Dunkeld Community Orchard

It’s a good idea to know what fruit is doing well locally before committing yourself to buying fruit trees.  One good local orchard for me is at Blair Castle, where a good number of plums and damsons, and many apple varieties can be seen. It is also nice to wander through the sheltered orchard just before the bridge in Dunkeld. At this time of year it’s great to see what that fabulous spring blossom has delivered for the community. And it is a good example of what can be achieved with the dedication of some keen volunteers.

Dunkeld orchard

Dunkeld Orchard

The orchard must be 5 or 6 years old or more now and should be coming to its maximum productivity. It is a rather too well sheltered spot, right by the Tay, but fortuitously on very good soil. It used to be a market garden. That early sunshine this year has started reddening up the apples.

George Cave

George Cave

The variety of trees planted was based on what was available from a nursery in England, and it has been good to see which trees have been worthwhile. In the initial years, the whole orchard suffered very badly from deer browsing, and probably rabbits, so many of the trees have a congested centre where shoots initially struggled to get away.

Mostly apples, with a few plums and pears, plus a productive soft fruit patch.

All the trees are nicely labeled, and mostly correctly so.

This year I have noticed Edward vii, a late cooker doing well, and Scots Dumpling, one of the few horizontally trained trees doing very well. It is a very early cooker as is Reverend W Wilkes near the houses. More horizontal branches would mean more productivity overall is the lesson i think.

Red Devil, and Herefordshire Russet seem to be doing well, with Tydeman’s Late Orange and Red Windsor not far behind. Pixie lives up to its name, and is not worth growing. Red Falstaff and related James Grieves are doing well but slightly prone to scab as is Scrumptious, which rules it out of many damp areas of Scotland.

The Bramley’s seem to be doing ok, but should have been on a dwarfing stock as they are very vigorous. Discovery doesn’t seem to be so good this year, maybe a result of poor pruning, but my favourite, George Cave is exceptional as in most years.

One of the most productive appears to be Ellison’s Orange and Winston, a Cox relation. Sunsets and Charles Ross justify their inclusion in my top 10, and Worcester Pearmain, but some other very good varieties for Scottish conditons are missing such as Howgate and Newton Wonder, Jupiter and Scots Bridget.

Of the plums, as usual Opal near the river is doing nicely, but several others must have had poor pollination this year. Some Victorias have had broken branches in the past here, so do thin your plums! Of the pears, Beth does well, and this year Concorde seems to be doing ok.

This is a fantastic orchard to visit if you are planning to plant a tree yourself an want to get the measure of things, or to get involved…there are regular work days.  The trees are now rather vigorous and tall, and would have benefited on being on a more dwarfing stock such as m26 or m27.  Easy with hindsight!

Edward Vll

Edward Vll

Berber Artisans and City Life

My trip from mountain to City was very eventful, but that’s for another day….I love to see people who can make things! I watched a leather worker in Chefchaouan make me a wallet, but in the maze of Marrakesh you can see gates being welded, chickens gutted, bed heads being carved, banjos being stretched, fabrics being woven and all within a few hundred yards of each other….well I did get lost and spent a happy 2 hours or so looking for the exit! If you have been there you will understand!  What a rich den of skilled people, they are highly inventive and recycle lots of odds and ends as part of their craft. The very narrow alleyways are surprisingly cool in the 34 degrees of last week. But watch out for the caleches, donkey carts, motorbikes and the sort of one way system of people!

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In contrast I visited the Yves Saint Laurent Jardin Majorel. I was told it was a major tourist attraction…I was there at daybreak so saw no-one else, but wow what a place! I’m not surprised it’s popular. It is the most perfectly manicured garden I have ever seen and very stunning in design and colour. And there’s a very good Berber Museum within.

Majorelle

Majorelle

Cacti Forest

Cacti Forest

So my intention to see horticulture here was more or less achieved, at least in the North, seeing the contrast of home vegetable gardening, small farms and large commercial farmers. It is a rich productive land wherever water allows in the mostly dry and rocky landscape.  Some dusty French hikers told of rich valleys in the High Atlas and Walnut groves, and where are these Argon trees…….mmmm next time…..oh and did i tell you about the air display at the airport, and the Romans at Larache, and the El Djemma Fna Concert show?

