The annual “nispero” glut

ImageIn April and early May loquats, or “nísperos” as they’re called in Spanish, are in abundance. For the first couple of weeks after they become ripe enough to eat, kids and adults in my house make a daily pilgrimage to the terrace the loquat trees are on, returning 10 minutes later wiping the juice from their chins, but eventually the novelty wanes and usually there’s still half a tree heavy with fruit.

I have a bit of a phobia about waste. Any fruit that has already been attacked by insects either goes to the hens or the compost heap, but the rest has to be used.

The obvious favourite is to make jam. The loquat’s stones are perfect for jam-making so there is no need to buy artificial pectin. Furthermore, it’s a good substitute for apricot or peach jam which is frequently used for glazing cakes and sweets.

Loquat Jam: 1kg loquats, seeds removed but not peeled; 200ml water; finely grated rind and juice of 2 lemons; 1kg sugar.

Wash the fruit, remove the stones and wrap them in a piece of white cotton, tie the material to make a bag and suspend the bag in the pan. Chop the fruit to the size you like if you do not wish to use a blender on the jam. Simmer the fruit in the water until soft (about 20 minutes). Blend if you wish. Add the juice, rind and sugar. Boil rapidly until a little of the mix forms a “skin” on a cold saucer.  Warm your clean jars in the oven. Pour the jam into the jars and seal. I always use button-top jars from pasta sauces etc. which can be reused many times. Any jar where the button hasn’t sunk in hard needs to be kept in the fridge and used first. If the jar is correctly sealed, the jam can be kept in the store cupboard for a year.

However, there’s a limit to the amount of jam I can use so here are a couple of other ways of disposing of a nispero glut.Image

Loquat Upside-down Cake: 25 loquats; 2 eggs; 125ml natural yoghurt; 100ml milk; 250g butter; 250g self-raising flour; 100g brown sugar; 100g white sugar; 2tsp baking powder; 2 tsp vanilla extract; half tsp salt.

Heat the oven to 200ºC. Line a 22cm cake tin with baking paper or a cake liner. Melt half the butter with the brown sugar in a small pan. Cook for 2 minutes. Pour into the lined cake tin. Wash the loquats, cut them in half and remove the stones. Arrange them cut side down over the sugar/butter mixture. (I like to remove the skins to make the cake extra gunky, but you don’t have to). Mix the flour, white sugar, baking powder, salt, yoghurt, other half of the butter, milk, eggs and vanilla essence. Whip well. Pour the mixture gently over the loquats and bake for about 50 minutes until a knife comes out clean. Cool and then gently turn upside down onto a plate and remove the baking paper. Scrumptious hot, warm or cold.Image

Tropical Loquat Crumble:  1kg loquats; 100g sugar; 1 tbsp lemon juice. For the crumble: 50g plain flour; half tsp ground ginger; 75g rolled oats; 50g desiccated coconut; 25g ground almonds; 50g brown sugar; 75g melted butter.

Wash, halve and de-stone the loquats. Put them in a pan with the lemon juice and sugar. Cover and simmer gently for 25 minutes. Mix all the dry ingredients for the crumble and then stir in the melted butter. Spread the fruit in an ovenproof dish, top with the crumble and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes until the top is slightly browned.

If your family is unable to face another loquat by the end of the month, prepare the fruit as if you were making a crumble. Cool. Then place in plastic bags and freeze for use in pies and crumbles later in the year.

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Spinach in disguise

My spinach did rather well this spring, just looking at a clump of plump green leaves poking out of the ground is enough to make me square my shoulders and feel the goodness of Popeye. Unfortunately, the kids don’t have the same reaction and it takes constant vigilance to ensure this vegetable is well disguised, so that all the nutritious zinc, potassium and a multitude of vitamins finds its way into their growing bodies in sizeable quantities.

The two best disguises in our house seem to be Tuna Layer – where the presence of a few crisps and a handful of grated cheese on the top distracts the eye from the bunch of green leaves below – and Spinach Flan which, admittedly does lead to a general chorus of: “OMG Mum, that’s very green!” but the nutmeg in it seems to sooth them into colour-blindness, and a second helping.

Tuna Layer: Ingredients: 300g to 500g of spinach (washed), 2 large tins of tuna, a large onion (chopped), a tin of chopped tomatoes, a carton of natural yoghurt, a couple of handfuls of grated cheese, a packet of salted crisps.

Method: Heat the oven to 200ºC. In an ovenproof dish place the spinach in the bottom. Top it with the chopped onion, a handful of cheese and the flaked tuna. Pour over the tomatoes and top with blobs of yoghurt. Smash up the crisps and press them over the top of the mixture before scattering over the second handful of grated cheese. Cook for 25 minutes.Image

Spinach flan: Ingredients: Either buy pastry or, if you prefer to avoid all those preservatives, make it with half fat to flour, I reckon 60g of fat to 120g flour is about right although you may wish to double that and freeze the other half for another day. Rub the fat into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs and then add a couple of tablespoons of cold water until it forms a solid lump, leaves the sides of the bowl clean, but is not sticky. Chill in the fridge while you make the filling. Filling: 300g spinach, 200g cottage cheese, 2 eggs, 75g parmesan, 150ml milk, half a teaspoon of grated nutmeg.

Method: Heat the oven to 190ºC. Grease the flan dish and roll the pastry so that it lines the dish. Wash the spinach and drain. Put the damp leaves in a large pan with a pinch of salt (don’t add water). Cover and cook gently for 5 minutes. Drain and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper then blend into a smooth mixture. Pour the mixture into the flan case and bake for 35 minutes. Delicious hot or cold.

