Get to know the Feijoa

feijoa tasting

Not all feijoas are created equal and with all the new varieties on the market, saying it tastes like a feijoa is like saying a wine tastes like grapes. The chances are if you think you can’t stand feijoas you just haven’t met the right one yet. We tasted 8 feijoas on the trot. Don’t try this at home. Marks were awarded out of 5 for grittiness, astringency, sweetness, perfume and an overall score. Here are the edited highlights:

Variety & Season Judges’ Comments

Marks out of 5

Unique (early) Sorry, we found “Unique” a bit average, lacking any definite flavour or aroma. The fruit does ripen early.


Apollo (early) For such a giant of a tree, the fruit lacked true feijoa grit and astringency. Inside its rough skin “Apollo” is just a big old sweetie.


Wiki Tu (mid-late) This diminutive tree packs a huge flavour punch in its fruit. Meaty, sharp, gritty, astringent and sweet, all in perfect balance with a lovely fragrance to boot. Outstanding.


Kaiteri (early) A smooth, mango, guava flavoured fruit. Luscious, very sweet, massive fruit with not a trace of grit or tang. A model modern fruit, “NZ’s next top Feijoa”. If you don’t like feijoas try “Kaiteri”.


Anatoki (early) Smooth skin, smooth flesh, “Anatoki’s” lack of grit pulled it down the rankings and perhaps deserves a recount. Not too sweet with a lovely tangy sharpness. My personal favourite.


Opal Star (late) Another late ripening variety is topping the charts. “Opal Star” had a big, very sharp flavour with medium sweetness and grit. Like “Wiki Tu” it is the meaty Beefsteak of the Feijoa world.


Pounamu (early) If there were a reality show called Extreme Feijoa “Pounamu” would win. Huge flavours but the extreme sweetness of this fruit led to a lack of balance in our opinion. Mind you, it was our 7th, and we weren’t spitting them out.


Kakapo (mid) Another modern sweetie,“Kakapo” is one for the kids with a medium level of grit and tang but loads of sweetness.


feijoa anatoki
(Unique bottom right)
Judges Note: To rate anything is to invite debate so the judges acknowledge that factors such as thinning, feeding, pruning and climate can alter the sugar levels and flavours of varieties. The judges also acknowledge a slight bias for old school feijoa flavours.

Most of our modern feijoa varieties are the handiwork of Motueka based plant breeder Roy Hart. Here are ten things I learned about feijoas while we sat on his porch talking:

  1. Feijoas are native to Brazil and Argentina but have grown in NZ since the early 1900’s
  2. The petals are edible, and birds eat them, pollinating the flowers in the process.
  3. That classic feijoa grittiness disappears when you bottle them
  4. Roys own favourite is Pounamu, but he also rates Anatoki (my favourite)
  5. Even “self-fertile” varieties set much better quality fruit with another variety planted nearby for pollination
  6. Always buy cutting grown or grafted trees as seedling trees don’t produce fruit true to label
  7. They start fruiting in their 2nd year, and the crop ripens late February in the North through to late May in the South.
  8. The tree can withstand -10C frosts; late spring frosts won’t damage flowers and early autumn frosts only damage ripe fruit.
  9. They take hard pruning very well and can be relocated.
  10. They are shallow rooted trees that love mulch and a good rich feed of compost and manure each spring.

Gran’s Mint Sauce


Nothing reminds me more of early summer than the smell of fresh mint. For a short window, before the bugs perforate it and the rust sets in, mint is at its verdant, rampant best. At this time of year, especially in a wet year like this one, the mint stalks are soft and the new tips are greener than green.

There are a hundred and one types of mint you can grow but for maximum mintyness I prefer the stiff pointy leaves of a good true spearmint. One sniff of these crushed leaves and you’d swear you were eating snifter lollies or spearmint gum. This particular mint is my Grandad’s mint that he used to grow in a concrete laundry tub by the back door.  My Dad still grows it the same way and so do I. I’m using it to make my Gran’s mint sauce recipe which makes me a third generation grower and maker of this little garden to table combo!


My Gran was a “bit of this and handful of that” kind of cook, so getting any sort of quantities and method from her was a challenge. “Add just enough and stir till it’s done”, was her usual response. But this little recipe is a good one. She made it as a concentrate and watered it down to serve in a cut glass with the Sunday roast of lamb or mutton. I’ve expanded on her instructions a bit for you!

Gran’s Mint Sauce

  • 1-quart (1 liter) bottle of vinegar – I use wine or cider vinegar
  • 1 lb (450g) of brown sugar –  I use raw sugar and you can use less quite safely
  • 1/2 cup plain salt (that’s un-iodised – I use sea salt)
  • 3 cups of chopped mint

how to make mint sauce


  • Sterilize small glass jars or bottles to take the volume of sauce you’re making – you want ones with non-reactive screw top lids and wide mouths so you can get the chopped mint in. I put the bottles in an oven on 140°F, 60°C to sterilize them. This also means they’re less likely to crack than cold bottles when you pour the hot sauce in.
  • In a non-reactive pan, boil the vinegar, sugar, and salt and keep it boiling gently
  • Wash and finely chop the mint – really fine – the finer the better.
  • Sit the bottles on a wooden chopping board and pack the mint evenly into each bottle
  • Pour the boiling vinegar mix on top and fasten with sterilized non-reactive lids.  Gran used cellophane and rubber bands.
  • To serve, shake the bottle to mix, pour a little sauce into a jug and dilute to taste with cold water.


