Showing posts with label Cherries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cherries. Show all posts

20 Jun 2020

Fifty Shades of Red

So this is it ... the start of summer proper as heralded by sixteen plus hours of daylight, a solar eclipse and the summer solstice - all happening today.  But in the Veg Patch, the lead up to this momentous day has been all about berries and cherries. Especially the cherries.

12 Jul 2018

Five kilos of cherries

July is the month of soft fruit and I absolutely adore the sight of ripe red cherries hanging from the trees in my garden - even knowing that the cherries in question are not sweet cherries. At the time the garden was repurposed for food growing, our group chose sour rather than sweet cherries. I'm not altogether sure that we knew what we were doing; I expect someone recognised the name Morello, perhaps from a delicious jar of store bought jam, and thought that was the cultivar to go for.  As it happens, it was a good decision in terms of location (Morellos don't mind a bit of shade) with the bonus that birds leave the fruit alone ... on the whole.

31 Jul 2016

Bye Bye Cherry Pie

Not that I would have made pie but the post title sums up the mood here. This is a tale of frustration and regret which I write purely as a lesson learned for next year.

Cherries mid-July
~ Looking good but not quite dark enough for Morello cherries ~

I have abandoned any hope of cherries this year which is ironic if you've read anything that I've written about cherries in previous years.  I've banged on about how I've struggled to find a use for the Morello (sour) cherries that I grow here. Morello would not have been my first choice of cultivar but this is what I have from a group decision at the start of the veg patch. Because of the sour taste, the fruit is best used for jam making or cooking.  I have one neighbour who likes to eat them raw and she usually has her pick of the crop. Not this year.

This year was different; I was actually looking forward to a huge haul of cherries! :o)  I'd made cherry chutney last year, having singularly failed to make a decent jam that wasn't cloyingly sweet.  I recently opened a jar of said chutney ... and, to my amazement, the taste was extremely good. Unfortunately, I'd given most of it away.  No matter, I'd make some more - or would I? As it turns out, no.

Stupidly, I overlooked some crucial points.  I didn't net the fruit. This followed the pattern of previous years because I've had no problems with birds eating the fruit - until now. I also failed to monitor the fruit as it ripened.

Cherries mid-July
~ Slightly shaded tree, mid-July; still plenty of unripe yellow cherries ~

This year the rain ensured a bumper crop, almost completely negating the 'June drop' where about a third of the fruitlets turn brown and drop from the tree. The fruit started to go from gold to pink at the beginning of July and then, in the blink of an eye, had turned red and soft.  I'm used to the fruit turning a deep red before picking as it can be really tart otherwise. So I waited.  Two weekends back, I caught a neighbour chatting on his mobile phone while absentmindedly picking my cherries and eating them! A request to desist was uttered in no uncertain terms.

But the cherries continued to disappear as they ripened. The next day, all the fruit was stripped from the top branches leaving the tree looking more like a cactus than a fruit tree.  But I found the culprit - a huge wood pigeon flapped away from the tree as I approached.  Mystery solved, but too late.  A friend whose flat overlooks the garden tells me that she's seen other pigeons on the trees and ants are now enjoying the juice from any remaining fruit.  So I think I'll pass, thank you.

Fallen cherries
~ Bird damage; so many fruits fall as the birds peck ~

So what's the big lesson from this? I absolutely must net the cherries as soon as the fruit appears in future years!  The fruit ripened from yellow to ready in just 10 days. Take your eye off the ball and you/I've had it.

For anyone who has sensibly netted their cherries and therefore has some to cook with, here's  my cherry chutney recipe, taken from Beryl Wood's book 'Let's Preserve It'.

Plus a few notes on growing sour cherries for jam or a traditional American cherry pie:

  • Morello cherries are incredibly easy to grow as they're self-fertile and will grow in part shade in a north facing spot.  
  • If you choose the right rootstock, they're also ideal for a small garden; mine are now in their seventh year and are no more than six feet tall. 
  • They are practically maintenance free, maybe a bit of light pruning of crossing branches and that's it.
  • Watch out for baby trees from dropped stones - I pull out half a dozen tiny cherry trees every spring! 

9 Aug 2015

Pause for thought

I don't like jam.

