Eastern European vegetable varieties

by Lila Das Gupta

I'm not sure how I feel about super-rich Russians buying up British newspapers or football clubs, but there's one invasion I thoroughly approve of.

Melon 'Emir'I'm not sure how I feel about super-rich Russians buying up British newspapers or football clubs, but there's one invasion I thoroughly approve of. The end of the cold war has meant far greater cross-fertilisation for gardeners.

The Real Seed Catalogue has been listing obscure varieties like melon 'Collective Farm Woman' from Ukraine for years. The company operated as a 'seed club' to get round regulations, but it's only now that eastern European seed varieties are making an impact on mainstream seed catalogues.

In particular, much seed seems to be coming from Poland and the Czech Republic. While their summers can be hotter than ours, their winters are much colder, so many of the varieties grown there are used to tough conditions.

One example of this new wave is the outdoor melon 'Emir' (F1), which crops well outside, even in British summers (though it's important not to grow it in a windy spot). 'Emir' is part of Johnson's 'Welcome to eastern Europe' seed range (available from Wilkinson's), which includes a fast-growing leek called 'Starozagorski Kamus'. It may be a tongue-twister to begin with, but another advantage of seeds from eastern Europe is that production costs tend to be cheaper, so there's quite a few F1 bargains to be had.

It's not just seeds either. Thompson and Morgan, Dobies of Devon and DT Brown are offering a tempting blackcurrant called 'Ebony', now propagated in East Anglia, but originally from eastern Europe, where it was used to very inhospitable weather. 'Ebony' berries are much sweeter than other varieties of blackcurrant - containing around 15% sugar - which means you can eat them off the bush. I love making blackcurrant compote to throw over porridge in the morning, so this is definitely going to be a variety I'll invest in for the allotment.

It won't be long before I'm making one of my favourite desserts: blackcurrant leaf ice. It's an old Constance Spry sorbet recipe which is both heavenly and low in calories. In deference to Ms Spry, the measurements given here are imperial.

i) 1 pint water

ii) 6oz sugar

iii) Pared rind of 2 lemons, plus extra juice from 1 lemon (no rind)

iv) 3-4 handfuls blackcurrant leaves

v) (1 drop of green colouring, which I think is optional)

Heat water and sugar together, boiling for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat then put the leaves in and cover, leaving for an hour to infuse. Add the lemon juice and rind (and colouring, if used). Strain the liquid then place in a dish in the freezer. After half an hour take out and stir the mix to prevent it becoming a solid form. Do this another couple of times, every 10 -15 minutes and you will end up with a light sorbet.


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Gardeners' World Web User 18/02/2010 at 18:03

Thanks for the lovely recipe - I am always looking for new things to make with blackcurrants! I have a question regarding pruning black currants - I visited Fyvie Castle last spring and saw that they pruned their currants as a standard - is that the usual pruning technique in the UK? Thanks!

Gardeners' World Web User 20/02/2010 at 17:21

Russian tomatoes are becoming a hit in the US - Black Krim has a religious following.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/02/2010 at 16:19

You are right about the cold. I am english and live in Czech Republic. The temp. went below freezing here the second week in December and stayed that way until third week in Feb. We still have a good 8 inches of snow on the ground. Most plants will grow here but you have to start sowing much later. I have found looking in other peoples gardens is best, if it grows in their garden hopefully it will grow in mine.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/02/2010 at 22:34

Navrsi, that is cold! Pruning blackcurrants to a standard shape is not at all common, though I'm sure they look lovely. Some people prune at harvest time: in the summer take off a third of the older branches and cut them low in. Blackcurrants fruit on new wood and this will help with branch production. The following year take out another third and so on.

Gardeners' World Web User 21/02/2011 at 20:56

hi sue check the roots see if they r ok? if they r theres good chance there fine plants,place them in a warm window with a plastic bag over them.in a dish of water that should bring them round. good luck

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