I like to use this mint sauce in marinades and dressings even more than I love it on roast meat. Uncut it makes a mean addition to mayonnaise for a minty new potato salad. It will keep quite happily on your pantry shelf for a whole year.

How do you like to use mint?

Couple of Tips:

  • A wooden chopping board lessens the risk of bottles breaking when they’re full of hot sauce and being put down on a hard or cold work surface.
  • Mint is a perennial plant that dies down in some parts of the country over winter – so don’t think you’ve killed it if it disappears from your garden.
  • Screw your pantry shelving unit to the wall if it is freestanding and fit little guards across the shelves to stop jars falling off in an earthquake and smashing. I’ve taken mine down for the photo but my shelves have that plastic coated curtain wire across each one.

10 Minute Home Orchard

plan a home orchard

Planning an orchard is very exciting. You’re already dreaming of baskets of sun-ripened fruit and blossom-laden trees. But good harvests start with good planning and this short guide will set you on the right path.  An orchard is something that will be with you for quite a while, so a 10-minute read is a good investment to get it right.

What do we want to eat?

Only plant what you like to eat. There’s no point putting in one of everything to tick a box if you like only some of them. If plums are your thing plant plums, if you’ve got room for an avocado tree plant one. Make a list of the fruit you love first and then go through the steps below to work out if you can, and want to, grow it successfully.

Does it grow here?

Before you buy trees ask your neighbors what grows well in their orchards and see what fruit local growers at your farmers market have for sale. Talk to growers about what does well in your region and what soil type they’re on. This can vary a lot within a region and affects what will and won’t grow. For example, walnuts don’t like heavy clay soils, avocados don’t like wind and frost.

planning a home orchard

When does it ripen?

If you choose your varieties carefully you can plan to have some fruit ripening for most months of the year in your orchard, even in the depths of winter. Talk to your neighbors and local growers at the market each week to build up a picture of local ripening times in your region and use this to pick your selection of trees to plant.

What can we maintain?

It’s easy to put a large orchard together on paper but it’s not so easy to look forward 3, 4, 10 years hence and think about who is going to mow, prune, spray, weed, do the frost protection, put the bird netting on, do something with all the fruit …you get the picture. Try and look past the jars of bottled apricots and think through what level of maintenance and processing you can cope with in the time you have before you order your trees. If I’d done this I wouldn’t have planted more than two plum trees.


Preparing the Site

Your site is your site, you can’t change it greatly but what you can do is improve drainage if that’s a problem, plant or put up some shelter from the prevailing wind, chop back trees that may shade your orchard from the sun, bring in or make a load of good well-rotted organic compost to plant with your trees. Get rid of any heavy weed and grass growth before planting. Goats are never compatible with new orchards either.

How do we come up with a layout?

Try and plant the evergreen trees in a spot that won’t block the path of the sun from your other deciduous fruit trees.
Spacing is important. It sounds ridiculous allowing 6m between stick like plum trees but trust us, in 3 years you’ll see why. You need to allow for mowing and moving room between trees for pruning and harvesting and airflow to avoid fungal diseases. Larger trees like walnuts, avocados and chestnuts will need around 10-15m space between them and the next tree. Plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots allow 5-6m at least. Smaller trees like olives, hazels, feijoas will cope with 3-4m.
If you want a few berry bushes, try and put these close to the house and treat them more like part of your veggie garden than your orchard. Berries need more hands on care and attention than other fruit trees, more pruning, watering, covering up from birds etc. and the closer they are to the house the better your chance of getting the fruit. A dedicated site for your orchard is good but don’t be afraid of poking fruit trees and berry bushes throughout your garden. For example hazelnuts or feijoas are perfect screening on a driveway or boundary, while a grapevine will cover an ugly fence or drape over a veranda.


Irrigating & Protecting New Trees

Baby trees are a lot like children. Get them off to a good start in life and they’ll be trouble free motoring down the track. Here are 6 things you must do for your young orchard, in order of importance:

• Irrigate frequently, a good soak every week or two, over the summer months for the first 2-3 summers until their roots are down deep enough to find water.
• Stake and tie them up from the prevailing wind if they are tall sticks for the first year until they get their roots in.
• Pick immature fruit off the trees for the first season or two to let the trees get established before using energy producing fruit (especially citrus).
• Protect tender trees from the frost until they get to a couple of meters in height.
• Keep the weed and grass growth down from around the trees by mulching with tree mats or bark.
• If you are rural put guards on to stop damage from rabbits stripping the bark.