Although spinach will come to an end in the next few weeks as the thermometer goes higher, the plants can last far longer than many vegetables so it’s worth starting seedlings off as early as the end of August to get the maximum cropping time for your healthy leaves.

The Kiwi Killer

I love kiwis and innumerable articles tell me I should be able to grow them here in Mallorca. Admittedly most writers caution that it takes time and patience to establish these plants, but I can be patient when it comes to green things.

I planted my first kiwi close to the house where I would see it regularly and respond quickly to its every need. It died. I tried a couple further down the garden, on a different terrace, thinking the soil might suit them better. They died. I tried another beside a sheltered wall. It died. Finally I got serious, asked my husband to build a pergola for my flourishing kiwi farm to climb over and bought three male and five female plants. For three years I gave them the utmost dedication, they grew around the pergola engaging in sporadic bouts of energy which got me tremendously excited but never resulted in a flower let alone a fruit. Now, they’ve died.

“Cut your losses and plant some runner beans,” my husband suggested last week. So, although I feel it’s late in the season to start beans I put a few in a pot and within 48 hours they erupted through the soil and are looking healthier than any kiwi plant that’s ever graced my garden.Image

I promise to stop murdering kiwi plants forthwith and the pergola will finally become a useful garden object for runner beans and then climbing Borlotto beans – which you can dry and then use throughout the year. Sometimes a gardener has to accept defeat!

… However, if anyone has some tips that can guarantee long life and heavy fruiting, I might be persuaded to have one last try!

No such thing as a free lunch?

No such thing as a free lunch?

My grandfather always used to say there was no such thing as a free lunch, but in one respect he was wrong. With a bit of dirt to plant in and couple of hens today’s offering didn’t cost a cent. Mixed herb omelette with carrot, rocket, radish and beanshoot salad. Yum!

Not perfect, but very tasty

Not perfect, but very tasty

They wouldn’t meet EU shop beauty standards, but carrots fresh from the garden taste great. Even thinnings can often be used in salads or my daughter’s favourite soup. Just give them a good scrub if they’re too small to peel.
Spicy carrot soup: 25g butter; 600g carrots; 1 large onion; 1 clove of garlic; half tsp cumin and nutmeg; quarter tsp paprika, turmeric, ground ginger and ground corriander; 1 tsp brown sugar; 900ml vegetable stock; 150ml milk; seasoning.
Method: Dice the vegetables and saute gently in the butter for a few minutes. Stir in the spices and cook for a minute before adding the sugar and stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Purée the soup then add the milk and season to taste. Feeds 4 to 6.

The Power of Poo – and other freebies

With the sun and rain we’ve enjoyed over Easter, the whole island is green and burgeoning. It’s time to give the soil a boost in order to get the very best fruit and vegetables possible this summer.

Top of the soil-feed desirability stakes for gardeners has always been horse manure – so much so that it was originally believed the tractor would never become popular on farms because of its lack of poo production! This year my garden enjoyed a bonanza after Eva Marie Burns from Inca posted on Facebook that she was happy for all horticulturists to descend upon her five-horse paddock and dig to their hearts content. The financial crisis has meant that the person who usually removed the “waste” and paid her for the pleasure, is no longer prepared to cough up, so, enterprising Eva crowned herself Queen of Poo (her words, not mine) and posted her appeal.Image

She is asking those who load up their cars at the stables to donate a couple of euros to the Dogs 4 U charity on the island or, if you don’t want to do your own shovelling, her son will bag it up for a euro a bag, half of which will also be donated to Dogs 4 U. This all seems more than fair for a pile of what my parents always referred to as “gold dust”.  Heavy feeding plants such as tomatoes, bananas, asparagus, avocados, cucumbers and roses will perk up no end with a few spadefuls of this superfood.

However, Mallorca is abundant with many other free soil feeds in addition to horse manure. For centuries local farmers used seaweed on the land. It is useful both as a mulch to keep down weeds, limit water evaporation and discourage snails and also to add to compost heaps to increase the content of many trace minerals.

If you have chickens their manure should also be added to the compost but it’s far too strong to place directly on plants, this is a product that definitely needs mixing with less extreme foods such as grass cuttings before use.

Wood ash from wood burners or bonfires is another freebie that’s great for the garden. It’s full of potash and calcium carbonate, while slugs and snails hate it so it creates a natural slug repellent. However, don’t overdo it in one place as mounds of it can form an impenetrable cement which prevents moisture from getting through to the roots below.

My final free fertilizer is what my kids call Mum’s Witches Brew. When stinging nettles are prevalent, as they are now, this can be made easily and used anywhere, diluted with 3 parts water to one part “brew”. Fill a bucket with nettles and place it in the area of the garden you will want to spread the fertilizer. Fill with water and leave for a fortnight before using. The final mixture is full of nitrogen, magnesium, sulphur (yes, it does smell after a while!) and iron. It can be used on all plants or as a compost activator, but is particularly good for any trees whose leaves are paler than usual, indicating they need some extra iron.

A little bit of effort in the spring will reap huge benefits when the intense heat turns much of our land into a dust bowl. Better soil makes for improved water retention which is good for both plants and pockets, while regular feeding ensures gardeners can make maximum use of the Mediterranean’s two growing seasons without the earth becoming exhausted.