Sunday 23 December 2007

Heritage veg summary 2007

Next year's seeds of Kent Blue peas, starting to develop purple speckles as they dry out

This year had such a bizarre growing season, with too much spring heat, extremes of wet throughout the summer months, and not enough light whatever the weather ... not to mention the mildew and the worst (and earliest) attack of blight I've ever seen. It wouldn't be fair to do proper reviews of most of the crops I grew this year. Some were clearly not in a position to provide their best.

I did still collect a lot of notes though, and here's a general summary of my crops for 2007, divided up according to their merits (in my own subjective opinion). It doesn't include the many varieties which had a total or near total crop failure, such as the tomatoes, which had only two survivors from the 20 varieties I planted and a total yield of 7 fruits. It also doesn't include anything I already reviewed last season.

Some of these varieties will get full reviews which I'll post in the new year, but most won't – they'll have to be grown again in another season and reappraised.

I hope you find these notes useful in choosing what to grow, but there's always a possibility your experience with any of these vegetables could be different from mine. Feel free to compare notes if you agree or disagree with any of the things I've said.

Rouge Crapaudine ... an antique elongated beetroot


Beetroot: Rouge Crapaudine
Seed source: Thomas Etty Esq
The root is a matte dark red on the outside, slightly darker than most beetroot, and the inside is a very beautiful intense dark blood red. It's one of the oldest beetroot varieties around, listed in catalogues in the 1850s. Unlike a conventional beetroot it's long, thin and tapered, basically shaped like a carrot. The flavour is sweet, refined and not too earthy, and exquisitely tender when cooked. I grew it as a novelty but it's instantly become a favourite on its own merits.

Potato: Salad Blue
Seed source: Waitrose
Vigorous grower with a dark blue flush on the stems. The flowers are a purply-sky blue and absolutely beautiful. It flowers early and for a long period and is a delight to have in the garden. Salad Blue is emphatically not a salad potato. It's pretty floury. But it makes the most fabulous roasties. Soft-textured and exquisitely flavoured ... and BLUE! Beautiful to look at and full of healthy anthocyanins. When fresh the potatoes are dark blue skinned with blue-purple flesh, and much of the colour is retained after cooking. Can also be used to make mauve mash ... and very tasty it is too. Not the highest yielder by modern standards but well worth it for all its other qualities.

Pea: Carruthers' Purple Podded
Seed source: Heritage Seed Library
This is my clear favourite of all the purple-podded peas I've trialled (with Mr Bethell's Purple Podded a commendable second). It's a winner on flavour and beauty. Tall, vigorous (about 6ft) and early, it has dainty lantern-like flowers in two-tone maroon and pink. Pods are a reasonable size with a lovely deep violet-purple colour. Eaten raw they're very juicy but have a slight bitterness. Peas inside are an olive green colour, large, square and about 8 to a pod. Fresh peas taste surprisingly sweet for a purple (bear in mind purple podded peas always taste less refined than a good green variety) and are very nice raw from the pod. They have a slightly coarser texture than a modern pea but that's actually rather nice. This is truly a superior variety. Its one fault? It seems to be the pea moths' favourite too.

Pea: Magnum Bonum
Seed source: Heritage Seed Library
This is among the tallest peas I've ever grown, quite readily reaching 7ft and beyond. It's vigorous too, and you get a lot of pods. Similar in appearance to other 19th century tall peas, with pure white (not cream) flowers. One of my plants produced two flowers per node, but the others didn't. Magnum Bonum is the only pea I've found so far about which I can say "tastes as good as Alderman", my flavour benchmark. It's very sweet, possibly a tiny bit less sweet than Alderman, but with a richness and refinement in it. Definitely one of the best choices for flavour, and it yields well too. It does lose the sweetness when fully mature though, so there is a "just right" time to harvest it.

Magnum Bonum peas in flower


Beetroot: Egyptian Turnip Rooted
Seed source: Thomas Etty Esq
Very decorative in the garden, with bright emerald green leaves veined with deep red. It grows almost entirely on the surface of the soil, so at least you know how big it is before you harvest it ... none of that feeling of "beet deflation" when you excitedly pull one out of the ground and find a tiny stumpy root on it. Flavour is excellent and nicely balanced without too much earthiness.

Pea: Salmon-flowered
Seed source: Heritage Seed Library
Oddest pea in the garden, for sure. Looks like a cross between a culinary and a sweet pea, but could be anything. 4ft tall, it has very wide succulent stems and clusters of flowers all in a solid bunch at the top. The flowers are truly gorgeous ... a very dainty and pretty two tone pink, quite unlike any other pea I've grown. They bloom more or less all at once, so it looks absolutely stunning for a few days and then it's gone! Green pods develop rapidly, all sticking out in a big bunch at the top of the plant. You don't get many peas in 'em ... 4 to 6 seems about normal, and they aren't terribly big, but they're very sweet and flavoursome. As a bonus, if you save it for seed the pods go an unusual rosy colour as they dry out. Yields were relatively low, but it's such a great thing to have in the garden, I didn't care.

