Thinking about fruit when walking around almost any supermarket has me realising just how glad I am that years ago we planted fruit trees in our garden, and have continued to do so as time goes by. Supermarket fruit is rarely ripe, and, out of season, is costly and consuming of air miles. I planted apples before we had even converted the house, keeping them watered in the hot, dry summer of 1969 with endless buckets of water pumped from an old well. Later on, we moved on to nuts – hazel and walnut, and now have more than we can possibly consume.
Not everyone has the space we have, but it is perfectly possible to grow fruit and nuts in a small garden; you just have to be circumspect with the varieties, and check, in most cases, that they are supplied on dwarfing stock, which limits their eventual size and provides earlier cropping. Our Merryweather damson – whilst being in the orchard – could quite easily have been planted in one of my gardens-within-a-garden, which I am doing this spring with my new Mirabelle de Nancy (I can’t wait to be making sloppy jam ‘a la Francais’).
Without cataloguing all the fruit we grow, let me suggest types suitable for a smaller garden. Despite being relatively high for some fruit, pears do well, as do Brown Turkey figs planted against a wall, though in the UK they only set one crop (remove all the other small figlets for they will not survive). Plums, too, in succession and crab apples in the hedge. A dessert grapevine has taken over the greenhouse, and others (for wine) clamber through a holly tree.
Hazels have more uses than their delicious nuts. Whether you plant a cob or a filbert, they need regular coppicing, providing stakes for bean-poles and wigwams and twiggy bits for supporting peas. It isn’t all paradise, however – the beautiful 120-year old apples we inherited have succumbed to old age; but we still have more than we need of everything, and do not begrudge the birds their share, nor the squirrel who buries walnuts and hazels wherever the fancy takes him/her; if we were not vigilant, we would have a veritable forest before long!
If you have a conservatory, you can grow a lemon (outdoors in more clement areas of the UK) – perfect for Pancake Day, which this year falls on this coming Tuesday, 21st February. Just in case you do not already have an easy recipe, here’s the one I have used for over 50 years: Into a food processor or liquidiser put 250ml milk plus 2 tablespoons cold water. Add 2 medium-sized hens eggs. Process on high till well-mixed. With the processor set to its lowest speed, gradually add 100gms plain flour and half-tsp salt, then mix on top speed until all is well combined. Transfer to a jug, cover and store in the fridge overnight. To cook: Stir the batter with a fork. Take a flat pancake pan: melt a knob of lard, add a swirl of butter to the sides; at the first indication of ‘blue smoke’ – it’s more a haze than actual smoke – pour in about half a teacup of mixture, tipping the pan this way and that just above the heat to distribute the batter over the whole pan surface. Cook until a knife inserted at the edge of the pan will lift the pancake away from the base. Flip over with a knife (there’s no need to toss!) and cook the second side.