Salads are often thought of as food for summer days. Indeed they are then often most welcome when hot weather makes heavy cooked meals seem unappetizing. But in many ways we need to eat more salads at this time of year when the range of fresh fruit and vegetables is so much reduced. It is easy for us to slip into a nutritional rut with our meals. We can find ourselves piling on the potatoes and pasta, filling up with stews and casseroles, eating far more dairy products, meat and fats, all in order to fend off the cold.
Some ‘exotic’ winter cropping fruits are hardy enough to survive mild winters almost unprotected, though without some help their crops are usually poor. These I covered earlier; the citrus, loquat, olive and so on. However with more heat, not just frost free but warm (not room temperature but say 50F) then a whole new range of exciting fruits become possible. And many of these also ripen in the depths of winter when our garden is well empty.
One of the most interesting changes over recent years has been the increased interest in unusual crops. The relative cheapness of greenhouses and poly-tunnels has enabled many more tender crops to be easily grown. Foreign holidays and food programmes have all increased this trend and now a new gardener is as likely to be growing chilli peppers as their father was tomatoes.
Often excluded from works on fruit as they’re annual, soft and herbaceous not perennial and woody. And even though used most in savoury dishes they’re none the less fruits. Indeed they’re some of the most important fruit crops to the kitchen gardener.
Recently there has been a huge interest in growing sweet potatoes and to a lesser extent some of the other less commonplace ethnic root crops. Some of these are even confused with the true sweet potatoes Ipomea batatas which are quite closely related to Morning Glory. Rather unexpectedly these were introduced well before our now ubiquitous ‘Irish’ potatoes but failed to really catch on. (As effectively likewise failed Jerusalem artichokes and several other, remarkably unpalatable, roots introduced as potential food crops, even Dahlias were tried!)
There is probably no more widely grown crop than tomatoes. Almost every kitchen garden will have some growing indoors or out and I doubt there is any plant more often tried by the novice. There are hundreds of varieties of very differing value, and success with the outdoor ones is almost entirely dependent on the year rather than the gardener's skill.
Almost every kitchen gardener grows potatoes and tomatoes and maybe sweet or hot peppers or aubergines. But I wonder if they have any idea of how poisonous the other bits of these plants are? And also how many other closely related and very poisonous relations these have? Considering so many of the Solanaceae have extremely poisonous members it is surprising any have edible fruits. And even more surprising is the case of the edible roots of potatoes when the potato fruit which so closely resembles a small green tomato is highly poisonous.
Although we think that nowadays we have a tremendous range of fruits to grow there are in fact many more possible than we at first remember. More importantly the availability of greenhouses and the simplicity of electric fan heating has made possible the easy cultivation of a number of tropical and subtropical fruits. Most of these were successfully grown by the Victorian gardeners but have since fallen into horticultural obscurity. I have already dealt with pineapples and bananas in previous copies of KG (Jan. & Feb.