Showing posts with label Achocha. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Achocha. Show all posts

20 May 2018

Six on Saturday: Mid May in the Veg Patch

Honey bee on chive flower

May is the token first month of summer and it's been a corker.  Everything that looked a teeny bit dismal in the middle of April has burst into life, seeds are germinating, bees are buzzing and it's a real pleasure to be outside in warm sunshine.  This is a novelty as I usually associate May with the sort of unpredictable weather that makes it hazardous to plant out beans and sweet corn that I've nurtured indoors. This year I've sown my sweetcorn seeds straight into the ground having seen last year that direct sowing produced much stronger plants than those I transplanted.

21 Nov 2015

How to preserve an abundance of Achocha

If you grow achocha (or cucumbers), you'll know how many small fruits you get in the autumn. Here's two quick and easy preserves to deal with the glut, with a printable pdf for your recipe file.

So what do you do when nature has decided to dump your entire achocha harvest in your lap (metaphorically speaking) all at once?  You can either eat small green porcupine peppers for the next two weeks at every meal - a task fit to stretch anyone's culinary creativity - or you can turn to the preserving books on your (or the local library's) shelves.  I opted to preserve most and cook a few.

As a keen forager (when I have time) and grower, I have several excellent preserving books. Although there's a wealth of advice on the internet, I prefer the tried and tested methods that have made it into print. This time I looked through Piers Warren's How to Store your Garden Produce (reviewed here)  and, newly gifted to my collection, The National Trust book of Jams and Preserves. This is an extremely handsome book that has inspired a wealth of ideas for next year's garden produce.

I had to really think about which recipes I could use; after all, achocha is not your usual allotment fare. Botanically speaking, achocha (Cyclanthera) are classified as a subtribe of curcubits, the same family as pumpkins, squash, courgettes, gourds, melons, cucumbers and, yes, even loofahs. Having said that, they're not fleshy like pumpkins and the mature fruits don't have the watery flesh of melons and cucumbers. For cooking purposes, achocha can be used like a diminutive cousin of the sweet green pepper. However, the pepper preserving recipes I found seemed to be aimed at chilli peppers so in the end I decided I'd be safe treating the fruits as cucumbers.  Whew, decision reached.

You might at this stage wonder why I didn't consider freezing them. Well, apparently extreme cold breaks down the cell membranes so they turn to unpleasant mush on defrosting.  My chosen recipes of cucumber achocha jam and sweet cucumber achocha pickle sounded much nicer. I don't usually eat pickle but I dislike wasting food and had the pickle ingredients in the cupboard; also I was intrigued by the thought of cucumber jam. Hmm, savoury jam? A bit odd but I thought I'd give it a go and it turned out to be surprisingly delicious. The author, Piers Warren, suggests the option of adding a good pinch of ground ginger to the jam at simmering stage which I did - along with a pinch of cinnamon for good measure and the finely grated zest as well as the required juice of a lemon.

I've yet to try the pickle.  Apparently the original recipe will go nicely with fish and chips. Again, I got creative with the recipe by adding in yellow peppers, chillies and mustard seeds to my sliced up achocha and shallots - it should give quite a pop of flavour!

A printable pdf of my jam and pickle recipes can be found here; could be useful for those who've decided to give the seeds a go next year. I'm thinking now of growing achocha fruits specifically for making this jam next year - it's delicious on bread with cheese.

16 Nov 2015

The Downfall of Achocha

It's been a bit blustery of late but I certainly wasn't expecting this last weekend.

I hadn't posted a garden update for a while and my sleep patterns hadn't yet shifted from British Summer Time so, having dusted off my breakfast and a huge pile of washing, I was in the garden by 7.30 a.m. last Sunday (Yes, Sunday. Lie ins are so last decade, at least in my case.)

The plan was this: take a few photos, see what needs doing, pop a few spring bulbs into the rain softened soil.  But you know what they say about best laid plans.

The first thing I saw when I got to the garden was that Saturday's strong winds had brought down the (admittedly very cheap) arches that I used as support for my climbing beans and achocha this year.  They looked so lovely during the summer, a leafy arch to walk under, weighted with produce. And that was the problem. The achocha vines were still chugging out an abundance of fruit while the beans were slowly fading so it all got a bit lopsided. Lots of rain had softened the soil that the arches were bedded into and after a prolonged blast of wind, down they came, twisting and buckling as one part of the base remained firm while the top pulled away and down.  It was a devastating sight.