Djemma Fna

Djemma Fna

A Berber Way Of Life

Peaches

Peaches

Well where to start! I experienced a week or so of life with a berber family at  Ribat El Kheir in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco. On route I passed a large commercial Apple Orchard, apparently 200 hectares or so of very closely spaced dwarf trees, all for export.  They have many deep wells to support the parched terrain and the workers are paid bonuses, so work very hard I was told.

The peaches were in flower in one of the smaller orchards around me. All the trees in this plot were headed back at about 30cm to make an upright open framework.

My week was very relaxed, looking after a few cows, many types of poultry, rabbits,  doves and pigs. And a lot of time relaxing and drinking tea with neighbours….and of course delicious tagines! All food is shared, there are no separate plates, and it is most often scooped up with bread with your right hand. The bread is flat and unleavened in Morocco and made fresh each day. We ate it a lot.The mint tea is very sweet and refreshing in the heat.

Tagine Dindons!

Tagine Dindons!

We also ate omelettes and dipped bread in olive oil, as well as a semolina in a sour milk, butter milk maybe? The daughter made it in a plastic bottle, rolling it on the floor for an hour or so. Also side dishes of sweet broad beans and a fennel paste from the buds of the wild fennel around us.

Fennel

Fennel

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The Berbers lived simply, and ate what they grew or farmed mostly. They had a bottled gas cooker and oven, but no electricity, though new pylons at the end of the farm lane forewarn of a change to come. It was very amusing to see Berber shepherds using mobile phones to communicate with each other across the hill! Samsungs are ubiquitous!

Berber Brebis

Berber Brebis

A stunning landscape was my daily view, often with these Berber sheep which are kept on the move all day to eek out the few weeds. This field will not be sown because it is too dry this year….incomes are so precarious here! The puit ( well ) is a vital element in life here; the French Colonialists in the 1920’s chose these areas to create commercial farms as they had a reliable source.

Le Source

Le Source

I saw these wooden ploughs being used behind mules and oxen in many areas. Such is the contrasting extremes easily seen in this country twixt the traditional ways and modern city life. And so to the city….

Wooden Plough

Wooden Plough

Olives and more in Chefchaouan

Chefchaouan

Chefchaouan

Yeah, its the blue town and full of tourists. And hash punters. My wee hostel was run by some  permanently stoned guys, what a waste! But what a pretty little souk of narrow blue painted alleyways, lovely at night. A wee boy put the finishing touch to a wallet I had made for me.

Leatherwork

Leatherwork

The market day drew in rows of Rifian men and women, here to sell a few cabbages and onions and buy their own shopping before returning. It’s a very hard and simple life for these people…other larger traders had oranges and apples, olives or spices. These palm shoots intrigued me.

Palm Shoots

Palm Shoots

One of the wee squares was piled up with firewood for the Hammam Public Baths, a pleasure I didn’t find time for on this occasion.

Market Day

Market Day

Hammam Baths

Hammam Baths

Heading down from Chef to Fez, I was struck by the oranges,  and beans and others cereals sown underneath the Olive groves. At lower altitudes, there were larger fields of cereals and co-operatives with a more commercial layout of large fields. Almost no hedges or fences exist in Morocco. The sheep are constantly herded to prevent straying; even the motorway verges are grazed between Fez and Rabat!

Espagnol in Morocco

I have just spent a few weeks in Morocco on a farm and travelling around and thought i would record some of the events here. Those of you who have visited this fascinating country will be familiar with much of what is to follow!

English Breakfast

English Breakfast

I failed to secure a hostel in any of the Spanish enclaves so plumped for the longer ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Tangiers Med port.A lovely way to enter Africa, but not without a last breakfast of Eggs and bacon on the ferry.

Then refusal to pay 200 dirham for a grand taxi toute seule, ( thanks Lonely Planet my trusty companion ), and eventually got crammed into one with 4 others for a mad dash to Tangier bus station for 30 dirham. And there I enjoyed my first chaotic experience of the bus stations in Morocco, albeit with a few exceptions like the lovely CTM one at Tetouan. Anyway, I now knew to look for shared lifts, and waited patiently for a cheap shared grand taxi to Assilah. There’s always a headman ready to guide you …its actually quite a good system. But good to get away from that busy place and arrive at the wee town of Assilah by the sea ( though crammed in with 6 others this time! ) .Miles of beaches along the coast en route.

Mint Tea

Mint Tea

My memories of this place are of children moving to and from school at all times of the day, great mint teas, Spanish being spoken, prayers called at 5am, and the one shop with beer for sale!

