Tuesday, 2 December 2014


mashua flowers
Mashua, Tropaeolum tuberosum, flowers and seeds.

Most of the more unusual South American tubers present some sort of challenge with respect of taste and texture to the potato and cabbage attuned palates of the European population but few have as many enemies as the humble mashua, also known as the añu, cubio or tuberous nasturtium.

Until recently this was only known over here as a slightly temperamental ornamental flowerer (in that I tried it a couple of times and it invariably died before flowering) beloved of those with gardens full of flowering oddities that were chosen to provoke gasps of wonder. Anyway those times are all over now as a veritable flood of varieties and subspecies arrive from the new world, into the eager hands of the new amateur breeders looking for diversification in our food crops. Like me, that would be then.

I was given my first tuber from Rhizowen (along with second variety which I immediately killed) and have since established that the variety is probably something - I've just spent ages looking through my FB history and I've lost the information again (Owen, if you're reading any chance you can remind me :) )  Whatever it is, it very productive and quite pretty.

mashua flowers
Mashua tubers, harvested 30 November 2014

But just like all its friends and relations it has the 'taste'. Paul has suggested it's best described as horseradish marzipan, the pungency of horseradish combined with a bitter almond undertone which is mostly shocking because of its unfamiliarity. Chilli chocolate might be a thing but sweet cake covering flavoured for roast beef has yet to become the new black. And the taste isn't just an entirely innocuous novelty, it is indicative of a number of rather strange isothiocyanates which can produce cyanide under the right conditions. For this reason it's best not to eat too many of them raw even if you do develop a predilection for the flavour; which seems quite unlikely from the anecdotal evidence I've heard from other consumers. In short, although it is starchy and nutritious, it's quite clear why it never became a staple in the old world in the same way as potatoes have been adopted.

However, it is remarkably easy to grow, prolific even and because of those fearsome chemical components almost immune to pests. It can and has been used for food, even if the Peruvians think it's better than bromide for some purposes, absolutely a crop ripe for reselection and improvement. In the meantime here's a recipe that helps to ameliorate the worst of the gustatory pain.

Take about six or seven good sized tubers and wash them well. Bring to the boil in plenty of fresh water and boil fairly vigorously without the lid on for about 15 minutes until they are soft when pierced with fork. Allow to cool before proceeding. This reduces any noxious compounds and helps the flavour a bit.

I found that the flesh cooked this way was soft but contained some fairly tough fibres which made for an unpleasant mouthful, so I rubbed the cooked tubers through a sieve with the back of a spoon to produce a soft smooth purée. To this I added a couple of tablespoons of plain flour, just enough to make a soft batter.

Heat some cooking oil until nearly smoking and drop small mounds of the mixture into it from a teaspoon. Allow to cook on the first side until golden brown, then turn and cook some more until crisp all over and cooked through. It would probably be even easier in a deep fryer but I haven't actually tried that.

Drain well and sprinkle liberally with salt. Serve hot as a pre-dinner nibble or savoury. With no added flavouring they are pleasant enough but you might experiment with some garlic or even a smidge of ginger or chilli for added pzazz.

mashua puffs
Mashua puffs for want of a better name.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Don't you just wish it was still summer?

summer I lost another follower on Twitter today. No big deal I'm sure and yet I don't have so many. If you ignore the follower gatherer bots, you know the ones that hope you'll follow back so they can add another notch to the headboard there aren't that many real people who take the effort to notice my feeble efforts and I'd prefer not to let them down. So I'm going to take it as a hint that I'm not making enough effort myself to get out there and interact. It's true after all.

This thing of shutting up shop at the farm for the winter is a problem. Such small projects as I call my own are put on hold. Each year it becomes harder and harder to re-involve myself in the spring because of the expectation that the break will come and progress will lost again. And in the autumn and winter I've very little to occupy my mind, in fact, I spend most of my time trying not to think, not to dwell too deeply on the meaning of life because there are no answers and that's frustrating.

Anyway, after a couple of months when I had literally stopped, allowed my seeds for saving to rot, barely left the building, written nothing, drawn nothing, painted not at all, failed even to keep a tidy house or do more than the bare minimum in the kitchen I'd decided that probably it was too late for me to try to be more successful in life, that the best I could hope for was to be some sort of kept housewife and just give it all up to protect my sanity. To redraw my horizons at a very close and safe distance and not worry about the wide world beyond. Because to make a change might damage the few things left I do value, my marriage, my small family of humans and cats, the comfortable aspects of my life.

And then, goaded by the needs of polite society I was enrolled into a gathering of friends, where I promised to cook (it was my turn) and the party would be in our home. And that was a plan which didn't progress until just a few days before everyone was due to turn up - because it all seemed so pointless and my concentration was so poor I seriously considered calling it all off or going to a restaurant to avoid the effort.

It was unavoidable though. When finally the pressure of time and obligation became strong enough something had to be done and for 48  hours more or less continuously, we cleaned and tidied and planned and shopped and cooked and entertained and I was fine, absolutely fine - competent, efficient and meeting my own expectations pretty adequately. Everything worked out well and it was enjoyable, really enjoyable, even the work.

So, now I know, I'm not intrinsically useless but lacking direction and ambition. So now, with little to distract me I'm back to worrying about that.

And I wish it was summer.

