch the hairy seeds (more on that later).
To prepare the softer fruit, hold firm the stem of the fruit and gently pull the 'bunch' of seeds off from the other end - easy!
Rinse the cleaned fruit to remove any leftover hairy bits.  Here's the thing about the fine hairs on the seeds: they work like itching powder.  Rub some on the skin and you will feel it!  If you're very sensitive, wear gloves when processing the fruit.
Pour the prepared hips and water into a heavy-based saucepan, cook until soft enough to press through a stainless steel sieve.
Sieve the pulp in small batches into a large bowl.
These were the skins left over from 1.5 pounds of rose hips.  Flick these onto the garden beds.
Pour the fine pulp back into the saucepan, stir in the sugar and bring to a boil.  Boil for several minutes and then simmer until there's a 'jam-like' consistency.
Rose hips have plenty of pectin, so there's no need to add anything else to help it set.  Once the mixture is thick, glossy and silky, test for setting point. 
Voila! Only four bottles after all that work but the taste is well worth the effort.
As I prefer a less sweet jam, I used 1 pound organic natural demerera sugar to 1.5 pounds rose hip pulp and two cups of water.  This jam is soft and silky and has just the right balance of tartness.