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Of Coltsfoot and Liquorice

Yesterday I found the first scaly-stemmed flower of Coltsfoot pushing itself up through the disturbed ground of a plantation in Bankfoot. The plant, also called “Son-afore-the-Father” due to the fact that the flowers appear many weeks before the hoof-shaped, hairy leaves, is a spring herald. It’s particularly welcomed here because by mid-February I have always been caught by one of those coughs that cling to the tail of a winter cold and threaten to sit on your chest for months. This year is no exception.

Coltsfoot leaves and the sunny, dandelion-like flowers are equally useful for treating coughs, though personally I can’t bear to pick the brave flowers and collect and dry leaves all summer instead to see me through. They can be made into a tea, or a decoction. Of old, they have been used in herbal tobacco, too, but it beats me how smoking anything can cure a cough, so I’ll stick to tea. It doesn’t have much flavour, so I add evergreen thyme (also good for coughs!) in winter, and in summer a few leaves of mint, lemon balm or meadowsweet. Fresh coltsfoot leaves can also be used as a vegetable and even yield a yellow-green dye.

This winter, thanks to an excellent evening class in herbal medicine I have discovered another cough-soothing delight – liquorice.  I have never liked liquorice allsorts, and for all I respect the monks of Pontefract, their “cakes” and the long tradition of growing and processing liquorice in that district, NOTHING would have persuaded me to chew liquorice root if I’d known what it was. But the unprepossessing and rock-hard root is something else entirely. The flavour is sweet and delicate; I’ve been boiling chopped root for ten minutes, then adding coltsfoot leaves. On Bad Throat Days, in goes a spoonful of honey from my bees too. Liquorice has been used medicinally for over three thousand years, for constipation and stomach ulcers as well as bronchial complaints. It’s a substance called glycyrrhizin in the roots, sweeter by far than sugar, which accounts for its use in confectionery. I don’t know which bit makes foam, but it’s also used in fire extinguishers!

Coltsfoot is best gathered in the wild unless you have a large garden – it spreads most obligingly. Liquorice, a native of south-eastern Europe, is slow to germinate, the seeds are expensive, and it will take a while to produce worthwhile roots. But it has pretty foliage and pea-like flowers to enjoy while you are waiting, so is well worth growing.

Today, five inches of snow covered 2005’s first coltsfoot, and I’m still coughing, so spring had better get a move on. The hedgerow pharmacy is in demand!

© Margaret Lear, Bankfoot. Originally published in Comment, March 2005

Long slow spring…..

Today heard the first cuckoo, in the woods fringing Glen Garr. Was with HNC Countryside Management atudents and the last time I dragged them for a walk we saw the first swallows down on the Tay Estuary – so I think the class are my lucky spring charms. They do seem to expect

Long time no blog – winter went on and on, nothing much to report and I realise I am about to repeat everything I wrote about last year if I don’t watch out. Will try to be selective….. the apple mountain finally petered out late February, with the blackbirds getting the last of them. Andrew borrowed the Carse of Gowrie cider press and the crucial crusher and made 11 gallons of cider and perry – we are still drinking it and mist of it is truly excellent. We have added to the fruit trees in our garden about 11 apples, 3 or 4 pears including the famous Perthshire Jargonelle, and a couple of plums and a damson. They are all leafing out nicely.

Have made wild garlic pesto and earwigging to Radio 4 and the like tells me the whole world is making stuff with wild garlic these days! It’s much in demand from customers too. Bistort, nettles, ground elder, comfrey and ladies mantle have all been et – both in and out of Dock Puddings, and Solomon’s Seal has produced its delectable shoots. Magnificent!

Have not found any St. George’s mushrooms yet. We found a red Peziza type fungus the other day – Scarlet Elf Cup – which we’d not seen before. Inedible but very pretty. Nearby we found a lizard out basking, which reminds me – on a student trip to the Rhinns of Galloway a morning walk at Portpatrick yielded a BEAUTIFUL adder by the path, fulmars and nesting ravens, and a stoat.

 Well, a new season dawns, and my “pet” early potatoes called Bonnie Dundee (but labelled Claverhouse out of badness) are coming up….

See food….

or sea food. Went on a student outing on Monday; it was a bit alarming to realise they (the students) were touchingly trusting in tasting anything and everything – had to remind them in the botanic garden that some plants are actually highly poisonous and that if they see me chewing on a leaf it’s because I have well-honed identification skills and a certain amount of knowledge – not just picking random foliage and munching on it! And I make mistakes too – discovered that Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) raw is FOUL, whereas cooked it’s one of my favourites.

