KITCHEN GARDEN HARVEST TIPS / GARDEN
and pick as required. Snip with scissors or pinch out by hand.
Harvesting beans and peas
They come in many types and varieties within each. Both bush and pole varieties of snap beans, such as string or runner beans, like repeat pickings to keep them productive and repeatedly producing more pods so there is no ideal time to mass harvest but rather as you require over the duration of the plant’s productivity. We tend to favour sweeter beans and so pick at an immature stage before the seeds bulge – that’s generally when the pods are pencil thick. The tips should be pliable and the pod should be firm and snap crisply when you break one in half; the seeds inside will be small (underdeveloped) but full of flavour. The best way to pick is to carefully hold the stem with one hand and with the other pinch off or snip away the pod – this way we avoid damaging stems and branching systems that will produce more flowers and pods. Snap peas and snow peas can be pinched or snipped as required and the pod is eaten whole. Garden peas, the ones we shell, are generally ready to harvest around three weeks after their flowers first appear and if you successional harvest, they will continue to produce into late autumn or first frosts. For maximum flavour pick plump pods that are just starting to be bumpy rather than fully bulging. Firm crisp pods also store longer. I rather fresh from
the plant as stored pea sugars can become starchy very quickly. Pinch or snip because plucking can damage the plant and even partially uproot some of the shallower rooting varieties. Sometimes you can’t keep up with the conveyer belt of pea productivity and you can miss some – so dried or shrivelled pods are past their taste prime but could potentially can make next year’s seed. Bush and pole varieties of shell beans from Fava to Lima are ones where we want a swollen seed bean inside the pod to be shelled out. The tradition is to harvest pods on the cusp of full maturity, when the beans inside are fully formed but not yet dried out. The indicator of this stage is when pods change colour. Pick while still plump and tender and you get a bean not a seed. You can harvest every couple of days over the season to keep the plant in productive mode. Pinch or snip away pods.
Preserving herbs For the woody-stemmed herbs such as oregano, thyme, rosemary and lavender it is as simple as cutting off a few long stems, making a bundle with some string or elastic band and hanging them up to dry in an airy room. Place them inside a paper bag before hanging to hold the aromatic oils inside the plant and to make for a more flavorful dried herb. The process usually takes two to three weeks. Mint and other soft stemmed herbs tend to wilt once cut so a drying rack in full sun is the traditional way but today many opt for a food dehydrator or oven drying (it’s less weather dependent!). Freezing herbs is a popular
method and it works brilliantly
for all herb types but especially well with soft stems such as mint, basil, parsley – and many argue that freezing retains more flavour than drying. The simplest option is to gather and wash the herb and place it in an ice cube with water and freeze solid. You can pop them out a cube at a time to throw into your soups, stews, stir fries, etc. Or you could coat the herbs in a little olive oil and store in freezer bags. Finally you can make herb pastes to freeze – simple blitz up the herb in a food processor with some culinary oil of choice and decant into ice cube trays to freeze, pop out of the tray once done and seal in airlock bags in the freezer.
The curing process Potatoes will vary not just in size and shape but in the thickness of their skins. If you are harvesting to cook then there is no issue but if you are harvesting to store then choose the thicker skinned variety. Potatoes can lose moisture through their skins and either begin to shrivel or become starchy with time. One way of slowing or halting this process is to cure the skin – which is basically to let it dry and thicken over a seven to 10 day period between lift and storage. This was traditionally done by forking potatoes up and leaving them on the soil surface for a week. Today wire racks and outside shelving can be used or a tented membrane to prevent rain slowing the cure. Squashes and pumpkins are often cured before storage and thereafter can last for up to three months. With root vegetables such as carrots, beetroot, parsnips and potatoes, the old method was to ‘clamp’ – to bury in an earthen mound outside in the garden or to cure for a few days and then store in sand boxes in the larder but they do fine in hessian sacks or veg storage crates. A cured root crop will seal the moisture inside and retain flavour as well as store better for being dry on the surface. The other key here is to remove the leafy tops which are prone to degrade quickly and to clean off the excess soil to remove potential pathogens but do not scrub – you will wash later before cooking. These guys like to be stored in the dark, potatoes in particular as they form toxic agents in the light that makes them inedible, detected by any greening of the skin.
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