Dwarf Trees & Growing in Containers

Don’t try and grow full sized fruit trees in containers for a couple of years while you wait for your patch of land. You won’t get a meaningful harvest and any growth advantage will be lost with the transplant shock when you try and replant a large tree into the ground – they tend to sulk for several years.
There are a number of dwarfing fruit trees available if space is at a premium. These are trees that are either grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock or are naturally low growing varieties. Before going into dwarfing trees check that your soil type is suitable for dwarfing trees. They don’t do well in heavy soils.
Dwarf trees are also suitable for container growing, however, you will need to water very regularly over the summer months and keep a lot of fertilizer up to them as trees in containers quickly exhaust available nutrients. You also need to spray dwarfing trees much more diligently with anti-fungal sprays like liquid copper because the dense habit of foliage leads to greater levels of fungal diseases.

Good luck with your orchard planning. An orchard is an evolving, living thing and it will reward you with fruit if you reward it by taking the time to understand its needs and care for it as it grows. Don’t think of it as a one-off purchase of a few trees, think of it as an investment in food production for years to come, an asset for you and your family and friends.  Everyone makes a list of fruit trees they want to fill up their garden with right away and that is great but leave room in the scheme for what you don’t know you’ll want yet. Experience shows that in a couple of years you’ll be saying, I wish I had room for an earlier ripening apricot and a white-fleshed nectarine … or a cutting from that great fig tree from Mrs. Smith down the road…

Heirloom Bean Trial – Pt 2.

how to store shell-out beans
This week we’re sharing how to harvest and cook with those heirloom shell-out beans we talked about growing in our last post. When the beans are growing, encourage them to carry on producing by picking a few of the first pods. Once you can see the outline of fat bean seeds tight against the skin of the pods, you can shell them out and cook a few fresh. Fresh shelled out beans aren’t common in our bean cuisine but freshly shelled they are a real gourmet treat. They cook in very little time and have a melt-in-the-mouth creamy texture.
For dried beans, let the pods mature a few weeks longer on the vine until they start to yellow and wither. If the weather is dry, you can leave them on the vine until the seeds rattle inside crispy brown pods. If it is going to rain, harvest the pods when they start to yellow and dry them on racks inside.
storing dried beans

I found a few old soil sieves propped up in the porch were perfect for this. When the beans are dry and hard, you have the satisfying task of shelling out and storing them in glass jars for use throughout the coming year. Mark advised me that heirloom beans are self-fertile and rarely cross, so don’t eat them all – a few dried beans are perfect for saving to grow again, the following season

While I waited for the beans to grow I expanded my bean cuisine by reading “Cassoulet – a French Obsession”, a lovely book by Kate Hill. She unpicks each element of this classic French bean and charcuterie dish and writes quite passionately about beans. Freshness is all according to Kate, not something I’d considered in dried beans, to be honest, but according to her those jars of beans decorating your shelf for the last few years will be starchy tasting and hard to cook compared with “fresh” dried beans. She advocates looking for a harvest or sell by date when buying dried beans and any over 2 years old are not worth shelling out for.

heirloom bean trial

Kate also advocates a “love the one you’re with” local philosophy to beans not just for freshness but also terroir that will make local beans suit local dishes. While in New Zealand she was surprised by the lack of locally grown dried beans and found the imported beans that were available tough and harder to cook, pointing to irradiation, age or storage as possible culprits. Perhaps there is a place for grower to supply New Zealand bean buyers with a range of gourmet fresh dried beans?, but until then the best option for flavor and variety is to grow your own.

Cooking Beans

I was initially disappointed with the size of my harvest for the amount of plot the crop took. That was until I read that dried beans triple in size during soaking and cooking. My jars of dried beans actually yielded many more meals than I initially thought they would. Other bits of bean lore I discovered to improve my bean cuisine included:

  • Soaking dried beans for 8 – 10 hours in a large bowl of cold water softens them before cooking which reduces cooking time and helps them cook evenly. Lentils and other small pulses do not need pre-soaking.
  • Discarding the soaking liquid and cooking in fresh water may reduce flatulence, but some say this is a load of hot air and loses flavor in the bean. I tried both and didn’t notice an appreciable difference in taste or breeziness.
  • Don’t add any salt or acidic liquids like vinegar until the end of cooking as these can slow down the cooking.
  • A teaspoon of oil added to the cooking water can stop the beans foaming.
  • Always cook beans on a gentle simmer. Rapid boiling will cause them to split, break up and cook unevenly.
  • The best way to test for doneness is to taste the beans. When they are done they will be soft and creamy with no chalkiness, not wet and mushy.

Taste Test

Once the beans were grown, dried and admired, we came to the business end of the trial – the taste test. The beans were soaked overnight and the following evening we cooked up each one in nothing but water, then ate our way through a vertical tasting of 13 different varieties, awarding scores and notes on taste and texture. Oh, the things that pass for fun in these parts!

how to harvest dried beans

The outstanding winner on the night was Rex and Margie’s Maerawhiti bean with a nutty, sweet flavor and creamy texture. I wish I knew the variety, but I’m sure someone will recognize the seed and enlighten me. Good Mother Stallard came in a close second with a chestnut sweet flavor, and even, creamy texture – much better than the supposed gourmet Borlotti which we rated as a good flavor absorber, but now something of a has-bean by comparison.

Good Mother Stallard Beans

The small pretty Persian Lima beans cooked quickly, rated well for flavor and had a uniform creamy paste, but the firm skin held the beans together making this bean well suited to bean salad. Whereas the Mexican Pinto, Blue Shackamaxon and dwarf Haricot would make ideal refried beans with thin skins, creamy paste, and bland flavors.


