Preserving tomatoes

We have been busy in the garden and the kitchen. Now is the time to whizz around the garden and harvest as much as possible before the slugs, snails, birds, millipedes, etc. move in.

These are jars of preserved tomatoes and marinara sauce (tomatoes, spring onions, garlic and herbs). Here just a little selection. The pantry is full and looking good.

Figgy decadence

This is a really lovely, decadent dish after a day's work in the garden. Or if you need a treat. Or at any other time.
Cut figs in half. Sautee in plenty of butter for a little while. Add a dollop of honey or golden syrup (depending on how sweet you like it). Stir. Put on plates. Add a dollop of cream. Or ice-cream. Or both. Enjoy! :)

Christmas Bell Chillies

Christmas Bell Chillies I get pretty confused around chillies; I once acquired a dozen different types in pots, and grew them all on for seed, moving them about until the labels were hopelessly muddled. Nevertheless, the plants still exist in the garden, and as far as they are concerned, I can come up with any name I like…it matters not to them.

And so, when sitting down to write this story, I was convinced that I was going to talk about Scotch Bonnet (Bell Lantern) chillies. A quick check on the internet made it clear Scotch Bonnet chillies looked nothing like my plant, and there is no such thing as a Bell Lantern chilli – I must have dreamt that up myself.

Christmas Bell Chillies form large straggly bushes weighted down with fruit and needing to be staked.

This particular plant is about five years old and about 1.5m tall, and just keeps on spreading out, though I stake it to try to keep it off the path (pruning it wouldn’t hurt either). It’s a very mild chilli – about 5 out of 10 on the heat scale – and can almost be eaten like a capsicum (pepper).Dried Christmas Bell Chillies I’ve kept the seed by drying them on a cotton thread hung in the kitchen. I’ll just crush these up now to separate the seeds, then the hard work will begin – finding someone who wants to grow some too.

And so what chilli is it really?

My best guess is that it is a South American chilli originating in Barbados, from whence it found its way to Europe via Brazil and the Portuguese, and then by devious routes down here to Australia. Wikipedia calls it a Bishop’s Crown chilli, a variety of the species Capsicum baccatum var. pendulum. 

Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not. For whatever its genealogy, it’s a pretty and hardy bush, and the mild flavour is just fine for a palate used to the fairly bland flavours of English/Irish/German dishes.Capsicum baccatum var. pendulum - maybe!

Snake beans

Snake beans drying on the vine

Vigna unguiculata var. sesquipedalis

For many years now, I’ve been ‘growing on’ an unusual long and thin green eating bean called a ‘snake bean’. This year I’m regenerating my seed stock, so have let the beans remain on the vine to dry out, ready for the simple business of harvesting the seed.

Snake beans are unrelated to green (French) climbing beans, bush beans, and runner beans, evolving as they have in South Asia from the cowpea (V. unguiculata) which arrived there from Africa in early times. Cowpeas have short pods used for dried beans, while snake beans are best cooked young and tender the Chinese way – stir-fried with a little oil and garlic, ginger and a splash of soya sauce at the end. Snake beans have a stronger nuttier flavour than ordinary kitchen beans.

The fancy Latin name sesquipedalis means “one and a half feet in length”;  a length that is easily attained in the home garden.

Snake beans are also called the Yard Long Bean and Asparagus Bean.

My snake beans are the vigorous climbing variety with the red-brown seeds (the beans are very narrow compared to regular green beans – about half their diameter). Apparently there are dwarf varieties about, and another climber having black seeds grown around Mudgee in New South Wales in eastern Australia.

Snake beans ‘keep on giving’, so are best cut off the vine rather than pulled off (which tends to break the vine). They like lots of moisture, warm soil and rapid growth. I grow mine up a square-mesh wire pegged at one end and sloping to the top of a frame a few metres high. This way the beans hang down and can easily be found by the cook.

The foliage of the snake bean is distinctively different to ordinary garden beans, reflecting its African heritage

Snake bean flowers are pale mauve and borne in pairs at the end of an elongated stem.

As always, much of the valuable material in this article was gleaned from my much loved and much-thumbed copy of the Seed Savers’ Handbook.