Then we went to the beach. There were lots and lots of bivalve molluscs that my small brain had classified as Sand Gapers, commonly if erroneously passed off as native clams. When I came to consult a field guide I realised there are in fact any number of nondescript bivalve molluscs they could have been, and closer examination would be needed for a precise identification. By the time I caught up with the students, Stuart had already filled his pocket and was insistent he’d eaten them before anyway, others were following suit. I gave them all dire warnings and persuaded Stuart to part with some of his haul, which I cooked later by plunging into boiling water and boiling for 8 minutes…… they were just the last word in deliciousness. Must go back a. to get more and b. to stick a Latin name on them!

And more wild garlic…

Ramsons (Allium ursinum) is commonly called Wild Garlic, even though several other wild plants also have this name. It’s the broad-leaved, glossy plant that carpets old woods in April and May, and bears heads of starry white flowers. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible. Last night I made Ramsons pesto with a bucket of leaves.

I just liquidised the washed leaves with the water that clung from washing, together with a packet of pine nuts, a small bag of other undistinguished wild nuts that needed using up, and olive oil. I don’t know how much olive oil went in because I just slurped it in till the consistency was right, but couldn’t have been more than a couple of eggcupsful, maybe less. Then I tasted it, and decided it needed a wee bit of Maldon Sea Salt (this isn’t advertising, just supporting a local industry from way back home, being an Essex Girl). Andrew said it was too bitter and to add some honey, but I didn’t – these days I can’t stand anything to be too sweet and I thought it was perfect. He added some honey on his oatcake but still didn’t like it, so it’s all for me. Excellent! Strange how the garlic flavour comes through really strongly – individual leaves in salad are very mild, but this is good and strong. The colour is absolutely beautiful too.

What else? Lime leaves are nice now, before they start to lose that spring-green flavour. Wood sorrel remains magnificent, and ground elder has reached the point where it’s better steamed/cooked rather than raw. Flowers appear in salads – cornflowers, violets, broom buds, chives and of course ramsons. We were down at the coast in Fife last weekend and failed to collect because we forgot to go back for it lots of the seaweed Enteromorpha intestinalis, which is rather nice. However my stomach rebelled against a rich diet badly enough on Monday, so maybe it was just as well.

More St. George’s Mushrooms made their way to Saturday’s breakfast, and burdock stems onto dinner. I have only so far eaten the fleshy leaf stems of the Great Burdock (Arctium lappa), although I am assured other parts are edible too. It’s delicious. What you have to do is carefully peel away the slightly hairy outer skin on each stem – it doesn’t matter if you don’t get all of it. It’s a bit like peeling rhubarb. You’ll notice the interesting, musty but rather pleasant smell. Cut into sections and steam or lightly boil. You can serve it as a vegetable; I used to add butter but don’t feel the need to these days. My tastes really have changed!

Noticing the buds on elder bushes; the rowans are out and may (hawthorn) about to blur the distinction between late pear and early apple blossom. Eyeing up this year’s wine and cider sources. I racked off last years elderberry and sloe and blackcurrant wines this weekend – the last before bottling. As usual the elderberry tastes the more promising!

Cry God for Mushrooms, Scotland and St. George….

… apologies to W. Shakespeare, Henry V part something. Andrew found a good harvest of St George’s Mushrooms (Tricholoma gambosum) at work on 27th April and judging from the size and age of them I think they must have emerged on the dot of 23rd April, St. George’s Day, for which they are of course named. They are white, meaty mushrooms, with a delicious smell, and because so few other fungi come up in spring, are unlikely to be mistaken for anything poisonous. I will add a photo to this post when I find it. They were growing in amenity grassland – and the next day one of A’s colleagues mowed them – what a shame! This is what I did with them:

St. Georges Mushroom and Cannelini Bean Savoury

2 leeks, finely sliced
As many St Georges Mushrooms, sliced as poss – we had a bit over a pound

Fry these in oil or margarine until tender, add seasoning and a few herbs if you like. Add a small tin of white beans eg cannelini, haricot or butter beans (3oz dried beans, soaked and cooked). Heat thoroughly and put in the bottom of a casserole dish. Warm some tinned or frozen tomatoes or fresh ones, sliced, in season, and put a layer of these over the top.

Grate some cheese and mix with fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs, sprinkle over the top and brown under the grill.

Nice with fresh greens.