Category Archives: Varieties

St Edmund’s Pippin


Amongst our collection of traditional apple varieties, St Edmund’s Pippin has done particularly well this year. It is an early to mid season russet that keeps for just a couple of weeks. During that period, it is a remarkably fine dessert apple. It takes its name from Bury St Edmunds, where it was raised by a Mr Harvey. The exact date appears not to be known, but it is reckoned to be shortly before 1875, in which year it was introduced and received a first class certificate from the RHS. That makes it one of the youngest of our varieties, but it is doubtless one of the finest. Rather more recently, in 1993, it was awarded an AGM, so a good indicator of its generally reliable characteristics. Continue reading

Pear Doyenne d’Ete

Doyenne d'Ete, ripe and ready to eat in July

Pear Doyenne d’Ete, ripe and ready to eat in July

The Doyenne d’Ete, or summer doyenne, is an old variety of early summer pear. While we have many weeks yet before the main pear crop begins, this early pear is generally ripe around mid July to the end of August. Like the early apples, these sorts of pear are not the finest in quality nor do they last long. Doyenne d’Ete keeps but a day or two once ripe before the texture and flavour deteriorate. In good condition, though, it is a nice little pear. In modern times, foreign imports have replaced the early varieties of apple and pear, which are now rarely seen. This is a pity, because if one is following seasonal produce, there is much to look forward to in that first locally grown apple or pear of the year. Continue reading

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

Seed list 2014 – part 5 – cucurbits

The fifth article in the series looking at our sowing plans for the coming season covers the cucurbits – cucumbers, melons, summer and winter squash. Whilst melons are a somewhat marginal proposition, we have a great harvest of cucumbers and summer squash, both of which are prolific. We also reserve one of our large borders for winter squash, which, if they store well, can provide many winter meals. Continue reading

Seed list 2014 – part 4 – peas and beans

I am very fond of legumes of various sorts. Peas and broad beans are one of the great treats of the early season. Although they freeze well, growing enough for freezing needs a great deal of space and a lot of effort for picking and shelling. I prefer, instead, to eat them as a seasonal treat so do not grow an excessive quantity. Out of their peak season in early summer there are plenty of other crops to enjoy. Later in the year, French and runner beans are one of our staples. We grow beans for use fresh as well as shelling sorts for drying for winter use, but CT is not very keen on the dried beans. Continue reading

Seed list 2014 – part 3 – brassicas

This third article in the series on our seed list looks at brassicas, a family that I am generally not quite so keen on, which is a little unfortunate as this family offers a wide range of vegetables that are very nutritious and often available in late winter and early spring when little else is cropping. I do not really like swede, and grow them mainly for the Finnish Christmas dish of kålrotslåda, although other members of family like them. Turnips find some limited use in our kitchen, and we prefer them raw to cooked. I do not really like broccoli, but grow it for CT because she really enjoys it. I sometimes grow some sprouts for the same reason. I quite enjoy raw cauliflower, but do not like it cooked at all. CT enjoys it though, so I usually grow a few. Radish are also brassicas, but in this case CT does not like them much, whilst I quite enjoy their crisp texture and peppery flavour. So all of these I grow in limited quantities. I find much more use for kale and cabbages, and especially like braised red cabbage and coleslaw, which I most often make in the continental style with vinegar and oil rather than mayonnaise. Continue reading

Seed list 2014 – part 2 – alliums

This second article looking at the varieties we plan to sow in the coming year covers alliums: onions, shallots, garlic, and leeks. I make several sowings of onions, shallots and garlic. The first sowing, from sets, is at the end of the season, late autumn or early winter, to overwinter in the polytunnel. I have found the results to be far better than overwintering outdoors. I then make a spring sowing outdoors, again from sets, as soon as the soil has dried out sufficiently from the winter rains – something of a problem this year. Whilst fine for the onions and shallots, this puts the outdoor garlic a little later than ideal, as it benefits from a period of cold in order to develop good cloves, but seems to work better for us overall than sowing earlier and suffering the rigours of the winter weather. The damp is more of a problem than the cold, even with the generally good drainage provided by the somewhat sandy soil of our slightly raised beds. The undercover crop is larger and better, but the outdoor crop is usually still useful. I then sow various small onions from seed a little later; these do not need so long to develop and are culinary treats rather than main crop. Continue reading

Seed list 2014 – part 1 – root crops

I am sure I am not alone in feeling like a kid in sweet shop when it comes to browsing seed catalogues and preparing sowing plans for the coming year. Long before we even broke ground here I drew up a ‘shortlist’ of seeds that I thought would make a good starting point. This shortlist was, admittedly, not at all short and I have spent the last few years trying to refine it based on our experiences, trying new sorts and removing others depending on how they perform for us. Despite my best efforts, there are still a great many varieties on my list. I must also confess that I have completely ignored my scientific training and made these choices on rather whimsical grounds, and perhaps I ought to conduct more rigorous trials before making such decisions. Perhaps one day, but in the mean time, preparing this year’s seed list was long overdue. Continue reading

The nuttery and truffière

This is the final article in the series looking at our selection of varieties for our mixed orchard. Along with the various fruits, we are also planting a few nut trees. We began this last winter by planting a sweet chestnut, Marron de Lyon, and walnut, Broadview, and this year are adding almond and hazel trees. Along with the nuts, we are also experimenting with a small truffière. As hazel is one of the trees commonly used for the cultivation of various truffles, we can combine the nut harvest with the possibility of finding, in some years’ time, a few precious truffles. 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