There was no point in bemoaning the loss of the arches; instead, it was the sight of all those lovely peppers and beans sprawled across my broccoli plants that caused despair. Weather can be such a two-edged sword.  With all the rain we've had this year, the little spiny hedgehog fruits had soaked up all that water making them crunchy, sweet and juicy - ironically, a perfect harvest but one that I would have preferred not to have all at once.

Achocha can be a prolific vine at the best of times and will (accidents apart) keep going from late July until the first frosts. One plant can grow up to 20 feet in length with many fruit bearing side shoots and long sensitive tendrils curling like springs around anything they come into contact with.  The plant had woven itself into a tangled spaghetti and it took me two hours to cut the vines off the arches, removing the fruit as I went. Two overloaded colanders got brought back indoors but quite a few pods will just be used for seed. So that's that for this year. The achocha is finished.

The large black seeds can be easily saved straight from the pods in the kitchen - just slice off the stalk end and open up the pod. The seeds are held around a central stigma so can be pulled off in one movement. It's quite addictive - I now have a large bowl of fresh achocha seeds.  If anyone's interested in growing them next year, give me a shout and I'll happily post some.

Here's my thoughts on why you should grow them:
If you like really green tasting veg (cucumbers, courgettes, peppers, beans) you should try achocha at least once. They're delicious eaten whole when small (a bit like cucumber, which they're related to). Older pods need to be cooked with the seeds removed; slice and stir fry or use as a substitute for peppers in casseroles. Fried in butter, they taste (to me) like asparagus. Yum. The pods will grow to about 2 inches long and are hollow when mature; stuffing them is how they were eaten by the Incas.
Achocha are reputed to be capable of lowering cholesterol (or so I've read).  Most importantly, in my opinion, achocha  flowers are pollinated by hoverflies who also love to eat greenfly - this I know to be true - and who wouldn't want lots of hoverflies in their garden?  They're also a great novelty veg for children interested in, or new to, gardening - don't be put off by the spines, they're very soft.

I've spent a good deal of time figuring out the best way to preserve my unexpected bounty. More in my next post but let me just say it might involve jam.  ;o)

26 Sept 2012

What a week for a holiday at home!

Veg Patch view Sept 2012
Before the stormy weather, a view of my little veg patch garden taken ten days ago. 
Top left, under the tree, is one single Striped Pyjamas spaghetti squash plant. ~ 
I've taken a few days off work this week, mainly to give myself the time to have a tidy round the veg garden, clearing, pruning, sowing (broad beans, flowers) and planting bulbs (tulips, daffs, onions). I'd anticipated pottering in warm sunshine.  Well, that didn't happen, did it?  Not that I'm complaining: I've seen news reports of floods in the North and photos of the terrible damage all these storms have wreaked.  I hope that gardening friends across the UK have made it through without the trauma of having their homes and gardens damaged - the worst I've experienced here in London is the loss of tall sunflowers (literally snapped in half) and 48 hours of rain which started last Sunday.

Sept basket harvest
~ Rainbow veg:
Purple potatoes, green achocha, orange bell pepper (tiny), yellow cucumber, red chillies ~ 

Luckily, the day before the deluge, I decided to start digging up the spuds growing under the fruit trees. These potatoes prove that there is such a thing as a free lunch: I didn't plant even one of these, they're all left over from the first batch popped in the soil in 2010! It seems there will always be one little tuber left behind to grow on next year.

There were no markers but they're easy to identify: these are Blue Danube, a maincrop potato with good blight resistance, vigorous and with pretty purple flowers. Last year the potatoes were small and I boiled them.  Not good as they fell apart in cooking.  Apparently, they're best roasted! Or sautéed. Or baked, which is just as well because this year, having left them in the ground for a good while, I've had some whoppers.

Blue Danube spuds

I'm hoping for some better weather later in the week as I really want to get my bulbs in.  There's also a good post over at Garlic and Sapphire about which flower seeds can be sown now in order to get a head start on the flower cutting garden next spring.

But, if the weather doesn't cheer up, I can practise my plant sketching. My garden design course requires that I learn four plant idents by this Friday; the rest of the first day was all introductions, student handbooks, library visits, cups of tea and where are the toilets! So far, my heart is still in the kitchen garden and I was glad to get back to my veg patch for some thinking space at the end of the day.  