The soya beans tasted very rich, like the protein parcels they are and the Red Kidney beans were sweet and creamy, crying out for some chili and tomato. I cooked up some dried Red Kidney Beans from the local bulk bin as a comparison, and they took longer to cook, were not as sweet, had tougher skins and a flakier, less creamy texture than the home-grown ones. Proof that even in dried beans freshness matters.

Cooking with Dried Beans

A traditional French Cassoulet is a marriage of beans and meats, cooked slowly in a vegetable and herb enriched broth. Such is its place in the cuisine of southwestern France it even has its own special earthenware pot known as a cassole which is used to cook it in. I decided to attempt one during a wet winter weekend.


Kate Hill’s book gives several recipes including the classic Cassoulet where the method and the ritual are as important as the ingredients. This is true slow cooking – a dish to make over the course of a couple of days and to be enjoyed for a couple of days more. The combination of confit of duck, ham hock, salt pork, and a good Toulouse sausage all in the one pot may seem like a meat overload but the flavors all mingle and contribute to a significantly hearty dish that would be the poorer for omitting any one of them.

The simplicity of the dish means it relies on the quality of the ingredients to make it great. My kiwi cassoulet with the last of my Maerawhiti beans, homemade lamb sausage, lightly pickled pork belly, back fat and foot of a happy free-range pig went well with some winter veggies and herbs from the garden. The only import was some duck confit from France. Even though the meat is significant, this dish is really all about the beans.

And if Cassoulet looks a bit involved for you, here’s three of my current favorite quick and easy recipes with beans and pulses.

dried bean recipes

My friend Rachel gave me this recipe for Salt & Vinegar Roasted Chickpeas. They make a lovely snack and could be adapted to a range of seasonings. Definitely a recipe worth further experimenting with. Soak chickpeas in a large bowl of cold water overnight. Drain in a sieve, weigh them and spread on a foil-lined baking sheet. For every 400 grams of soaked chickpeas mix up 50 ml cider vinegar and 5 g of sea salt. Pour the mixture over the chickpeas and bake in a 200°C (390°F) oven for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. Watch them towards the end so they don’t burn. Cool completely and store in a glass jar with an airtight lid.
Ribolitta is a classic Italian bean dish that makes the most of dried beans and winter veggies during the colder months. Nigel Slater describes it as “a big fat soup substantial enough to be a main meal”. Cook your beans up and keep the cooking water to add to the soup. Chop up onions, carrots, a little celery and cook them in some butter with a bay leaf. Add your cooked beans and bean water. I add chicken stock, but a can of tomatoes is traditional. The soup is often thickened with bread but I like it thinner with the bread served for dunking. Season to taste and stir in a big handful of chopped Kale 10 minutes before serving and a big bunch of chopped Italian flat leaf parsley a couple of minutes before serving.
This Red Lentil Coconut Curry is a one-pot, no soaking required, hearty meal. In a large saucepan, cook a chopped onion in a little oil or butter, add some grated fresh ginger and garlic to taste and cook for a couple of minutes. Add in some chopped pumpkin, parsnip or sweet potatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes. Season with ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and a little chili to taste. Stir to mix and add in 1 1/2 cups of red lentils, a can of coconut milk and 2 cups of water. Cook on low for at least 30 minutes, stirring occaisionally so it doesn’t stick. Season to taste and serve with rice or flatbreads and some chopped coriander leaves. I’ve dehydrated it for a tasty tramping meal.
I’m making space in this summer’s garden to grow more beans to dry. If anyone has a good big white bean like the French Tarbais, Large Lima or Spanish Habichuelas Blancas I’d love to swap some seeds.

Heirloom Bean Trial – Part 1.

heirloom shell out beans blue shackamaxon

We’re back from our winter blog-cation with a fresh new site and some great new articles. If you’re like us you’ll be scruffing in your seed tin around now thinking about what to grow this season. Why not try growing some dried beans? I know dried beans have a bit of an image problem, well at least for me they do. Memories of student days, flexing aspiring culinary muscles with the help of the “Bean Booklet” from Real Foods in Andersons Bay. Each of the dozen recipes ended up tasting like wet cardboard and making the whole flat windy. I should have known from the squirrel on the front.

But it turns out that dried beans are by no means restricted to poor students and health food, fiber addicts.  A good chunk of the world relies on beans for their primary protein source and what’s more, they know how to make them taste different. So twenty years on I decided to put the trauma of “Black Eye Bean Bake” and “Lazy Lentils” behind me and give beans a chance.

dried beans after soaking

I’m surprised I haven’t grown dried beans before but without a huge demand for them in my kitchen, I could never justify the space in the garden to grow them. Since those early efforts, my bean cuisine has been sadly limited to a handful of recipes that I can make taste good: hummus, chili con Carne, red lentil curry, mums bean salad and a Cannellini bean dip. I’ll even admit to buying canned beans in dubious brines for some of these.