I had that thought yesterday morning while trying to sort out some Morello cherry jam that hadn't set properly. All the jam I made tasted overwhelmingly sweet (even with sticking religiously to the recipe) and I want to taste the fruit, not the sugar.  So, I asked myself, why am I growing sour cherries? Why not sweet cherries? And then I started to rethink the garden, as you do.

I thought about what I really enjoy in the garden. More apples and plums would be good, some more everyday herbs, room to grow in the ground and less in pots - and more flowers, lots more flowers. Every year it's the flowers that excite me (as much as the veg!) and with that in mind, I'm getting my seed box out today to sow some biennials for next year. Meanwhile, having separated the jam fruit from the oversweet syrup, I added it to recently picked raspberries and redcurrants; yesterday's experiment is now a nice compote of fruit, sweetened with elderflower cordial and sugar to taste.

That still leaves me with the sour cherry trees to sort. Sour cherries are my best fruit crop and I dislike wasting anything I've grown. A plan is needed, one to gradually replace one of the Morello trees with a sweet cherry. And perhaps I could find someone locally who would want the crop next year. This year my two trees produced nearly 3 kg of fruit. Not much, but definitely too much to waste.

A rethink was also on my mind last week as I tidied the garden with the help of my gardening neighbour, Karen, in readiness for the Camden in Bloom judges. I kept asking myself why on earth I'd entered the competition; surely this little patch wasn't up to the mark for judging.  Moreover, how could I make it better?  However, Karen kept me on track and plants were repotted, pots were mulched, pavements were weeded, paths swept, trees and shrubs pruned lightly, flowers deadheaded, strawberries tidied, bare patches weeded or replanted and, just as it was getting dark and despite both being doggone tired, all was topped off with a good long watering to ensure the garden looked fresh and perky on the day.

A couple of jobs were left for the following morning. A 9 a.m. start was planned as I'd been told the judges would arrive at 11. Just after 9 a.m., Karen buzzed my door and whispered, "They're here!". Blimey! The judging appointment had been rescheduled.  They'd met Karen on the way to the garden with her tool bag and assumed she was me.  It was only after some minutes of chatting about the garden that she realised their mistake and hurried back to get me.  Karen tells me that the judges reaction on seeing the garden was really good, words like 'wow', 'amazing' were apparently used. Of course, I'm chuffed to bits about that.  Hopefully my green oasis made its mark.  And never mind if there was still work to be done - a garden is never finished and it showed that this garden is a real work in progress.  Chris Collins, who used to be the Blue Peter gardener, was a judge; it was really nice to chat to him as I value his opinion, given that he's properly experienced in these things. And the photographer clicked away for almost an hour (worse than me!).  I won't now hear how I got on until end of August or early September and life has settled down once more.

The garden has been on my mind though.  My shady border at the north end of the garden had just had all the foxgloves cut down so is looking a bit sparse with just a couple of heucheras, some sweet woodruff and some ferns. Some winter planting is needed together with a nearby water butt so that I can lessen the impact of dry shade.  A new water butt (aka green wheelie bin) was kindly donated by the recycling centre the next day and will be filled when the hosepipes come out next time.

The veg garden will have to be rethought again.  A couple of the original raised beds have rotted away from their posts and will be removed when the veg is cleared.  A new system for containing the soil will have to be found - some untreated railway sleepers would be nice but I suspect I'll be begging some scaffolding planks instead.  It will be a good time to rethink the layout and perhaps move a few of the herbs as I've learned that parsley prefers to grow in light shade.

And I want more flowers.  I always want more flowers at this time of year - not for picking but just for looking at. Wonderful autumn perennials are elsewhere coming into their own now - salvias, grasses, heleniums, eryngiums - and I long for that burst of colour here.  Thinking cap on.  Seed catalogues out. Onwards, ever onwards.

12 Jul 2014


So we're having a summer of festivals, sunshine, music, happiness, flowers in your hair and chilling… but don't get excited - when I'm talking about being stoned, I'm only talking about cherry stones (or pits/pips, whatever).

You might remember that the cherry trees under my custodian-ship are both Morello, bought at the beginning of the community garden when there were quite a few of us. I'm not sure how the decision was reached to buy two sour cherry trees but every year those two trees are my best producers and, ironically, I don't even like sour cherries. Neighbours were told to help themselves as the fruit ripened but it didn't happen. I returned from a few days away to find deep dark cherries on the point of spoiling with none picked.

