If you can grow one thing make it soft fruit
Do grow fruit in your garden, allotment or community garden? Do you use it? I must admit, for years I was shy about growing soft fruit bushes. Prune this bit, train that bit, the experts gave me all the information but it sounded so confusing it put me off. However, if you grow food in the vegetable garden it’s difficult to avoid growing fruit as a) friends and neighbours will try to offload raspberry canes every spring as they shoot up in uninvited places and b) you’ll soon want to grow your own strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, loganberries or jostaberries, as it makes such economic sense.
Once you grow your own fruit you’ll save more money than growing any other type of veg as you’ll have the opportunity to make your own jams, cordials, smoothies, juices, jams, jellies or any number of strawberry recipes or mixed fruit desserts.
Fruit bushes are easy to grow as they pretty much look after themselves. They can be planted straight into soil that’s had lots of well-rotted organic matter added to it, or in containers using a John Innes No 3 compost if you can get hold of it locally (see this article for more information about growing vegetables in containers).
The first thing we learnt about growing our own fruit is that it’s very forgiving. If you don’t prune, you’ll still get berries but the bushes will just become unruly and untidy and you mightn’t harvest as much. I found my fruit bushes were the perfect place to practice my pruning techniques as I snipped and cut, safe in the knowledge that if I made a mistake, it wouldn’t matter too much as they’d grow back the next year. However, if you take the opportunity to follow the pruning guidelines, it will pay off.
This post isn’t going to be full of the how to’s and where for’s about growing fruit as there’s several in depth guides available online, in particular this one on growing loganberries and jostaberries, two of our favourite fruits this year. I’ve also written posts on growing blueberries and looking after strawberry beds. Instead I’m sharing a Pavlova recipe using mixed fruit gathered in the garden, inspired by one of my favourite cookbooks, Good Housekeeping. This is just one of many easy puddings you could be making regularly if you grow your own fruit (well perhaps not too regularly if you’re watching your weight!)
Simple Pavlova Recipe
Ingredients for Strawberry or Mixed Fruit Pavlova
A bowl or a punnet or two of soft fruits, approx 450g
284ml carton double cream
200g half-fat crème fraîche
Ready made Pavlova base, mini meringues or home-made Pavlova base, see below
Ingredients and Method for Pavlova Base
4 egg whites
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp cornflower
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g caster sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 130ºC. Place the egg whites in a scrupulously clean bowl and whisk until they’re stiff. You can test this by turning the bowl upside down – if they slide around at all keep whisking. Continue to whisk, adding a tablespoon of sugar at a time, until the mixture is shiny and very stiff. Fold in the vinegar, cornflower and vanilla extract.
Place some baking paper on a baking tray and mark a circle, approx 9cm onto it. Turn the paper over and pile the meringue mixture into the marked circle, hollowing the middle out slightly. Bake in the oven for approx 1¼ hours, more if necessary, until the edges of the meringue are firm and the inside slightly soft. Allow to cool.
To Make the Pavlova Mix
Whisk the cream until soft peaks start to form and it holds its shape. Gently fold in the crème fraîche until thoroughly mixed then add half of your berries to the mixture until evenly combined.
Pile the cream mix onto your Pavlova base then scatter the remaining berries on top to decorate.
If you like the idea of growing soft fruit, head out to your garden centre and have a look at the many varieties on offer. The horticulturists will be able to recommend the best plants for your circumstance and garden.