Once I resolved to grow dried beans, they seemed to pop up everywhere. The United Nations declared 2016 “The Year of the Pulse” to celebrate and promote the consumption of pulses around the globe ( I have to say it – I have my finger on the pulse. It turns out beans are good for us and the planet. They are low in fat and high in fiber and protein. Half a cup of lentils will give you the same protein as 2 cups of rice. Pulses make you feel full for longer, releasing energy slowly as your body breaks down the complex carbs rather than the quick energy hit you get from simple carbs in sugars.

Beans also take less energy and water to grow and improve soil health. Because they fix nitrogen from the air into the soil, they require less artificial fertiliser, and they grow well in dry conditions, using half the amount of water required to produce animal proteins. But whether a chickpea pattie tastes as good as one of my lamburgers is a matter of opinion, or perhaps skill.

heirloom bean varieties

Before I got carried away with recipes I had to grow the beans. I set aside two garden beds and with the help of Mark Christensen, Research Director at the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust, I selected 13 dried or “shell out” bean varieties to grow. Mark sent me some of the climbing bean varieties that the Research Trust imported from North America. I added a selection of “good beans” given to me by different folks and a few common bush varieties used for dried beans to round out the trial.

RT, Research Trust, HC, Heathers Collection, EG, Egmont Seeds.

Climbing Beans

  • Persian Climbing Lima (RT)
  • Good Mother Stallard (RT)
  • Indian Hannah (RT)
  • Blue Shackamaxon (RT)
  • Ian’s French Tarbais (HC)
  • Ron’s Factory Bean (HC)
  • Rex & Margie’s Bean (HC)

Bush Beans

  • Red Kidney (EG)
  • Dwarf Haricot (RT)
  • Dwarf Cannelini (RT)
  • Soy Bean (Kiwi #8) (EG)
  • Mexican Pinto (HC)
  • Borlotti Red Rooster (EG)


Beans like a warm soil. Here in Nelson, I sowed them directly into the garden in early November. Don’t be tempted to plant beans too early. If the soil is too cold, they will sit there and rot, or germinate and decide against climbing anywhere then by the time the soil is warm, they’ve exhausted all their energy just surviving, and they give up.

sowing dried beans

Climbing beans need a good frame to run up, and we could devote a whole article to discussing the many and varied bean fence designs. I opted for reinforcing mesh secured with 2m high stakes. Spacing for beans varies but as a guide sow climbing beans around 25 cm apart and bush bean 15 cm apart.

Beans are relatively free of pests and diseases and don’t need a lot of spraying. Just keep an eye out for the usual suspects – aphids, vege bugs and caterpillars. I’ve had years of trouble free bean growing but just because I was doing a trial I got a mystery affliction in my beans. Not long after germination, the leaves of several varieties started yellowing and crinkling and the tips were dying off and refusing to run or bush anywhere. With no obvious knawing or sucking pests, I was at a loss to know the problem. It looked like bean mosaic virus but I never got to the bottom of it. It reduced the yield of the affected varieties, but I still got a harvest. I gave them a spray with an organic seaweed-based formula being trialed to combat the PSA virus and they seemed to pick their toes up.

Heirloom Beans

The Varieties

  • Of the climbing beans, the Persian Lima was the most vigorous, disease resistant and prolific and was still flowering well into winter. The flat pods looked more like mangetout and I doubted whether they would make a good dried bean.
  • Good Mother Stallard came highly recommended by Mark and it proved as robust and abundant as its homely name suggested. The beans looked remarkably like Borlotti.
  • I grew the large white French bean, Tarbais a few years ago but the remaining seed I had didn’t germinate, and I’m annoyed at myself for losing this one.
  • Factory Beans were green, stringless beans grown for the canning factory in Motueka, but the fat white seeds suggested they might make a nice dried bean.
  • The same goes for the bean that Rex and Margie from Maerawhiti gave my Dad, the plump, stripey, coffee colored seeds looked delicious.
  • Blue Shackamaxon I wanted to grow just for the name, but it proved to be a good late harvest bean with pods full of black, glossy seeds.
  • The Indian Hannah climbing bean is an ancient mix of varieties traditionally grown together by the Lenape/Delaware Indian Nation.
  • Of the bush beans the Dwarf Haricot and Cannelini had a poor strike, and the Soy Beans produced a very small crop, but the Red Kidney, Borlotti Red Rooster, and Mexican Pinto all produced well.

In next week’s blog, I’ll share the results of the all-important taste test, together with how to harvest and store dried beans and some more bean cuisine – stay tuned.

Saving Tomato Seeds & Kicking Sauce

saving tomato seed

The late summer harvest from the garden is starting to pile into the kitchen and now is a great time to save some seeds from the pick of your tomato crop.  This season I grew a load of new varieties that folks have given me over the past couple of seasons, varieties that all came highly recommended and got duly tucked away in my seed tin to grow “one day”.

It turns out that they came highly recommended for good reason.  Now I am at the harvest end of the season I can see exactly why those who gifted me the seeds were so impressed by these tomatoes. Each has something different to offer and I will be saving the seeds, growing them again and sharing them with fellow gardeners.

