THE PICKS OF THE PATCH

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

This is the tale of two berries. One, the straw­berry, is ubiq­ui­tous – some­how di­min­ished by its suc­cess – and in de­mand through­out the year; the other is near ex­tinc­tion and al­most en­tirely the pre­serve of the gar­dener. The fu­ture of the goose­berry is in our hands. Both are de­li­cious, and in sea­son at this time of the year. Goose­ber­ries haven’t al­ways been a ne­glected fruit. Ad­mired by Hugh Fearn­ley-Whit­tingstall for its “sheer, zesty oomph” and lauded by Culpep­per, Tusser and Turner, this tart hairy berry was at its peak dur­ing the mid18th cen­tury among cot­tage gar­den­ers and cot­ton grow­ers whose main am­bi­tion was to grow larger and larger berries, a process that of­ten seems to her­ald de­cline in in­gre­di­ents. Like ap­ples, goose­ber­ries come in cook­ing and eat­ing va­ri­eties. With lit­tle space, I grow a dessert berry and use the thin­nings (to en­cour­age big­ger berries) in the kitchen. Goose­ber­ries have an affin­ity with el­der­flower cor­dial and sweet ci­cely, both at their best now, which help re­duce the tart­ness as­so­ci­ated with this fruit. Goose­berry fool is heav­enly. Nigel Slater likes the crunch of the un-sieved goose­berry seeds in his; Delia uses Greek yo­gurt in hers; Lotte Dun­can uses cus­tard and el­der­flower cor­dial; and I like a mix of one part mashed sweet­ened goose­gogs to one part cus­tard to one part thick whipped cream. How do you as­suage a year­round in­sa­tiable ap­petite? Bri­tish straw­berry grow­ers have to fight the weather, the supermarkets and for­eign com­pe­ti­tion, but let’s re­mem­ber that there’s no taste quite like that of an English straw­berry – a sur­vivor of fluc­tu­at­ing tem­per­a­ture – that has fully ripened on the plant. Search for lo­cal grow­ers at farm­ers’ mar­kets, pick-your-own farms, and road­side stalls. I spoke to Phil Bod­ding­ton, a fourth­gen­er­a­tion Cor­nish fruit grower from Bod­ding­ton’s Berries, which has es­chewed national su­per­mar­ket sales for lo­cal shops, tea rooms and ho­tels to be able to pro­vide freshly picked, daily de­liv­ered berries from its farm in Me­vagis­sey. He told me that many com­mer­cial va­ri­eties are not avail­able to the gar­den­ers, and some are only for su­per­mar­ket grow­ers. He be­lieves the only good straw­berry is one that has been grown to full ripeness, har­vested and sold that same day. Next best are those put into Bod­ding­ton’s hand­made con­serves, cor­dials and vine­gars, avail­able na­tion­wide from its web­site, bod­ding­tons­ber­ries.co.uk. Gar­den­ers are in a unique po­si­tion to eat berries at the zenith of ripeness, as we bat­tle against all crea­tures feathered and furry (a fruit cage from har­rod­hor­ti­cul­tural.com is the My straw­ber­ries grow in a sunny spot in the orchard. I have re­cently un­grate­fully dis­carded my un­named crop, given by a friend, and am plant­ing ‘Mara des Bois’. Best grown in a raised bed on any soil with plenty of added or­ganic mat­ter. Site your bed out of the wind, away from trees and keep well wa­tered and weed-free. Grow early, mid and per­pet­ual va­ri­eties to pro­long the sea­son. Com­mer­cially, plants are grown on poly­thene; mine lounge on car­pet un­der­lay mats or straw to sup­press weeds and pro­tect the fruit. Pick reg­u­larly, but wait un­til fruit is at its peak of ripeness. Af­ter the grow­ing sea­son, tidy up and add a fur­ther layer of mulch. I grow mine as stan­dards, sen­tinels at each cor­ner of my raised fruit bed. Try one of Chris Bow­ers’s (chris­bow­ers.co.uk) 34 dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties, such as ‘Crown Bob’ or ‘Achilles’. Plant your prickly bushes in the au­tumn in rich soil in a sunny site. Keep well wa­tered un­til es­tab­lished, and mulch with com­post. Prune in Novem­ber into shape like the spokes of a cart­wheel to en­cour­age air cir­cu­la­tion and pre­vent mildew. Take cut­tings from prun­ings. Fruit forms on old wood, so cut back to the pre­vi­ous year’s growth to two buds. Thin fruit now and use in the kitchen, leav­ing space for larger eaters. Watch out for bullfinches and sawfly cater­pil­lars. It’s a shame the finches aren’t car­niv­o­rous. Our pas­sion for straw­ber­ries is noth­ing new. Sa­cred to Odin’s wife, Frigga, cul­ti­vated by the Ro­mans, and served as an aphro­disiac to me­dieval newly-weds who were treated at their wed­ding break­fast to a dish of berries, soured cream and bor­age, straw­ber­ries are feted in recipes the world over.

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