A life without love is like a year without summer. ~Swedish Proverb
Posted onJuly 22, 2015
One of the most frustrating things about growing any crop is when, for the sake of improving the quality of yield, you have to remove fruits or seedlings. To me this seems to be wrong. I know thinning seedlings means that the plants that remain have more space to develop and grow healthily, but the very fact that I’ve nurtured them to that point means I feel a sense of attachment and of lost potential. That’s why, whenever I can, I use the thinnings in meals. When it comes to apples, nature, as if to ensure I don’t get lazy and just let things go, steps in with the ‘June Drop’. The annual time of year when the apple tree chooses to drop a few of the extra fruits, self regulating to give those fruit that remain the best chance of forming properly and going on to ripen to their potential.
I know its July, but the drop has only just happened in earnest and the apple trees at the plot have a scattering of undersized, under ripe, apples in the grass below. Unripe apples are not a culinary highlight of the year, but they do have one great asset. Pectin. Like the super-sour crab apple, these dropped fruits are full of pectin and when tempered with sugar they are also light on flavour. As such they can be used in preserves to produce a beautiful herb jelly. This month has also seen a mint infused takeover of the allotment. The ever invasive herb has spread its refreshing leaves between and beneath almost al of the top half of the plot. So in effort to capture the mintiness for later in the season when mint suffers in the baking heat, I made mint jelly. The perfect accompaniment to roast lamb, and infinitely better than the supermarket fluorescent green version.
You will need (makes jars)
500g unripe apples (cooking apples would do the job if apples are actually in season)
1 bunch of mint
30ml white wine vinegar
Chop the apples roughly; if they are small, then just chop them in half. Add to a pan with the bunch of mint and enough water to barely cover the apples. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes or so, until the fruit is very soft. Pour the contents into a scolded jelly bag and leave to drip overnight. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag, or poke it, as this will effect the clarity of your jelly.
Measure the strained juice, before adding the sugar. For every 200ml of liquid you will need 150g of sugar. Return the liquid to the cleaned out pan, with the addition of the vinegar. Heat to boiling point, stirring to ensure the sugar is dissolved properly. Continue to boil for 10 minutes or so, until the setting point is reached. For this I use a jam thermometer and wait until the bubbling liquid gets to 104°C, before removing from the heat, skimming off the scum, and then pouring into warm, sterilised jars. Once sealed with a lid, the mint jelly will last up to a year. Not that it will last that time, as it’s an irresistible accompaniment to lamb.
June has been a really warm month down here on the south coast. We’ve had slightly above temperatures, with occasional heavy downpours. All in all, perfect growing weather. As a result the allotment has flourished, with the crops just about outgrowing the weeds.
The good weather has meant there has been much to harvest. The broad beans have been a roaring success, with literally bagfuls being picked and eaten over the last few weeks. Whilst the original overwintered crop has just finished, the spring sown bean are about to be ready to pick; so we’ll be enjoying these sweet and tasty beans well into July. The strawberries have also been excellent, with a really good harvest of big berries. They too have begun to reach the end, but as they finished the summer raspberries have ripened and are providing us with a great crop. Salads are hard to get germinating when its so hot, but those which had grown have been giving us a constant alternative to the hermetically sealed bags of overpriced salad in the supermarkets.
Over the last few weeks I have been sowing more Swiss chard, as well as some Florence fennel. Hopefully they can get going and provide us with a good crop into the autumn. There’s still time to sow more peas and dwarf beans, so once the potatoes are dug, I’ll put a row or two of each for a late summer crop of fresh peas and beans. This is the month I start to think about the winter, so I’ll be rifling through the seed box and working out which of the brassicas I can sown now to give me a crop when the days are colder and shorter. For a quick fix, I’ll also be sowing some more radishes. They’re so quick to germinate and swell, and they add an amazing heat and crunch to any salad.
The ongoing jobs of watering and weeding will continue this month. I’m trying to be smart with the watering; only watering those plants that really need it, and making sure that they don’t go from drought to flood too much. In terms of the tomatoes, this consistency is crucial to ensure that the fruits don’t split or become diseased. The pumpkins, squashes, cucumbers, beans and indeed tomatoes, all need tying in to their supports as their tendrils and shoots grow in the summer’s heat. This year I’m trying to control the pumpkin and squash growth by training them up a step ladder and around an old parasol frame. The plan is to tie them in every so often, so I can let the plants become big without them taking over the whole allotment!
This post is contributing to The Garden Share Collective; an international group of bloggers who share their vegetable patches, container gardens and the herbs they grow on their window sills.