This year’s tomato hall of fame includes:

  • Pauls Crinkly – a whopping big meaty tomato from Paul and it is crinkly.
  • Romano’s Capri – an Italian heirloom called Capri that has been grown by the Romano family in Nelson since the 1920’s. Superb flavour and very fleshy.
  • Bobs Low Acid Beauty – from Bob who makes the cider presses – very similar to and may well be Capri but bigger.
  • Oak Canning Factory – from a chap who’s name I sadly can’t remember – his Dad used to grow these in Papakura in the 60s for the Oak Canning Factory – a fascinating bush tomato that grows on the ground like a nest and is chokka with round red toms – very disease resistant and compact
  • Bruce Leopold’s Jersey Island – from Bruce who said it was prolific and he was right – smaller tomatoes in perfect trusses of up to 16 fruit from tip to toe of the plant.

Capri Tomato

I’ve learnt the hard way that when someone gives you some seed, get all the info you can about it then and there. It is often the only time you will have with this person and a valuable chance to find out the story behind the treasure they’re giving you.  Write it down so you can pass it on with the seed when you share it.

Oak Canning Factory Tomato

Tomato seeds are easy to save. Make sure you’re saving seed from an open-pollinated heirloom variety, not a modern hybrid as these won’t grow true from seed. Hybrids are crosses between different varieties and generally have F1 or similar after the name on the seed packet.  Heirlooms are not created by crossing varieties and therefore, they will grow true from saved seed.

Tomato flowers generally don’t cross-pollinate with other varieties so it usually doesn’t matter if you’re growing a lot of different varieties close together. If you want to be extra careful you don’t get a natural hybrid (ie. a bee cross-pollinating between two different varieties) put a piece of cotton muslin loosely over a bunch of unopened flowers and secure it with a rubber band. When the flowers open, give them a bit of a shake to move the pollen around each day inside the cloth and then wait to see you have fruit forming. This will guarantee pure seeds to save.

Jersey Island Tomatoes

To save the tomato seeds squeeze them out onto a saucer, separate most of the pulp and scrape the seeds into a jar with 1/2 a cup of water in it. Sit the jar somewhere warm out of the sun for a few days until a film starts to form on the top.  This film shows the seeds have started to ferment. Fermenting your seeds isn’t essential but it gets rid of the gel coating on the seed which can stop germination. These fermented seeds are cleaner, store better and grow better so it is worth a little faffing around.

Pour the water off carefully and add fresh water. Swish it around and pour it off again. The good seeds will sink and any you pour off any bad seeds and pulp. Keep doing this until you have clean seeds then dry them carefully on paper towels and when they’re completely dry store them in sealed containers in the fridge. Don’t forget to label the seeds during the different stages of saving them so you know who is who.  Tony Romano who gave me the Capri seeds said he stores his seed in the fridge and has been able to germinate seeds that are over 20 years old.

chilli tomato sauce

Making the tomato sauce is a bit of an annual ritual in my kitchen. The ingredients list is long and so is the cooking time so you kind of make a day of it.  Once a year in late summer when I’ve had enough tomatoes on toast, I start collecting up the tomatoes for this sauce that will last all year. This isn’t fancy passata tomato sauce for all those lovely Italian pizza, pasta, polenta dishes. This is old school, dip your sav in, tomato sauce.  So old school I won’t even call it ketchup. This recipe has evolved over a few years into its current form and is universally loved by everyone who tries it – everyone who loves food with a bit of a kick that is – it is a bit fiery.  If you’re making it for kids or prefer a milder version, leave out or halve, the chili, mace, ginger, smoked paprika, garlic, mustard and black pepper.


  • 6kg of really ripe tomatoes
  • 4 red peppers de-seeded and roughly chopped
  • 6 medium white onions roughly chopped
  • 3 cups wine vinegar (red or white)
  • 2 cups raw sugar
  • 3 tablespoons non-iodised salt
  • 3 fresh red chilies or 1 tablespoon dried chili flakes
  • 1 whole bulb of garlic peeled and chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon mace
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • zest of one lemon

