The kitchen smells of spicy vinegar. The house smells of spicy vinegar. I smell of spicy vinegar. That’s from pickling some of the products that have come in from the vegetable garden this week.
First off it was cucamelons. I’d been meaning to grow these crisp little wonders for a few years and finally got around to it. They were quite sensitive when starting off as seeds in the heated propagator back in April. The mini plants looked straggly during their subsequent month in pots in the greenhouse tent. But it was planting them out in a raised bed next to the tomatoes which saw them start to flourish.
Sending out tendrils to grip the wire fence, they were soon sprouting flowers, each later followed by a tiny fruit. All helped, it would appear, by the same regular tomato feed as their big red bedfellows have been getting.
At their biggest, cucamelons are the size of a couple of grapes, but they’re very refreshing to munch. Their flavour is betrayed by their name: a hint of cucumber and a nuance of melon. But they won’t keep well, so I pickled a jar’s worth of them and will add more in as they reach full size. There are still plenty of flowers and tiny fruit growing and I keep cutting back the runners so that energy is concentrated on setting fruit, much the same as cutting off the growing tip and nipping out side shoots on cordon tomatoes.
Also getting pickled today was a haul of beetroots: both Cylindra and Boltardy varieties. Baked in the oven for an hour, then skinned, sliced up into Kilner jars and topped up with pre-made pickling vinegar: job done. I also spotted a recommendation for pickling runner and French beans, so with big bowl full of a final harvest of this year’s Castandel French beans – which have been hugely prolific as usual – I’ll be giving that a try in a day or two.
Back out in the tomato bed, the three varieties of toms are thankfully maturing a few at a time rather than all at once. Trusses of dozens of scarlet red ripe tomatoes, as seen in every seed catalogue, are a nuisance in some ways, forcing you to deal with a glut when a nice steady stream of tomatoes would be better. So it’s good to be picking a few a day. Verdicts: Santorange are great, firm and flavoursome; Crimson Cherry: bigger than the name suggests, mild flavour and a bit mushy; Giulietta: big, firm texture, good taste and great for slicing.
Indeed one of those big Giuliettas made for a tasty lunch earlier, with sliced sourdough topped off with mozzarella, tomato, fresh basil and chives just snipped outside a moment earlier and a good glug of olive oil. If it wasn’t for work in the morning, it might have been joined by a good glug of Sauvignon Blanc as well.
That tomato bed is overlooked by the fig tree, which has grown vigorously after being trimmed right back at the start of the year. I thought that might have stilted its growth this summer but it’s grown bushier than ever and put out loads of fruit. That affords an opportunity for an old favourite fig and feta tart. Just chopping and crumbling both ingredients over a sheet of shop-bought flaky pastry makes for a delicious sweet and savoury slice, good warm or cold.
Elsewhere, the slightly late-planted broad beans were hit by an attack of rust so last week I harvested them all before the pods started to rot. It was a good 1.5kg (3lb 3oz) haul, of my favourite Sutton variety, the majority now blanched and bagged up in the freezer for months of tasty green treats.
And in the nearby tent the chillis and sweet peppers are all ripe now. To be honest both could have been better, especially as they were grafted plants. The Medina chillis are nice and fiery when raw (40,000 Scovilles so about ten times hotter than a Jalapeño), but lose all that heat after more than a moment’s cooking in a stir fry, while the Ace peppers are crisp and tasty but rather thin walled. Next year I may go purist again and grow from seed in order to have the widest choice: there’s a fabulous sweet pepper called Carmagnola which I’d like to grow again and all sorts of more cooking-resilient chillis to choose from.
Actually that will come round sooner than we know. I’m a firm believer in starting chillis early – ideally mid-January – to give them the longest season possible. It means providing artificial light for the seedlings as they appear while the days are still short and dark, but that early start can easily double a plant’s harvest and gives the peppers a chance to mature to full red when some varieties such as Jalapeños are usually picked while still green.
Even before that, it’ll be time to plant next year’s garlic in a month or two and I’ll enjoy perusing the suppliers’ sites to choose an interesting variety or two. If they’re as good as this year’s crop, which I finally dusted down and trimmed up for storage this week, I’ll be happy.
Still to come in this season – the last shelling beans, spicy lettuces, lots of tomatoes, some late aubergines, more chamomile for tea, final pickings of coriander and lime basil, strawberries, raspberries and even a courgette or two. All are still doing fine as the temperatures start to lower for autumn. With golden leaves and orange sunsets as a backdrop, there’s so much to look forward to in planning for next year.