Posts Tagged gardening

Not so plummy

A while back, as we completed the eco-friendly renovation of our two-candle home, I persuaded the spouse that we needed a couple of fruit trees in our pocket-handkerchief backyard. After mild debate, and total inability to find a greengage tree supplier anywhere in Ontario, we settled on a plumcot, which was billed as a high-yield, plum-apricot hybrid with a delicate taste and the ability to resist a Canadian winter, as well as two cherry-plum hybrids called chums.

But we’ve had that tree for about five years now, and I’m definitely not feeling the love. For the first couple of years we had no fruit at all, and then the squirrels climbed in and devoured the few green/yellow orbs that survived frost, rain and polar vortex. There was a lot more fruit this year, and I started to get my hopes up. But even before they ripened those damn squirrels knocked dozens off the tree, leaving sad, green fruit rotting on the ground. We picked the two baskets of what was left and let them ripen indoors, only to end up with an almost tasteless yellow-red clingstone plum. Not nice enough to eat, too few to freeze, so I decided on one small batch of jam, as the deciding factor on whether we keep the tree.

The verdict. Yes, my plumcots boil down quickly into a well-set, if curiously cloudy jam, with a pleasantly tart taste (from the lemon, perhaps?) and an interesting aroma that’s apricot as much as plum. But I don’t think it’s worth the effort of tending the tree, which isn’t a particularly good-looking specimen anyway. Time to cut our fruit tree losses and move on? But how do we get rid of the root, and what will we plant in its stead?

The good news. Our backyard raspberry patch had a few iffy years as well, especially after we dug the canes up so we could run the wiring for a fast charger for the spouse’s new electric car. But this year they are doing well, and I’m enjoying raspberries on cereal, with yogurt and fresh off the canes. Of course it’s not really a glut. You can never have too many raspberries.

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These are chums

Something over a year ago I persuaded the spouse that we needed fruit in our little back yard, and I fell in love with the idea of chums and plumcots, which are hybrid cherry-plum and plum-apricot respectively. We bought two chum bushes and a plumcot tree from Green Barn Nursery in Quebec and picked them up from their Ontario affiliate in the early spring. There were a few flowers last year, but no fruit, and more flowers this year as the bare sticks we came home with transformed themselves into leafy bushes and fast-growing trees.


This year we got one plumcot, but it vanished one morning before I even had a chance to inspect it properly, and five lonely chums. I’ll be away for a bit, so I picked two of them today, even though they were clearly not ripe yet, in the hope I would beat the birds and squirrels to the bounty.

Obviously I should have waited — they are supposed to be deep purple on the outside, not green with purplish blotches. But I think they will be quite nice if we net them as they ripen and if the critters don’t get them first. It’s hard to tell the taste when they are still so tart, but I’d say more of a plum than a cherry. Time will tell.


Will we ever get enough of these babies to make a jam?


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Queen Claude

When we first decided to buy fruit trees for our teeny garden at the back of the house, I set my heart on something called Reine Claude, a sweet, grass green plum that I’ve rarely seen in a Toronto store.

But an internet search offered nothing in the way of Ontario suppliers of greengage trees, and Green Barn Nursery, where we bought two chum bushes (cherry-plum hybrid) and one plumcot tree (plum-apricot hybrid), said they were too disease-prone to be worth selling in this part of the world.

So when the shops in Munich offered Reine Claude plums on my visit there last week, I decided to risk making a mess of the kitchen, and trying my hand at jam.

Greengage jam, to use their less fancy, English name, turns out to be an easy set and a pretty yellow-green, with chunks of fruit suspended in syrup.

I was missing all the normal jamming stuff — no funnel, no Bell jars, no measuring cups, no preserving kettle. But I still ended up with 2-1/2 jars of slightly sweet runny jam with chewy chunks, and a kitchen that didn’t take too long to clean up afterward.

Greengage jam
generous 3 coffee mugs stoned and quatered greengages (Reine Claude plums)
skimpy 2 coffee mug sugar
juice of one lemon

Simmer until the sugar melts. Boil until the jam sets. Bottle.

Next time I simmer the fruit in a little water first, to soften the skins, and I cut the sugar (or up the lemon juice). Chopping the fruit a little more finely would probably help as well.

Oh wait. There won’t be a next time. No easy access to greengage plums.

Anyone know of a Reine Claude fruit (not tree) supplier in Ontario?

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Bits for burgers

I have almost all the trimmings to turn a burger into something well beyond the store bought stuff, thanks to bitingly spicy mustard greens in the garden, our first home-grown tomatos, and the latest of the bread and butter pickles as a substitute for the sliver of sourness that a commercial burger offers.

And now, thanks to the canning buddy’s niece’s insistence that we repeat a recipe I didn’t even like that much last year, we have the corn relish to slather on the top.


We made that relish before the apricot jam last week, zipping the kernels off a dozen ears of corn and boiling them up with sugar, vinegar and spice, as well as some chopped up red peppers that we burned black on the stove, then peeled and chopped. I didn’t much like the taste that the basil offered last year, so we substituted dill, and we also cut the sugar and amped up the onion and the spice.

The recipe goes something like this.