Pea: Kent Blue
Seed source: Heritage Seed Library
It may be premature to review this as I didn't get a chance to do a proper taste test (most of it was kept for seed), but it's too interesting to leave off the list. It's not a vigorous pea or a very high yielder. Flowers, produced in pairs, are small but have a beautiful two-tone velvety blue colour, with dark veins. Unique and very pretty. Pods are green, and small, and go extremely knobbly as the peas inside start to mature, and may even start to bend and fold. You can certainly see very clearly how well the peas are developing and you can count the bumps. The raw peas are quite firm and mealy and the skins are chewier than you'd get on a modern pea, but they have a very rich and full flavour with an overriding sweetness. When dry they become speckled with purple.

Climbing bean: Caseknife
Seed source: Beans and Herbs
An old variety from before 1820, which climbs and climbs seemingly to eternity. It ain't a beauty. The leaves are gnarled and the pods dull green and kind of lumpy and ugly, although they start off flat and knife-shaped. I didn't bother trying to eat them as green beans. But boy the shelled beans taste good ... fresh, dried or partially dried (I'm not fussy). They're white kidney type beans, not especially smooth or shiny or glamorous but they have a lovely firm texture when cooked. Caseknife needs tall supports but it's full of character and flavour.

Purple podded pea, Desiree

GOOD, BUT ... :

Beetroot: Golden
Seed source: Organic Gardening Catalogue
Different from other varieties in its rich orange colour, which is apparent right from the earliest seedling stage. The stems of the plants are golden yellow and the leaves a lush bright green. Root size is a bit on the small side though and the flavour is OK but not as refined as the red varieties.

Potato: Highland Burgundy Red
Seed source: Waitrose
Less vigorous than some and slower growing, with thin, fine foliage and a dusky reddish tinge on the stems. It's not the most graceful looking plant in the garden but it does have nice flowers. They're pure white, fairly small but dainty and frilly and borne in clusters. Tuber colour on the outside is a bright rich crimson, maturing to burgundy. They're slightly erratic in shape, often kidney shaped and tapering towards one end. Inside, there's a band of normal potatoey colour under the skin, but the bulk of the flesh is strongly infused with burgundy red, right through to the middle. It cooks to a rose pink and makes a lovely novelty mash. Growing conditions may be a factor, but I found it to be a bit coarse and dry in texture and the flavour was unremarkable.

Pea: Desiree
Seed source: Real Seed Catalogue
A purple podded soup pea, is probably the best description. The flowers are very pretty, and the pods are broad and a very dark purple colour. It doesn't really work as a mangetout unless you eat it very young, as the pods become very leathery. By the time they reach maturity the pods are so thick and leathery it's a job to tug them off the plant! Peas inside are green and so large they sometimes burst the pods. Shelled out and eaten raw, they aren't impressive ... the flavour is bland, the texture chewy. But when you cook them they are absolutely delicious, and have a lot more substance to them than a modern pea. Less versatile than other purples, but very good at what it does.

Pea: Ne Plus Ultra
Seed source: W Robinson
One of the old, tall Victorian peas, with flowers an especially bright pure white. Not much cop as a mangetout as the young pods taste quite bitter, but it's meant as a shelling pea. It soars to about 7ft, has an elegant form and the large pods are borne on long stalks and look very fine. The peas themselves are well packed into the pod, averaging 8 to 10 per pod. Pick them young and the flavour is pretty damn fantastic. But as they begin to reach a mature size they go starchy and firm of texture ... the sweet and tender stage is soon passed.

Potato in flower, Highland Burgundy Red

Beetroot: White Beetroot
Seed source: Real Seed Catalogue
This isn't actually a heritage variety itself, but a modern strain of the very old Albina Vereduna. It's a white beetroot, as you might have guessed, but above-ground parts go green with exposure to the sun. Grows vigorously and doesn't 'bleed' when cut. I wasn't impressed with the flavour though. It's very sweet, but it's not a very refined sweetness, and has a bitter undertaste which (to me) made it less palatable than a red beetroot. It is, however, rather more appreciated by ants and wood lice, who delighted in gouging great holes in most of my crop.

Salmon-flowered pea ... the strange pod clusters which follow the flowers. Notice how thick the main stem is.


Unknown said...

Great post! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! Best wishes for the holidays.

Celia Hart said...

Hi Rebsie! Thank you for taking the time to write these useful notes. I love the look of the Salmon Flowered Pea.

I've just filled in the Heritage Seed Library form - isn't it hard to choose?!! I'm hoping for Victorian Purple Podded Peas and San Antonio Climbing Beans (couldn't resist the idea of beans with little monks on them!).

My stars of 2000 were a Ukrainian climbing bean called Poletschka, Salford Black Runner Beans and Purple Podded Peas.

Merry Christmas and wishing you a fruitful 2008