A couple of weeks ago I looked out onto the garden and saw tiny orange globes hanging from an evergreen shrub in the main border.
I knew my father had planted the Japanese bitter orange as an ornamental specimen. It has shiny smooth green leaves and small fragrant white flowers in spring and early summer that stand out against the dark green yew hedge. It also sports the most vicious looking thorns a couple of inches long!
But I’d never really noticed the small orange fruit. I picked some of them and left them to settle in the kitchen while I wondered what to do with them.
Two weeks later – after Christmas – my friend Steve, came to stay again and pruned the apple and pear trees as well as the quince.
I cut back the gooseberries and redcurrants which were overgrown and tangled in the centre of the bushes to give them some air and to stop disease from creeping in.
The blackcurrants will have a third of their branches taken out when I harvest the fruit in summer.
And the Damson and Victoria plum trees will be pruned in the early spring or summer after the risk of silver leaf disease is over.
“Prune in June,” says Steve!
I’ve also coppiced the hazel tree – which really was overgrown and shading some of the vegetable beds. I cut the whole lot down to the base of the main trunk.
It should send up new growth which will make new hazel poles for use as supports. The twigs I will use as pea sticks.
I also turned the compost heap, forking a lot of the main pile into two black plastic dalek style bins – it’s breaking down nicely and should be ready for the new growing season in a couple of months time.
In other news: We are still able to pick salad including lettuce and curly endive growing under thick fleece, as well as parsley and chrysanthemum greens and stridolo – an Italian herb. I brined some oriental mustard leaves recently which are very tasty – and pungently hot!
Leeks have been great in soup and raw grated beetroot has been a refreshing salad with sliced orange and half moons of red onion dressed in red wine vinegar and olive oil.
As well as cooking together – Steve produced some amazing meals. I’ll post three recipes of his – using the ruby chard you can see below – next time.
He also found a use for the bitter orange which is very similar to Japanese wild orange or yuzu. It’s not eaten as a fruit but is used primarily for it’s scented juice and zest.
He used this to lace a black fruit sorbet with a tantalising tang of citrus.
Steve defrosted some of our blackcurrants and blackberries and macerated them overnight in sugar before adding a small amount of gin, the zest and tiny amount of juice from the bitter orange as well as an ordinary orange and blending it.
Then it went into the freezer and emerged a grainy, luscious sorbet the like of which I haven’t tasted for a long time.
He did the same with tayberries (a kind of raspberry), redcurrants and ordinary orange zest and juice with a couple of large jiggers of gin. Again – a taste sensation!
What I liked was he didn’t try to sieve out the pips – he used the whole fruit – and I think it’s better for that. Anyway – the basic recipe is from this amazing website.
It’s worth mentioning that Steve didn’t use an ice cream maker or take the sorbet out and stir it as it was freezing and it still worked.
Thanks Steve. You’re a culinary and horticultural wizard!
Finally – I wish everyone a very happy, productive and resilient year ahead.
Thank you for reading my blog.