If, like me, you love winter, 2010 has been a vintage year in this soggy corner of Victoria. At Icy Creek, however, even I’ve been starting to hanker for some warmer weather. And a week into October we finally got some – that is, before an Antarctic blast blustered up from the valley below us last weekend.
Spring has been slower to settle in than in previous years, but the jostaberry bushes are finally in bloom. As the plants themselves are still growing (quite vigourously too in the last year) and still very unusual in Australia (I’ve never seen the fruit on sale in any market) this is, by default a rare sight, even if not a particularly spectacular one.
Meanwhile, the blackcurrant flowers (below) are, to use an inappropriate yet strangely apt metaphor, are proving to be one of nature’s red herrings. Weirder still when you factor in that these are one of the jostaberry’s parents. The other is the gooseberry.
Posted in Berries & Currants, black currants, Blackcurrant, Blackcurrants, Edible Gardening, Jostaberries, Jostaberry
Tagged black currant, Blackcurrant, Blackcurrants, Gooseberry, Jostaberries, Jostaberry
And now for 2009's biggest sugar hit
Just when it felt that the last of the seasonal indulgences of the year were being processed by my increasingly stressed digestive system, we find that our mulberry tree is, for the first time, laden with deep purple fruit, thanks to the miraculous success of my net strategy (and no, I’m not talking Web 2.0 here).
Mulberries are relatively slow-growing trees, and our five-year old Hicks Fancy – which is suitable for cooler climes – is still more or less contained by the cage that surrounds it to keep out the deer and wallabies that are constantly marauding the block. We scored a handful of berries last year, but it wasn’t until this week that I got to pick a whole punnet’s worth from the tree.
I’m always been told that the primary reason that you don’t often see mulberries in markets is because they’re notoriously hard to store. This might be true, but I know that for me such talk is merely hypothetical, because I can’t imagine why I’d allow even the smallest fraction of any yield out of my sight until I’ve consumed it. For despite the sinfully syrupy taste – imagine eating jam straight off a tree – there’s enough sharpness in these berries to ameliorate what might otherwise become, after a modest binge, an almost nauseating sweetness for all but the most ardent of dessert tragics.
Still, if you want to tone them down just a tad, combine them in a fruit salad with some genuinely tart berries – we tried this with our black currants and jostaberries and plain yoghurt – a concotion that can only be conjured for a few days at the end of the year. And perhaps that’s just as well.
Posted in Berries & Currants, Hobby Farming, Mulberries, Mulberry
Tagged berries, black currant, Hicks Fancy, Hobby Farming, Jostaberries, Jostaberry, Mulberries, Mulberry
The jostaberry ice-cream fan club
With jostaberries at the their peak, we finally got to do some experiments in the kitchen with them last night and the icecream was voted a big success. While the berries themselves are black when ripe, the mix turns a psychedelic purple once the fruit is blended.
2 cups of jostaberries.
1 1/2 cups of cream
3/4 of a cup of sugar (go up to a cup if you like your icecream really sweet).
Combine jostaberries and sugar and heat until the sugar is dissolved and simmer for no more than five minutes. Blend the jostaberries but do not put them through a sieve. Cool, and then churn with the cream in an icecream churn.
We also made a sorbet out of this bowl of redcurrants and gooseberries.
These redcurrants and gooseberries share a common destiny
One cup gooseberry and/or redurrants
1/2 to 2/3 cup of sugar
Simmer to dissolve sugar and continue until gooseberries are just tender (no more than five minutes). Blend, and pass through a sieve. Churn and eat immediately, as this one won’t keep all that well.
Posted in Berries & Currants, Gooseberry, Hobby Farming, Icy Creek, Jostaberries, Jostaberry, Redcurrant, Redcurrants
Tagged Gooseberry, Icecream, Icy Creek, Jostaberries, Jostaberry, Recipe, Redcurrants, Sorbet
How may gooseberries can you spot?
If there’s one thing I love about having my own patch, it’s being able to revel in my unfashionable tastes. Chestnuts, quinces, blackcurrants, salsify, cider apples and turnips all have their place at Precipice. (Well, maybe not turnips). And yes, I especially enjoy watching my friends marvel at what they assume is the novelty of what are really just old fashioned fodder.