tomato chilli sauce


  • Prepare your bottles. I save up glass bottles with nice wide lids for my sauce. Only save bottles with metal or cork lids. Plastic lids tend to melt when you sterilize them with boiling water.  You’ll want around 5-6 liters worth of bottles ready – if you like a thicker sauce you’ll only need around 4 liters worth of bottles.  Just add up the mls of each bottle on the calculator as you clean them. Clean the bottles in warm soapy water, rinse in clean water, drain and put them in a meat dish ready to go into the oven to be sterilized.  Wash the lids in the same way and put them in a pot of water to be boiled.
  • Wash and roughly chop the tomatoes, removing the green hard bits at the stalk, and put them in a large (8-10ltr) heavy bottomed stainless steel pot
  • In a food processor whiz together the garlic, chilies, onions and red peppers until they form a chunky salsa (that’s a consistency, not a dance)
  • Grind the spices if you’re using whole spices.
  • Add the red pepper mixture and all other ingredients to the tomatoes and cook it over a low heat until the tomatoes break down, stirring often with a heavy wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick on the bottom.
  • After 3 hours of gentle simmering and occasional stirring, run the whole mixture through a mouli using the middle sized plate – you don’t want it too smooth.  If you don’t have a mouli you can put a sieve over a pot and push the sauce through with the wooden spoon but do think about getting a mouli – they make short work of jobs like this and you can usually pick one up in a second-hand store.
  • You can turn the oven on now to 70°C to sterilize your bottles and put the lids in a pot of water to boil on the stove. Turn it off once it has boiled.
  • Return the sauce to the pot, increase the heat and stir it more often until it is as thick as you want it.  This is when it can burn so do perch next to the pot.   To test if it is thick enough, put a spoonful on a clean plate and push your finger through it. If it leaves a line it is getting thick enough, if lots of liquid still runs around the plate it has a way to go.  As a rule, I’ve found reducing the strained sauce by a further third is about right – or a further 2 hours cooking time.  Be patient – no-one likes a runny sauce. The sauce also changes to a deeper red as it thickens.  If you bottle it when it is too thin it is not the end of the world – you can redo it – you just need to wash the bottles again.
  • When you’re happy with the thickness, get the lids on the boil again, remove sauce from the heat, take the bottles out of the oven, drain the water from the lids and without mucking around fill the bottles through a funnel to within 2cm of the top. Screw the lids on each bottle as  you go – wipe the necks with a kitchen towel before you put the lids on if they have sauce on them.   Doing this quickly while bottles, sauce and lids are all still hot is important – use some oven gloves or cloths so you don’t burn yourself on the bottles.
  • Sit the bottles on a wooden chopping board to cool, they can crack if you bang them down on a ceramic benchtop – label them then store in a cool, dark pantry for use throughout the year.  The sugar and vinegar are preservatives so you don’t need to keep it in the fridge.

heirloom tomato seeds


Growing and Harvesting Figs

Italian Black Fig

When I moved to Nelson a decade ago I didn’t know my fig from my finger, figuratively speaking. They were in the same category as prunes with notions of purgative medicinal properties that didn’t flick my switch at all. Little did I know I’d soon be growing and enthusing about both of them.

My fig education began on a late summer field trip to the magical Mariri garden of George Christofski. I probably only spent an hour trailing along behind George with the other visitors, but my eyes were opened forever to the wonders of figs. George had over 50 fig trees and generously plucked fruit for us to taste as we toured the property. Succulent, sun-ripened figs were a revelation and an absolute opposite to the dried brown gritty discs I had previously known.


The good news is that figs do well in frost-free parts of the country with warm summers. Years that we enjoy a long hot summer produce the best crops, as the main harvest for most varieties is in those mellow late summer months. Some varieties also produce an early harvest in December and January, known as a breba crop, which grows from small green fruit that have wintered over on the tree. These first figs don’t usually have the same succulent flavour as the late summer ones but they also tend to be impressively large. I like to use them for a savoury fig and red onion jam that is perfect with blue cheese.

bird protection on figs

The bad news is that birds love figs and over the years I’ve employed various strategies to get that perfect tree-ripened fig. Netting your complete tree is best, but easier said than done if it is a large one. In the past, I have made little hankies of fine mesh and tied them over each fruit. This season I used latex gloves with the fingers cut out for ventilation, but I like Sheryn Clothier’s idea of using little zip-lock bags over each fruit with a few holes in them. Bags would make it easier to see which ones are ripe, and I’ll be trying it next season.

Adriatic Figs-01

There are many varieties of fig tree on the market and you are best to find ones growing well in your area before selecting a variety to plant.  Here are some general pointers on three of the main families:

  • As a rule, the purple skinned figs with the red flesh known as Malta types do well in warmer climates. They have smaller fruit, ripen mid to late season and some will continue ripening after you pick them. Their flavour is spicy and sweet and they also dry very well.
  • The Sugar Fig varieties are squat with green to brown skin and yellow to pink flesh. They produce an early crop, do well in cooler climates and are very sweet and luscious.
  • Adriatic Fig varieties are green skinned with cherry red flesh. The fruit is longer and firmer than Sugar Figs. They ripen later and have magnificent flavour when fully ripe. They need a long summer to reach full ripeness.

Since that first visit to George’s figs, I’ve planted two of his favourite varieties, his Macedonian Fig and his Black Italian (photo top). Both are doing well and the Black Italian is in the warmest most sheltered spot I could find for it. Also, a Prestons Prolific which lives up to its name and has an impressive early crop and an existing large tree which I think is an Adriatic variety and I have practised fig pruning strategies on it.

Prestons Prolific Fig

Fig trees can become large but they take pruning very well provided you follow a few key rules:

  • Do major pruning late winter before the sap is flowing and paint all large cuts with anti-fungal pruning paint.
  • If you are trying to reduce and reinvigorate an old overgrown tree only remove a third of the old wood each winter until you have the tree back in shape.
  • Main crop fruit is borne on current season’s growth for most varieties, so annual pruning ensures vigour and continual new fruiting growth coming on.
  • You can either shorten branches back to a node where it will heal or you can remove branches entirely at the base of the tree to encourage new shoots, a bit like berries.
  • The later approach does keep the tree low and able to be netted more easily and it is becoming more popular to trellis or espalier these multi-stem figs.
  • If you already have a single trunk and you’re just shortening branches to encourage new growth try and keep the canopy open by thinning complete branches and removing excessive side shoots. Don’t snip off all the end buds as this is where the fruit forms!

