Blog, gardening

Food, Glorious Food!

Apricot_flowers_best
Late winter

Back in February, I wrote about the apricot tree flowering in my greenhouse. That was before winter came back to bite us, in the form of The Beast From The East. At a time when spring should have been springing, we ended up with several feet of snow, and endless days with the thermometer registering well below freezing. Despite my greenhouse heater going full pelt and plenty of insulation, the later flushes of apricot flowers were nipped by the cold.  A lot of them shrivelled before opening. Some of the earliest fruitlets were killed too, so instead of a tree covered in fruit, we were left with only a few dozen surviving apricots.

That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If every flower had turned into a fruit, we’d have had hundreds of apricots, none of them any bigger than grapes. The stone inside each one would have taken up a lot of room, so there wouldn’t have been much in the way of juicy fruit.

APRICOTS.1_0537
What a difference four months made!

The answer would have been for me to thin out the fruit by picking them off while they were still tiny. The idea is to leave about one fruit for every four inches of branch. I can’t bear to be ruthless, so we would have ended up with measly apricots.

Luckily, nature did the job of thinning the fruit out for me this year. We didn’t have so many fruit, but each one was the size of a peach! The seven in the photo at the top of this blog weigh nearly a kilogram (that’s 2.2lb in old money).

I’d be happy to sit in the shade and eat them fresh form the tree, but OH loves fruit crumble and custard. Here’s my recipe, which is really quick and easy. It includes jumbo oats and Demerara sugar which means the topping stays crunchy, in lovely contrast to the cooked fruit beneath.

Apricot Crumble

Ingredients:

700g (1.5lb) fresh apricots, sliced

A small amount of caster sugar

100g (4oz) flour

75g (3oz) butter

50g (2oz) Demerara sugar

75g (3oz) jumbo oats

Heat the oven to 180c (160 Fan) Gas Mark 4

Put the sliced apricots in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over a little sugar, and add a couple of tablespoons of water.

In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and oats. Spread this mixture over the apricots.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for between 35-40 minutes, or until the fruit is cooked. This is delicious whether you serve it hot or cold, with custard or cream.

Of course you could always make this with tinned apricots—just use the juice instead of water, and cook until the crumble is browned and crunchy.

What’s your favourite recipe using summer fruit?

 

 

Blog, Growing

Float like a butterfly, pollinate like a bee?

It’s 20th February, the wind is blowing straight from Siberia, but the apricot tree growing in my greenhouse doesn’t care. It could live outside quite happily  if it wasn’t for the early flowers you can see in my photo. They are every bit as delicate as they look.  This cold would destroy them, and all the pollinating insects are too sensible to risk being blown about by the icy breeze. That means if we’re going to enjoy eating our own apricots this summer, I have to do the bees’ work myself.

This is the best-ever flowering we’ve had. Home-grown apricots are such a rare, delicious treat, I’ve never managed to take a photo before they’ve all been eaten. As you can see by the teethmarks on this one, I was only just in time last year!

FIRST_APRICOT

Once a day,  from the moment the first apricot flowers open until the last petals begin to drop, I dust each one with a fine paintbrush. There’s no skill involved, and  I don’t bother buzzing like a bee while I’m doing it! All I do is nudge pollen from the anthers to the stigmas. With luck, that will fertilise all the flowers. I’ll be able to see where my impersonation of a bee has been successful. Tiny green fruits will soon begin to swell.

This apricot tree is growing in a tub. If it dries out at any point from now on, it will react by dropping its fruit.  Once the compost is nice and moist, I’ll top up the soil with an inch or two of fresh compost. When the little apricots really start to grow, I’ll give the tree liquid plant food as well.

With luck, in five or six months time we’ll be picking warm, sweet apricots in summer sunshine. My dream is to grow enough to make jam. Warm croissants spread with butter and home-made apricot jam is my favourite Christmas Day breakfast. What’s yours?