Corn pepper relish (adapted, yet again) from The Complete Book of Pickling)
4 chopped, roasted red peppers, skin removed
1-1-2 cups sugar
2 tbsp salt (it was supposed to be kosher salt, but wasn’t)
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1/2 tbsp cumin seeds
3 cups cider vinegar
8 cups cooked corn kernels
2 cups chopped onions
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
1/2 cup finely chopped dill

Roast the peppers by putting them directly on a gas burner and turning them round as they sizzle and char. Dunk in cold water, peel off most of the skin, and then chop them and set aside.

Put all the ingredients except the red pepper and dill in a pan, heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then simmer for 30 minutes or so until it thickens. Add the peppers and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir in dill and ladle into clean, hot jars. Water bath for 15 minutes.

And to my surprise, it’s actually rather good. Last year I rated this a mere 2-1/2 out of five, because it was too sweet and because the basil went sort of brown and yucky on us. The dill adds a nice pickle tang, and the fact that it has less sugar makes it far more palatable to me. If there’s a next time I will add more turmeric, to add to the yellow hue.

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5). It’s far better than the gelatinous stuff you buy in the store, but I can’t see myself using it in the way I use pickles or chutneys. 

As for the mustard greens, I reckon this is the perfect thing to grow in a tiny square foot garden like ours. It grows fast, produces over several weeks, adds a serious bite to lunchtime sandwiches and you can’t buy it in the stores. We had five different types this year, one of which bolted already, and one of which didn’t seem to like its container in front of the sunroom door. But these frilly numbers, the most biting of the lot, are doing fine.


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I’m so proud

Back in the fall I visited the Toronto Garlic Festival, a bonanza of bulbs, sauces, relishes and garlic ice cream, which I did not try. But I did come back with a collection of organic Ontario garlic bulbs, which I duly split into cloves and planted at random in the pocket handkerchief back yard.

Come spring they started poking up through the still-cold soil, and a few weeks back I hacked off the scapes (the curly bits that would turn to flowers if you let them) and turned it into some garlic scape pesto sort of thing.

The plants kept growing, and started turning a little brown around the edges. New Jersey canning buddy, who knows about such things, said that was a Good Sign, so I put out a quick prayer to any garlic god available, and started digging.

Here’s what happens to a collection of organic garlic cloves after 9 months of soil, rain, sun and (mostly) neglect.


I rinsed them carefully under the hose, blotted them on newspaper and then put them out downstairs in the basement to dry.

I hope they are cat-proof, because this is certainly one curious cat.


Help me peoples. What should I cook with fresh-from-the-garden garlic?

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Tomato time

We’re just about keeping up with the cascade of produce from our third floor tomato patch, thanks to a daily dose of tomato sandwiches, tomato salads and gazpachos, none of which I will ever be able to recreate because I throw different things in each time. One chilled soup was a slightly muddy-colored mix of cucumber, red and yellow tomatoes, spring onions and a single very ripe peach, minimally flavored with salt, pepper and sriracha. It loses points for the color, and for the fact that I didn’t have the patience to chill it for long enough, but it did taste good.

And the beautiful thing is that we grew our babies from seed, which means I’m already saving (and labelling) tomato seeds so we can do things again next year.

I don’t know what strains they are, but , but there are three types, each one better than the other.

  1. Large, misshapen pink-red things that came from a friend in Britain, who in turn got the seeds from her cousins in Vienna. They look bizarre, but they have a sweetness that’s unlike any tomato I’ve ever tasted. But they were the last to ripen and are not yet very prolific. Maybe they got crowded out by something.
  2. Slightly crumpled yellow things, which came with a public health warning from the same friend, who said she was disappointed. I beg to differ. These yellow tomatoes are very, very good, especially with a little salt and pepper and some good olive oil. Maybe they liked this super-hot Toronto summer.
  3. Red-brown cherry tomatoes, which are sweet enough to eat solo. We get a generous handful each day, and I pack a few to snack on during those hungry hours between breakfast and lunch.

Anyone want to trade seeds for next year?

Sadly the patch will not yield enough  tomatoes for canned tomatoes, so we’ll have to hit the market for Romas for those. Tomato Canorama is tentatively scheduled for Labor Day weekend.

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Green stuff

I’ve neglected this blog as I focus on the shell , as our Toronto renovation project is known, helped of course by the fact that there has not been much to preserve right now. It’s been a cool, wet spring and early summer, and it’s just not the season for major jamming ventures yet. But I did venture briefly into rhubarb orange ginger jam from an internet recipe (4 cups rhubarb turned into a paltry two jars) as a two-evening midweek venture. I definitely trebled the ginger in the recipe, as is my wont, and admit I’ll probably pass on the orange next time — I don’t think it added that much to the flavor — but believe it or not, I was actually running out of jam. Had to do something about that one.

But the real news is that our temporary home this summer (while we renovate the shell) comes with a big, sunny garden, so I optimistically planted snowpeas, beans, and four different sorts of greens, as well as a selection of heirloom and other tomatoes. The soil is probably the heaviest, clayiest soil I’ve ever seen, and we had a few torrential downpours after the planting (which was just after the May 24 weekend), so not everything germinated, but I proudly picked my first small handful of Asian greens today. It’s not enough for a salad yet. Maybe sliced up in chicken soup for a light and instant meal?

The chives, a legacy from gardeners past, are doing much better though, so I tried another internet experiement with chive-flower vinegar. Take a handful of chive flowers, strip the blossoms flowers from the stalks and submerge in a jar of white vinegar on the kitchen counter for a week or so. Strain, use over the year, or until you get fed up with it. No clue what it’s going to taste like, but oh it looks pretty.

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