Category Archives: General interest

Shallot or not?

Shallots have been cultivated since ancient times, possibly originating in or around Ashkelon, now a city in modern day Israel, for which a former classification as A. ascalonicum was named, as well as the term scallion, which is now applied to several sorts of allium grown for use whilst green and typically with little bulb. Shallots are well regarded for their culinary properties, with a more refined flavour than onions. The question is, though, what constitutes a shallot and how does it differ from an onion? Continue reading

The Finnish Christmas table

I have come up with a few excuses for the lack of blog posts over the last few months, but now I have a good one – I am hobbling around on crutches after an arthroscopy on both knees; I am definitely not working the garden for a while. However, for those readers not of the Nordic persuasion, and maybe even for some that are, I thought it might be interesting to write a few articles and provide some recipes for Finnish Christmas food, starting in this post with an overview of the Finnish Christmas table and the dishes that will be covered in subsequent posts. We have the best of both worlds here – CT is Finnish, and the Finns celebrate on Christmas Eve, leaving us free to follow the Finnish feast with an English sort on Christmas day. The in-laws stay with us for some weeks around Christmas, and mother-in-law Riitta and I do our best to prepare the traditional dishes, along with some family favourites. Continue reading

Our daily bread

Sourdough rye and wholemeal boule

Sourdough rye and wholemeal boule

It has been a while since I last posted on the blog. Once again, we have been busy renovating bits of the house, which has kept me pretty busy. Thankfully we can see some light at the end of this ten year tunnel, although there is a mountain of odds and ends to finish off, including a pile of fourteen doors to treat and hang, and I imagine we will then move outdoors and start fixing up some of the rather rough areas of the plot. I have also been spending quite a bit of time indulging in another obsession – baking.

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Out with the new and in with the old

It is no secret that I tend to favour old varieties of fruit and vegetables, many of which have been around for hundreds of years. They hail from a time when breeding was not concerned unduly with shelf life, robustness for transport, uniformity, suitability for mechanical harvesting, and other rather meaningless traits as far as the kitchen garden is concerned. Naturally, they were selected for traits pertaining to robustness and yield, but flavour, texture, and other characteristics of great interest to the cook and the kitchen gardener were, in my view, far more likely to be prioritised than now. I must admit that I am rather sceptical concerning the motivations behind much of modern plant breeding. I thought it was about time I explained my preference for open pollinated varieties rather than modern F1 hybrids. Continue reading

Cordon training of plums

Apples and pears are ideal candidates for cordon training. Oblique cordons were commonly planted along the walls of the traditional walled kitchen garden. Stone fruits, including plums, are more likely to be grown as fans. There exists, amongst some contemporary authors, the notion that stone fruits are not suited for cordon training and will bear poorly if so grown. However, I am not at all convinced about this, and, at least in the case of plums, am fairly sure that one can grow these quite successfully as cordons. Continue reading

Seeds at Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt

The floating stalls of Amsterdam’s flower market

Among the many sights of Amsterdam, there is the floating flower market, although one is not really aware that the row of large stalls is floating alongside one of the many canals, being so securely fixed in place. Its claim to be the world’s only floating flower market is, then, not nearly as impressive as it might at first appear. January is not the ideal time to visit such an attraction. The great many bulbs and some early flowers were equally matched with tourist tat, but I was pleased to find a wide range of fruit and vegetable seeds for sale and whiled away an hour or so looking for those varieties that are on my ‘list’ as well as one or two new varieties to try. Continue reading

And the mystery apple is…

…still a mystery. It is now just over nine weeks since I sent some samples of our mystery apple to Brogdale for identification. Today I was excited to receive the identification – apparently our apple is Barnack Beauty. As the name suggests, this variety hails from the village of Barnack, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, and appears to date back to 1840. The only problem is that, as far as I can tell, this cannot possibly be our apple. Continue reading

Brogdale apple festival, a review

Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection, hosted its Apple Festival – touted as the ‘Biggest and the Best Apple Festival’ on 19–20 October 2013. Being something of an apple enthusiast, and appreciating the importance of the National Fruit Collection in terms of the preservation of our fruit growing heritage, I was very keen to make a visit. On face value, Brogdale really ought to be in a position to put on a fantastic event for anyone interested in orchard fruits; I cannot think of anywhere else with such potential. As it is quite a long way for us to travel, we wanted to make the most of the weekend, and met up with our good friends Serafiina and Arto in London the day before, and went together on the first day of the festival. Continue reading

Patisserie Lanka

French patisserie Lanka

Having recently expanded the content of the blog to include recipes, today I am making yet another digression by uploading a review of this wonderful patisserie. Whilst staying with our good friends Serafiina and Arto at their house in Hampstead, a visit to Lanka, Finchley Road, London, was recommended. We took some other friends with us on Sunday afternoon, and we were all very impressed, so I thought it definitely worth mentioning on the blog.

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Mystery apple

The mystery apple tree

We have several gnarly old apple trees in the garden, outside of the kitchen garden and the orchard, none of which is in good condition. Two are readily identified as the classic cooking apple, Bramley’s Seedling, but two others are dessert sorts of unknown varieties. One in particular regularly provides a good crop of very tasty apples of an old fashioned sort. These are so delicious that I am keen to find out what the variety might be. Today, I posted three samples of the fruit and a length of stem and foliage to Brogdale Collections for identification. If it can be positively identified, and if it is a variety of some interest, I may well consider planting a new specimen in the forthcoming orchard. I do not want to graft from this tree, as it is rather diseased and I am not happy with the new growth. Continue reading