I think we were started off gently as the plants to remember are all fairly common: Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan), Echinacea purpurea (coneflower), Verbena bonariensis (Vervain; a favourite at Chelsea last year) and Penstemon 'Firebird'. The first task on Friday morning will be to collect a pre-cut sample flower and sketch it.  It's been a while since I wielded a pencil so I'm getting some practise in beforehand and the rainy weather is perfect for that!

Salvia Amistad

To end with an uplifting image:  this bed of salvia and lavender signposts the path between the graphics studio and the tea room in the Capel Manor gardens - no getting lost with this bright splash of colour! 

9 Dec 2011

I've been eating Fat Babies (or everything you need to know about Achocha)

There's not many places you could put a statement like that out in the open and not get immediately arrested but, in this case, it's absolutely true. They've been plucked, washed, sliced, gutted and fried in butter. And then eaten.

Achocha softly spined fruit on vine

Fat Babies, the nickname for this particular type of Achocha, are my star experimental plant in the veg patch and balcony this year. Admittedly, I muddled my seed order and thought I was buying eXplOding Fat Babies so I was quite bemused to find that my babies were quite docile, if alarmingly vigorous in their growth.

I met gardener and author Alex Mitchell earlier this year and, over a mug of coffee in my sitting room, she spied the spiky Achocha fruits poking out of the vine growing across my balcony. Having just written an inspirational book about Edible Balconies, she was intrigued by this plant as I'd created a sort of mini Forest Garden on my tiny balcony. (It towered over herbs, tomatoes, chilli peppers, spinach, radishes, orache, beans, nasturtiums and violets.) But more of my balcony food growing later ...

Achocha fruit forming in leaf node

The seeds came from the Real Seed Company who describe the young fruits as tasting of sweet green peppers; personally, I find cooking them in butter reminds me of the taste of asparagus. (For me, this is good.) Other people have likened the taste to grass (less appealing), having taken to heart the advice that they can be chopped and eaten raw in salads. From my viewpoint, I'm just really pleased to be able to pick 'peppers' in December from the veg patch. 

Given the vagaries of the weather this autumn, I'm uncertain if this late harvest is usual but the plants grown on the balcony have just about finished while the plants in the veg garden are still fruiting - I counted nearly 20 fruits ready to be picked.  I'm guessing that this is because the balcony plants had only a small window box to grow in and only saw the sun in the afternoon whereas the veg patch achocha had lots more sun and open space. Nevertheless, the vines grew up and across the pigeon netting, easily reaching 10 feet long from one spindly, seemingly dead stem.They put out long tendrils, rather like peas, that reach out for anything to grab and wrap around.

Achocha tendrils

And, having found an anchor, form very strong spiral springs to keep their grip! An awesome protection system which has seen my Fat Babies sail through stormy weather this year.

Achocha tendrils clinging on

I had two of these plants growing on the balcony and the vines filtered the sun beautifully all summer. Down in the veg patch, one solitary plant clambered around a 9 foot high cane wigwam and then got all tangled up as the vines had nowhere else to go. The vines can reach over 16 feet long! Real Seeds recommend that these should not be grown in a polytunnel as they can apparently completely take over, which I can easily believe. I think the plants would look lovely growing over a big wooden arch, like a grapevine, but they're an annual so die back in winter.

Achocha hails from South America, its Latin name is Cyclanthera brachystacha and, although it likes a nice sunny spot to grow in, it will happily thrive in the UK as long as the soil is free draining  and kept moist. There are a few variants but Fat Baby have bright green flesh with soft spines and, if allowed to mature, large black jagged edged seeds which look like small flat beetles.

Achocha pods sliced to reveal black seeds

The fruits can be eaten at any size, small (about an inch) or large (up to 3 inches). The larger ones have to be split open and the seeds removed before being cooked. If the spines have started to go brown, I just rub them off. They tend to fall off anyway when the fruit is being sliced. 

I've added them to vegetable chillies and eaten them fried with mushrooms but they can be sliced into a salad or onto a pizza, particularly when small. I think they would also be very nice in a stir fry with noodles. In any recipe that calls for a green pepper, you can reach for several of these instead. The flesh is thinner than a supermarket green pepper (so less watery), the taste greener and less sweet. Because they're very small, you need quite a lot to cook with, probably at least 10 to replace one green bell pepper. But these are much more fun to look at. 

The original seeds supplied are non-hybrid (ie, will grow again true to the original plant) and the Real Seed Company encourage future seed saving of all their seeds. Achocha seeds are very easy to collect because of their size so, come next April when we're all starting over, if anyone would like to try Achocha, I think I might just have a few spare. 

Achocha fruits
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