They have aggressive root systems so don’t plant next to drains, vege gardens or paving.  They will seek out good earth and water from some distance.

Two of my favourite ways of eating fresh figs are with runny honey and yogurt and in a salad with mint and basil leaves. And yes, they do have one of the highest fibre counts of any fruit so they are deserving of their reputation.


Fig Salad


Make Your Own Glacè Cherries

how to make glace cherries

Eight years ago I planted a sour cherry tree, actually, I planted three sour cherry trees, a Richmorency a North Star and a Montmorency. I didn’t plant any sweet cherry trees like normal people – just sour ones. Someone told me they were high in something that was beneficial. They are apparently good for helping you sleep and have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

richmorency sour cherry tree

All I know is that they grew prolifically, cropped heavily early each summer and tasted terrible. A couple of years ago I cut out the Montmorency and North Star because, like all aspiring home orchardists, I planted everything far too close together and after all, these trees were only feeding the birds.

sour cherry

I’m not sure why I kept the one tree, probably because it was a nice shape. Anyway, this summer it had a spectacular crop – just too spectacular to let the birds eat – so for the first time I decided to do something with them. Sour cherries are a culinary fruit. They are prized in North America for cherry pie and cherry jam, but I had something else in mind for them. Sour needs sweet and I wanted to have a crack at the age-old culinary art of glacè fruit.

My sour little fruit needed all the sugar they could get and with a bit of research I established that to glacè is to basically replace all the moisture in the fruit with a sugar syrup. It is a gradual process, undertaken over a series of days. By soaking the fruit in an ever-increasingly strong bath of sugar syrup, you firm and extract the juice from the flesh without losing the flavor, drying or crystallising it. If you do it right you are left with a perfectly preserved plump specimen – a bit like taxidermy for fruit.

homemade glace cherries

This method of preserving dates back centuries and enabled summer fruits to be stored for use at special occasions throughout the year. The technique, also known as candied fruits, was used for lemons, oranges, and even roses as well as cherries.

At this time of year, in particular, the glacè cherry gets a good workout in the kitchen. It is literally the cherry on top and inside our panforte, stollen, cassata, panettone and of course, the traditional Christmas cake. But if you take a look at the ingredients list of your average glacè cherry these days you’ll find an impressive array of preservatives and coloring that take it a fair way away from a piece of fruit steeped in sugar. In fact, I think the glacè cherries I found lurking in my spice cupboard from last Christmas could probably survive a nuclear winter.

In our current anti-sugar food climate glacè fruit is possibly not the most popular subject to be writing about but I’m sure the medicinal values of my sour cherries will balance things out – a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down right?

Glace Cherries Homemade

Now I don’t expect many people to do this at home, but I was so impressed with the results I have to share the method with you. We did a taste test at the end between the store bought ones and the homemade ones and the homemade ones won by a country mile. They were bursting with flavor while the store bought ones tasted like vanilla essence coated in vegetable oil.

Two Tips:

  1. Do a reasonable quantity – you don’t want to go to all that trouble for a small jar of finished glacè cherries.
  2. Try and source sour cherries that are ripe but still firm fleshed. You don’t want over-ripe, or very sweet fruit to start with.

how to make glace cherries

1-kilo cherries

400 g sugar (and more to strengthen the syrup each day)

  • Remove the stalks and wash the cherries in cold water. Remove the stones with a cherry pitter.
  • Put the cherries in a saucepan and pour enough boiling water over to cover them and cook for 2 minutes, just to soften the skins.
  • Drain through a colander, reserving the cooking water and rinse the cherries straight away under cold water in the colander until the fruit has cooled. This stops them softening.
  • Add the sugar to the cooking water and bring it to the boil, stirring so the sugar dissolves.
  • Put the cherries in a large flat pan, pour the sugar mixture over them and leave for 24  hours.

Day 2

  • Drain the cherries, measure the syrup and add 50 g of sugar for every pint of syrup. Heat the syrup to dissolve the sugar. Pour over the fruit in the tray and leave for 24 hours.

Day 3 – 7

  • Repeat Day 2- adding 70 g of sugar for every pint of syrup.

Day 8

  • Drain the cherries, measure the syrup, add 40 g of sugar for every 100 ml of syrup.
  • Bring the syrup to a boil to dissolve the sugar then add the cherries and boil for 2 minutes, return to the tray for 24 hours.

Day 9

  • Repeat Day 8

Day 10

  • Heat the syrup gently to release the fruit then drain the cherries from the syrup. Keep the syrup for use in cordials, desserts, cocktails or just drizzle it over ice cream or spoon a little through yogurt.
  • Lay the cherries on a sheet of baking paper and dry them in a warm airy place until they are no longer sticky (change the paper and turn as required) OR if you have a food dehydrator place the cherries on the mesh tray and dry for several hours on the lowest temperature setting, checking them regularly. You don’t want to overdry them or dry them too quickly. If they start wrinkling stop the dehydrator and air dry them.
  • There is probably enough sugar in them to store them in a jar on a cool shelf, but I’ve put my jars in the fridge to be on the safe side.

glace cherries - how to make