Monday, 27 October 2014

This isn't something I've ever done before

A blog, which I was sent to via a link in Twitter so isn't one I usually read, says a lot of how I feel about things, specifically sourdough cultures and blogs. I can't improve on it so please take a look at "on bread and blogging" by Pat Thomson.

Monday, 20 October 2014


Don't mind me, I'm just changing from an old PC to a shiny new one. You'd think it would be easy.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Where have all the flowers gone?

Giant gherkin that got away

Things have clearly got out of hand. Jobs left undone, blogs unwritten, harvests missed. Still, I've been having a good time mostly so be happy.

It was my birthday and although I can't show you what I spent my birthday money on I can tell you all about it. Fruit trees, I bought lots of fruit trees which will be available in November for planting before Yule.

With luck we'll be getting;

A quince Sobu, damson Bradley's King, apples Egremont Russet, Ellison's Orange, Bramley's Seedling, Howgate Wonder, Ashmead's Kernel, Beauty of Bath and Pitmaston Pine Apple all on M26 semi-dwarfing rootstocks, a pear Beth which is new to me, a Victoria Plum to supplement the yellow plums and gages already at the farm and also a Summer Sun cherry, a Tomcot apricot and a Halls Giant cobnut. There's also cider apple Dabinett on a standard rootstock to start the rejuvenation of the cider trees, most of the old ones we have are dead or nearly so.

So many small trees will need careful ground preparation and even more importantly good fencing to keep the deer off but the dwarfing roots should mean earlier harvests. I can't wait.

Shark's fin melon.


Tuesday, 23 September 2014


misty morning

Mabon, as they say. The day where the sun time is equal to the dark time. Although it's cooler now we're still seeing plenty of the sun, even if it is through the mist first thing in the morning. This is a very good thing.


I'd hoped to make this the post about tomatoes, a follow up to the July entry where the toms were still green but it was a really poor season, possibly the worst we've ever had without blight and I don't even have pictures of some of the varieties when they ripened.

The blame is probably mine. I dillied and dallied over potting material decisions ending up in a rush with some of the cheaper end growbags, peat reduced, not peat free because there was no time left for thinking. Then having potted the poor things up I resolutely failed to feed them adequately (and the cheap bags were next to negative on food anyway) while the high temperatures of early summer shrivelled the flowers before they could set.

nettle tea pot

Feeding should have been a doddle. I'd treated myself to this rather fine looking compost tea maker, all stainless steel and shiny. But it was fiddly to fill - that central strainer isn't fixed it just sits or rather it doesn't once the nettles are in, it flops around and makes fitting the lid hard to do - and the volume of nettles to water isn't right. Or maybe I shouldn't blame my tools. I will say I regret buying it, particularly as the handle on the lid came off after just a couple of months.

tomato with a point

This Cornue Andes was delicious but it was the only fruit from four plants. The Tigerellas above, a modern, commercial variety did best but hardly produced the long bunches of fruit other bloggers have achieved with them this year. The Potiron Encarlote made about half a dozen good fruit which we enjoyed, then the plants collapsed with exhaustion and the Gezahnte Bührer-Keel hated the heat, succumbed to blossom end rot and generally sulked all summer. Now it's cooler they have made a few more fruit but too late for deliciousness this year, maybe I'll make some pickle.

And the weedy plum grown from a Saveol seed behaved as I expected, granting me one tiny tomato before giving up the ghost. But still, I wasn't expecting much there.

So a poor show. Lessons going forward, better compost, better feeding and possibly a different position. The greenhouse is set for maximum sun and light but that's actually too much in a good year.

sunset by paul

Friday, 19 September 2014


Lady fern, I think.

There's a tendency to get in my own way when blogging. Because I have plans for posts on some specific things, potatoes, tomatoes, the Andean veg. and I'm not in the right frame of mind to do them then nothing gets recorded. So here is a quick catch-up for the middle of the month.

bees on ivy
You won't see easily but the ivy is covered with humming insects on the flowers. Ivy's got to go but not just yet.

The weather has changed and although we are (at this time) completely missing the violent thunderstorms confidently predicted by the meteo (just a few distant flashes overnight) it's much more overcast. Still warm and almost completely calm with a few spits and spots of rain. This is probably welcomed by the plant life, it's been extremely dry and beautifully sunny for several weeks.

green veined small sharpened
Green veined white - possibly the only one recorded this year and really quite late. Can you see the crab spider hiding on the far side of the thistle flower?

Wildlife seems to be on an even keel. We saw what was probably a red squirrel bouncing around through the upper branches of the nearest forest trees although we also wondered if it was a marten. A full card meant the picture was missed and we've not seen the naughty creature again.

The black and white water birds I can't quite identify are back, the (tentatively id'd ) Kite has moved on and there are owls aplenty being noisy each evening. Quite a lot of little birds re-appearing in the garden too but hunting season is about to start which is always a worry.

female brown hairstreak
Female Brown hairstreak, pretty, rare and a regular resident.

The vegetable garden carries on quietly. I've been collecting more seeds and planning future layouts and cropping strategies but to the untutored eye the place looks like a mess swamped in weeds and plants gone over. Never mind.

saving cardoon seeds 
Saving cardoon seeds. They seem to set seed more easily than the globe artichokes.