Growing Japanese

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When Debbie and I were talking about what might make a good choice of guest post topic for her blog, she mentioned her current interest in Japanese cookery. It’s a part of the world I am interested in, too, although my understanding of Japanese cuisine is in its infancy. But a lot of the plants we grow in the UK originally came from the temperate regions of the Far East, and so I thought it might be fun to look at some of the plants we can grow that have ‘Japanese’ in their common names. It might not be that they all originate from Japan; the naming of plants (with their common names, at least) is a murky business full of intrigue and confusion. Welsh onions, for example, don’t come from Wales, although they will happily grow in gardens there.

In the early days of my garden I planted Japanese onions. Some of the varieties of Japanese onions have Japanese-style names; others don’t. The difference between Japanese onions and regular onions is the time at which they’re planted. I chose them because it was autumn and I wanted to plant something in my garden. Japanese onion sets are put in the ground in the autumn, overwinter and produce bulbs slightly earlier in the year than their spring-planted relatives. There’s some suggestions that they don’t store as well as maincrop onions, but I’ve never had a problem with that. It’s quite hard to grow as many onions as you need in a year, unless you have an allotment or a very large garden. Some gardeners grow Japanese onions for an early crop, but give the majority of their space over to maincrop onions. Both can be grown from seed, as well as sets, and are readily available from seed catalogues and garden centres.

A plant that isn’t as well-known as is should be is the Japanese wineberry. It grows like a raspberry, and its berries are very similar, but until they are fully ripe they are encased in a calyx (like a shell) that keeps the birds from pilfering your harvest. The plants are very pretty, with dark green leaves on their scrambling stems, white flowers and their bright red fruit. They are quite bristly though, so don’t plant them right next to the garden path. Assuming any of your harvest makes it back to the kitchen (and one day I will grow enough to make that happen!) then you can use them in the same ways as raspberries, but they have a delightful flavour all of their own.

When people talk about growing quinces, they’re normally talking about Cydonia oblonga, a small tree that grows large, yellow fruits that are as hard as rocks. They’re sought after by foodies for making quince jellies and jams, or including in pies. Most people who grow the Japanese quince (Chaenomelesspecies) grow them for their ornamental qualities – they produce stunning blossom in the spring time. They’re also smaller plants, suitable for smaller gardens. A lot of people don’t know that they also produce edible fruit. One of the tastiest is said to be the popular variety ‘Crimson and gold’, and you can probably guess what colour show it puts on for you!

You’ve probably heard of the dreaded Japanese knotweed, a plant that was introduced for its ornamental value but has rapidly become invasive in the UK. If you’ve got it in the garden you need to be careful how you remove it – improper disposal of Japanese knotweed is illegal, and one of the ways in which it is spreading to new territory. Enquire of your local council what facilities they have for safe disposal, but there are people who go foraging for it to eat like rhubarb, so you could always try eating it into submission.

One you may not be familiar with is the Japanese prickly ash, which is one of the Zanthoxylum species used to grow Szechuan pepper. It’s a small, fragrant tree – and yes, it is prickly. Just one would give you more Szechuan peppercorns than a family could use in a year, even if you’re very big fans of Chinese 5-spice (for which it is one of the main ingredients). Not only does it give you the opportunity to grow one of your own spices, you can use it to play tricks on unsuspecting guests. One quick nibble of a Szechuan peppercorn will set your mouth vibrating for quite some time. It’s not unpleasant, but it is unexpected!

Other less familiar plants include Japanese parsley, or mitsuba – an annual herb that’s easy to grow, and for which seeds are readily available. Japanese ginger, mioga, is a little harder to track down (try Poyntzfield Herbs) but is a hardy plant that grows outside in the UK. It’s the flower shoots that are used (rather than the roots of regular ginger), and you do have to be wary of slugs, who find it just as delicious as we do. Japanese horseradish is wasabi, and you can grow that here too, although most of the wasabi we buy in shops is (apparently) regular old horseradish with a bit of green food dye. And, of course, there’s Japanese burdock, or gobo, which is a plant with impossibly long, edible roots.

I’m sure there’s plenty more I’ve forgotten, so if you can think of one you can add it in the comments!

 

Many thanks to Debbie for hosting a stop on my virtual book tour. Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is my new ebook about unusual edible plants and the people who choose to grow them. You can find out more on the book’s homepage (https://emmacooper.org/jade-pearls-alien-eyeballs) and read a preview at Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/414476). The book is being published on 1stMay, costs $2.99, and will be available in a wide range of ebook formats.

 Jade Pearls

 

My Virtual Reality, Reality

Virtual book TourWith most things in my life, I have been a late starter -the exception was reading- and I am certainly a later-comer to digital, social media, and e-pubs.  I have only owned a Kindle for 12 months, and have been tweeting and blogging for a little over 24.  Late to the party though I may be, I am making up for it now!  It’s not that I don’t have a life, or that I have loads of free time, but rather I have seen the benefits, and potential benefits of being ‘connected’.