Not being one to waste good food, I checked through my cookery books (so many recipes for sweet cherries!) and googled for more inspiration. Not fancying a cherry chutney or pickle (good with duck), I thought I might be safe with a cherry crumble from an American website. The country is renowned for its cherry pies and cobblers so what could go wrong?  Salt, as it happens.

But first, time to gather the fruit in. I popped down to the garden with scissors and a trug. Having this year got wise to the fact that ants love the fruit juice and were swarming all over the fruit (unlike my experience last year), I returned home with just under a kilo of fruit and, it turned out, 4 small spiders, numerous teeny tiny caterpillars and 2 ants. As I picked, I'd discarded another kilo of fruit as it had little boreholes in it - either something had crawled in or out of those holes, best not to risk it - or had just become too overripe. With home-grown, it's always wise to check and wash, then check again. Yin/yang, there's a balance to everything with organic, pesticide-free gardening.

Back in the kitchen the cherries were weighed and picked over again - on a black surface so that I could see any bugs crawling away -

more had to be thrown, the remainder washed, dried,


stones removed, kitchen washed down (they were very juicy!)

and, finally, I was able to get on with the business of being a domestic goddess. The recipe was translated (almond flour?  eh? (ground almonds) - and cups versus grams) and about half an hour later, this was ready to go into the oven

with one spare for the freezer.

One word of caution: this should have been utterly delicious; ground almond crumble over vanilla scented sweetened cherries … BUT! why oh why did the recipe call for salt? In both the crumble and, more bizarrely, in the cherry mix. Also, lemon juice and zest in with sour cherries? With hindsight, no, not good. (Unless, of course, you're a big fan of Heston Blumenthal.) I blame my obsession with following a recipe to the letter the first time I make something; next time I'll trust my judgement.  Looks nice though, doesn't it?

So it's bye, bye American Pie but I'm going to see if I can rescue/start again with the second crumble and cook it with sugar and a good slosh of last year's delicious sloe vodka.

Just in case I haven't totally put you off, the recipe I used is here on the Epicurious website:  Sour Cherry Crumble 
It wasn't unpleasant, it's just that the hint of salt enhanced the 'sour' element of what I was eating and I was kinda trying to get away from that.

With a few amendments - if you have sour cherries to use up and want to give this a go - the crumble top would be sublime if the salt is omitted. The filling needs adjusting - leave out the salt and lemon juice, use 2 spoons of cornflour or arrowroot instead of 3 spoons of 'flour' (I did) and add a touch more sugar and vanilla - and possibly some booze.  Then, I think, it would be crumble-icious.

Finally, having stripped the tree of its fruit, now is a good time for pruning.

Edited to add: If you don't have your own cherry tree and have to buy cherries in, look for cherries that still have the stalks attached. The stalks should be green, indicating that the fruit is freshly picked and therefore still full of healthy goodness.

10 Aug 2012

Time to throw out the rule book

Cherry tree blossom Aug 2012
~ Cherry blossom in August, with ripe cherries on other branches. Confusing? certainly ~

Every year is a learning curve in the garden and this one is certainly no exception.  I read only yesterday that August is the last chance to trim hedges before the autumn frosts.  I was quite taken aback at this as, for me, the summer has only just got going. Plants such as courgettes, cucumbers, hyacinth beans and squashes that have been quietly waiting for some warmth have suddenly started to shoot away.  The cucumbers are putting on a rapid growth spurt, as are the beans. Canadian wonder beans are producing enough for dinner every day; so delicious as young pods but I had intended to grow these for the red kidney beans inside!

Without dwelling on the weather so far this year, my belief is that the seasons have shifted slightly; I'm optimistically expecting another slow decline into autumn, just as we had last year. Jekka McVicar told me earlier this year that she no longer cuts back her lavender in autumn, preferring to leave it until the air has warmed slightly in the early spring. Cutting it back in a warm autumn promotes new growth and confuses the plant, leaving it vulnerable to winter frosts.  She stated that she no longer relies on the old rules and given wisdom because the seasons have noticeably changed. Coming from someone whose business and reputation relies on interpreting the seasons correctly, hers is an opinion that I take note of.

Global warming is definitely affecting the gardening calendar and we have to make adjustments accordingly. Personally, I'm trying to garden instinctively, being prepared to experiment a bit and remaining stoic about any losses along the way. In this way, I haven't lost plants to water rot or slug damage this year but everything is very behind in it's growth. Except the sunflowers and herbs which are perennial or self-seeded.

