Day 260: ruby chard

Is it possible my ruby chard will remain unslugmunched for the duration of the colder months? I do hope so. This is one of the aesthetic vegetables that really make the kitchen garden sing with colour, texture and structure…

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The Gardens, weeds & words podcast, Series 1 Episode 11

Have you ever noticed that everything tastes a bit better outdoors? Wouldn’t it be great if we could move seemlessly from our houses to our outdoor space, pulling food straight from the garden, preparing it and even cooking it outdoors? I talk to garden designer Victoria Wade about how she makes this possible for her clients.

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Bramley Apple Week

I’ve just found out that it’s Bramley Apple Week this week. Quite why this should be in February when any half sensible apple tree will be in the middle of a well-earned winter snooze I’ve not the faintest idea, perhaps the autumnal apple harvesting calendar is chock full of national awareness days for other seasonal varieties, and the nation’s favourite cooker had to take the first free spot. Whatever the reason, if you’re lucky enough to have a Bramley apple tree in your garden and were conscientious in storing your harvest, you can still be enjoying the fruits into spring. And if not, there’s always the farmers market or the greengrocer...or even (whisper it!) the supermarket.

We live in the heart of traditional apple country surrounded by hundreds of acres of orchards, although sadly more are being grubbed out each year and in yet more the crop goes unpicked due to low wholesale prices. Which only goes to strengthen the argument for planting apple trees of our own – it’s the perfect Grow Your Own crop for those terminally strapped for time, requiring very little time or attention once planted, and minimal space if a dwarfing rootstock is chosen.

The Bramley apple, or ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ to give the full name, originated in the garden of a Nottinghamshire butcher Matthew Bramley, in 1856 but local nursery owner Henry Merryweather deserves the thanks for developing the fruit commercially. Less sweet and more acidic than dessert apples when picked from the tree, the appley flavour its retained when cooked, while its sugary cousins can become somewhat nondescript to taste. The process of cooking also favours the Bramley’s higher water content, making its texture more succulent than a cooked dessert apple.

A Bramley apple tree in the garden will require two other varieties to pollinate it – any reputable nursery will be able to provide a list of suitable candidates, but it’s worth remembering that insects don’t respect garden boundaries and so any apple trees which your neighbours have may well be suitable for this purpose. And if not, what a great excuse to start your own mini orchard, growing dessert and cooking apples together. Just make sure that the varieties you choose flower at the same time.

For more information, see The Bramley Apple Information Service

Spud man

Is there anything more wonderful than digging your own potatoes out of the ground just in time for dinner? I can’t think of anything right now.
Everything about the experience is thoroughly rewarding. The spring in your step as you march confidently to the vegetable plot, in the comforting knowledge that you’re not entirely reliant on Sainsburys for everything. Then there’s plunging your fork into the ground, and turning the rich soil to reveal the buried treasures, which always somehow surprise me as they appear between the tines. One, two...three, then an unexpected fourth, fat, yellow, joyous spuds which – if you’re really lucky – you haven’t put the fork through (I’m getting better at this - the trick, I’ve found, is to stick the fork into the earth further back from the yellowing haulms of the potato plants than you might think, and then agitate the soil with a rocking, twisting motion to tease the tubers up unharmed). And then as you stoop to pick up your prize, rubbing the flesh clean with your thumbs, the smell of fresh soil and that earthy, nutty crispness somehow simultaneously knocks you off your feet and roots you firmly to the ground on which you stand.

This is soul food; and you haven’t even got them back to the kitchen yet.