In my short time on Twitter I have connected with like-minded people about writing, gardening, organics and the natural world.  I have signed petitions and joined campaigns.  I have had lots of questions answered, and found out lots of information, particularly about gardening.

Up until a couple of weeks ago I had never heard of a ‘virtual book tour’.  The lovely Emma Cooper posted an invitation on Twitter for people to host her, on her virtual reality book tour of the UK, and my interest was piqued immediately.  For people that don’t know Emma, she is a freelance writer, photographer, blogger, podcaster, master composter and very keen gardener.  She is the author of three gardening titles already, and the aforementioned tour is set to show case her fourth book, ‘Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs’.  What intrigues me about this approach to marketing a publication is that the virtual reality translates into something tangible:  in this case a fascinating read, from someone who is passionate about sharing their knowledge, and encouraging other people to grow food and experiment.

A virtual book tour is a fabulous way of reaching an audience with a shared interest, without humping a ton of books around the country, and creating a massive carbon-footprint in the process.  There is no doubt that people like book signings from commercially successful authors, but this is a far remove from the quiet, steady plod of relatively unknown authors who must graft continually to make a trickle of income from their writing.  Perhaps this tour will be a new model for independent authors; I hope so.

So, the important information:  Emma will be featuring as a guest blogger on April 15th from 10 am onwards, when you lucky readers will be treated to her expert knowledge on an exciting topic from her latest work.  No spoilers here though!

Although behind the curve as usual – Emma is my first guest blogger- I’m right on the case with the virtual book tour, so watch this space, and don’t forget to flag the date in your diary.  Emma welcomes comments, and I’m sure she would be happy to respond to any questions.

Magic Beans

Borlotti beans No, not a prelude to the pantomime season.  I loathe pantomimes.  Yes I do! Yes I do!  Although the ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’  folktale itself is quite compelling as a story, for me the magic of growing is a far more magical, and ultimately profitable, experience.  Who wouldn’t be mesmerised by bean stalks curling their way around canes?  Six foot, eight foot; sky high if you like!  Delicate little plants that turn into sturdy, bountiful, bearers of long green pods that taste divine in all their beanie loveliness.

As a child I was always fascinated by anything you could grow from seed: the obligatory cress on the windowsill of course, but also flowers,  tomatoes and many other wonders.  My family weren’t hot on ‘grow your own’ even though we had a huge 160 foot garden, but somehow I got the bug.  I’m not sure if it was uncle Ray’s veg patch or the allotments I spied from the other side of the park, but something lodged itself in my psyche.

I’ve never lost the utter wonder of growing something from seed, especially if it’s something edible!  How do mammoth squash and courgettes emerge from tiny seeds, no bigger than a finger nail?  How do huge leeks form from  a black spec twist of peppercorn?  It is nothing short of amazing.  It doesn’t matter if I grow things from seed for decades, I don’t think I will ever stop being in awe of the determination of nature to shoot up and out – abounding abundantly.

I’m not particularly green-fingered. Not everything germinates, and not everything that germinates produces a crop.  The runner beans were a disaster this year, and the courgettes missed the sunshine terribly (as we all did in this northern neck of the woods), but that didn’t stop a bountiful harvest, which as I write, approaches 180 kilos ..and counting.

I count myself lucky that I’ve always known where my food comes from – I know that peas don’t come from the freezer  section of the  supermarket, and I can identify a carrot or swede, or even more exotic delights such as aubergine.  That’s because although my parents didn’t grow fresh vegetables, we did buy and eat them, usually from the local market.  It’s heartening to see projects such as food for life  teaching young people where food comes from, getting them involved in cooking, eating, and even growing  it.  It’s perhaps sad that we need such
initiatives.  In an age where we can be so disconnected from nature, encouraging people to ‘grow their own’, and giving more children the opportunity to experience the power and wonder of nature first hand can still provide that little bit of magic.  O yes it can!

 

Why I’ve Decided to Start Blogging

BeautyDo I have anything interesting to say?  Well that’s probably not a question for me to answer, but if I had to, it’s a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’.   I probably have the potential to be as interesting as the bloke who cleans the public loos, but not quite as interesting as the butler to HRH -it all depends on what grabs you.

What grabs me varies from day to day, but recurrent themes will be cooking, gardening, nature, writing, crafting, organics, justice, and the general state of stuff.

Just now, I’m enraged that so called ‘civilised’ nations can still be executing people; I’m overjoyed at the beauty and deliciousness of my red cabbages, and delighted that the sun was shining earlier.  It’s all important – to me;  And isn’t that half the point of this blogging caper – sharing what’s important to you, hoping that other people hold similar ideals, and that somehow this potential sharing dialogue can make a difference and might actually matter?

Well maybe that’s all a little grandiose!  Here I am anyway.  My first post on my own blog. Here we go…….