If my prediction for the autumn comes true, that would mean 90 or more days of reasonably warm weather before any cold winter snaps visit the garden - bearing in mind that I live in London, in the South East of the UK.  Of course the light levels will diminish as days get shorter, so any planting done now would have to be in the brightest areas of the garden.  I'm fortunate that the veg patch gets a good seven hours of sun/light at this time of year.  The north-east facing walled border gets around 5 hours but the fruit trees planted there partly shade the earth beneath anyway.  (One of my winter jobs is to move a couple more fruit trees, especially as the cherry tree re-established itself so successfully this year.)

I pulled the last of the Little Finger carrots this week - they are by far the tastiest I've grown and I've just received a new bag of seeds to sow a new crop which should be ready by mid-October. The Amsterdam Sprint carrots will keep me going but the taste is not quite as delicious.  I'm also going to put in more dwarf beans (Canadian Wonder and Annabelle french beans), mange tout and salad leaves. It may not work but, on the other hand, my cherry tree thinks it's spring!

Edited to add:  I sowed mangetout, dwarf beans and giant sugar peas 2 days ago on the 8th; this morning, the 11th, they are showing through the soil.  :)

10 May 2012

It's a Kind of Magic...

Cherry tree seedling

While I try and squeeze a few moments to write up my notes about my trip to Jekka's herb farm, I wanted to share a little bit of magic going on in the herb patch: free cherry trees! I almost didn't see this tiny seedling as I weeded under the cherry tree but my eye was drawn to the two halves of a cherry stone lying on top of the soil and it dawned on me what the seedling must be. I stayed my hand and placed a marker stone to remind me where the seedling was. Several weeks later and the little tree is now 3 inches tall with four true leaves. There are a couple more 'trees' that have popped up and will be similarly nurtured. My first foundling has been potted up, ready to be taken to the school gardening club this Friday and will eventually be grown in the school's raised bed in the kitchen garden at Lauderdale House in Highgate.

The example above reminds me that every seed wants to grow, given the right conditions and freshness, and every plant is genetically programmed to propagate itself. Even in an urban environment it wouldn't take long for nature to take over. There's a copse of Victoria plum trees growing alongside a lane near my parents' home; its origins lie in the fruit falling from trees in a private neighbouring garden. If I left the York Rise veg patch alone this year, growing in between copious amounts of weeds (chickweed, dandelion, daisies - all edible; goosegrass, couch grass, thistles - not, unless you're a donkey) would be red orach (mountain spinach), sunflowers, nasturtiums, potatoes, horseradish, calendula,  nigella and monarda. Every one of them is self seeded.

Even the autumn raspberries have spread a bit too enthusiastically, sending out runners where they shouldn't. Earlier in the year I pulled several out while tidying round. Obviously I didn't get them all because there are more than half a dozen raspberry canes still flourishing in the bed used for last year's courgettes.

Don't make my mistake: I thought these runners were suckers which stole energy from the main plant; I've since learned that they can be moved and grown as new canes. More free plants! Now that's magic!

(I feel I ought to apologise to anyone who will now have that Queen song running around their heads all day. I just can't get it out of my head... whoops, there's another one!)

18 Jun 2011

Saturday Snap: Cherries in the rain

The weather here in North London over the last few days has been, on the whole, overcast grey skies yielding to heavy rain or drizzle. Sunshine has been rare or fleeting which makes me think that either they're having wonderful weather in the Midlands or that Gardeners World Live, held at the NEC in Birmingham and screened on BBC2 last night, was filmed earlier in the week - say, on Tuesday, when the sun shone for most of the day.

Yesterday was another on/off rainy day here and, as I meandered around the veg patch, the brilliant pop of colour provided by the cherries and strawberries really caught my attention. The cherries appear to colour up more each day and, as I weeded around the base of the trees, a cheeky sparrow crept up to peck at the fruit. Definitely time to get the nets out.  (Overdue, I know!) It was starting to rain more heavily so I nipped home for my jacket and grabbed my camera at the same time. So this is a Friday-Saturday Snap, it being too windy to photograph the heads of my fennel this morning.  Hope it cheers up the weekend for you all!

Morello Cherries

Don't be fooled by the tempting appearance of these fruits - Morello Cherries are sour and best for making pies and jam. I made the mistake of eating one last year - most unpleasantly, it really was sour!
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