Take gooseberries. Almost unknown by anyone under 50 in Australia, these exquisite if often tart fruits have probably lapsed into oblivion because they require “handling” before serving. But do they? The variety we grow, known as “Captivator”, actually get pretty sweet if left on the bush until they turn red, yet I’ve never seen “red” gooseberries anywhere in markets. Maybe they’re just picked before they ripen, which might be fine if you’re planning to cook them, but this doesn’t do much to promote their qualities as fresh fruit. To my taste, if left to ripen they are sweeter than blackcurrants, and just as sweet as ripe jostaberries, a relatively modern arrival engineered by crossing gooseberries with blackcurrants.
Harvesting presents challenges though. There’s no thorns on these Captivators, but I find it almost impossible to see the fruit before it fully ripens. The bush in the picture above, for instance, is jam-packed (if you’ll forgive the pun) with large berries, but only one is cleary visible, and it was promptly taken care of as soon as this photo was taken. Indeed I’d pretty much written off this year’s crop as disappointing until I did a close inspection this arvo.
I’ve read all about how growing gooseberries became a serious competitive sport in northern England (the bigger the better, of course) and a Scottish colleague of mine was a shivering wreck of homesickness after sampling a modest offering from a previous summer crop. Now I realise that I really have been missing out on their enigmatic charms. If you can grow you’re own, understanding their potential is clearly all about timing, and being able to find them before the birds get them. If they can spot them. As for the title of this post, if it doesn’t make sense, then check out this recipe.
Thornless Blackberry and Thornless Youngberry plants
Now when I say “blackberry” let’s get one thing straight. I’m not talking about the electronic organiser that caused the recent Barack Obama controvery. Not that I didn’t have issues of my own when it came to putting a blackberry plant in our bramble row. When we bought our block at Icy Creek five years ago, the paddocks were two metres high with these prickly pests of plants, and we’re still fighting to keep them at bay. But the Thornless Blackberry plant I bought at a nursery will not, I’m assured, take hold of the region. And if only grows as half as well as its wild cousins we should have enough fruit for blackberry icecream next summer. That’s providing we don’t pull them out by accident.
Our other newcomer, the Thornless Youngberry is a domesticated version of a berry that was itself first cultivated in the US in 1905. I’ve read that this variety doesn’t fruit quite as prolifically as the thorny youngberry, but with any luck it will be fully productive within three years.
I’ve put both plants in a row with several two year-old jostaberry plants and a sprawling loganberry for company.
There’s a huge range of blackberries and related soft fruit varieties on the market these days, and this excellent piece from the TyTy Nursery in Georgia helps explain how they’ve been engineered into existence. Did you know, for instance that “the “Youngberry “was developed in 1905 in Morgan City, Louisiana; it is a cross between Luther Burbank’s, Phenomenal Berry, and the Austin-Mayes Dewberry, a trailing blackberry. This berry had excellent qualities, such as taste and high yields, and it soon replaced the Loganberry of California after its release”? Who would have thought?
I am on a bit of a learning curve when it comes to bramble berries, and so I’m keen to hear from anyone who has had success with a particular variety, or who can suggest what else we might want to try bunging in the ground, bearing in mind we’re a cool climate location about the same latitude as Melbourne, but 500 metres above sea level.
They don't realise this, but they're about to start swimming in a summer pudding
I’ve long believed that redcurrants were invented just to add a bit of a counterbalance to oversugared breakfast cereals. So this year, we’re keeping a few kilos of these frozen to give a bit of a kick to our muesli and pancakes.
On the bush they look better than just about any fruit I can think of, thanks in part to their almost translucent glow. They’re also a favourite with Elka, our two year-old chocolate Labrador, who can get manic after she eats them (even for a Lab). Could this be the canine equivalent of binging on raspberry cordial? She won’t get too any of them today, in any case, as we have to get our stash down to the Outpost Retreat in Noojee, where you’ll almost certainly find them somewhere on the Christmas menu, along with our jostaberries.
Despite the soggy start to summer, the soft fruit has come up trumps. The pic above is of jostaberries ripening on the vine (or is it bush? I need to check on that) this afternoon. While it’s tempting to pick them when they go purple, it’s best to wait until they’re black, and then they’re sweet enough to eat without adding sugar.
It turns out that our jostaberries, along with our redcurrants and gooseberries, are going to be on the Christmas menu at The Outpost in Noojee, providing that they’re not all eaten by our two year-old Chocolate Labrador, Elka, who has become a soft fruit junkie.