Tag Archives: chaenomeles

More harvest than festival

???????????????????????????????After picking flowers, I couldn’t resist laying out some samples of the autumn harvest. I didn’t get too obsessive. There is much that I forgot to include – a good potato crop, sweet corn, another year’s supply of dried beans (not sure we have finished the 2013 bean harvest yet) and I forgot entirely about the show-off avocados which we have in such abundance that we are giving them away by the supermarket bag full.

What I can tell you, as we personally move more to a diet dominated by plant-based protein rather than one heavy on animal protein, is that anyone who says that you can be relatively self sufficient in food on a few metre square raised beds and an hour or two of work a week hasn’t actually done it themselves! With a lifetime of experience, it takes Mark a great deal of time and space to generate a wide range of food that we want to eat. Most of it is organic and we are also interested in the whole issue of nutrient density – more on this another time.

We are swapping surplus tomatoes and melons with a friend for eggs and pumpkin and appreciative friends also reciprocate with jars of preserves made from our surplus produce. It is a satisfyingly simple way of life that we followed in our twenties in our hippie days and we are enjoying rediscovering decades down the track.
The melons – both rock and water – take some effort here. Mark starts them early under a cloche in almost pure compost. The cold, wet spring meant that stone crops were sparse this year but the abundant melon crop is an indication of a good summer.

The yellow fruit by the melons are chaenomeles (japonica apples). I have boiled some down and strained off the liquid to use later for some conserve or jelly. The green fruit, for non New Zealanders – is the feijoa, a South American fruit we have almost made our own here. The oranges are one of our staple fruit here – we can harvest all year round, especially from the Lue Gim Gong tree.

Sadly, while we can grow sapotes, macadamia nuts and other marginal crops, mango and papaya are never going to grow here. We do still buy some extra fruit and vegetables.

I have even made Cape gooseberry jam again this year.

I have even made Cape gooseberry jam again this year.

Plant Collector: Chaenomeles

022Not quinces, as most people think, but chaenomeles or japonica apples. At this time of the year, the hanging golden orbs are a most attractive feature. I like to bring a bowl indoors because they are scented, in an aromatic apple-y sort of way and they last for many weeks. The plant itself is a deciduous, scrubby shrub, maybe 2 metres tall and, after many years, 4 metres wide. It has burglar deterrent possibilities with its ferocious spines but is not a thing of natural beauty beyond its attractive fruit in autumn and its lovely single, deep pink japonica flowers in spring. It will have been a named form that was purchased but the name is lost in the mists of time. It appears to be a hybrid – a cross between 2 of the 3 different species, selected for both flower colour and fruit and is most likely to be in the Chaenomeles x superba group. We have other forms that flower well but don’t fruit in the same manner.

Chaenomeles are native to Japan, eastern China and Korea. Unsurprisingly, given their long thorns, they are related to roses and in the roseaceae family.

The fruit is far too astringent to eat raw. I have been given a jar of japonica jelly but it was not memorable. Apparently they are very high in pectin so I may try boiling some down to use as a base for orange marmalade. I tried making chaenomeles brandy one year and it was fine, but we are not so keen on liqueurs in this household. I would rather drink the brandy without the year steeping with sliced chaenomeles and sugar.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Tikorangi notes: April 9, 2010

1) April 9, 2010 Our chaenomeles never get bletted – Abbie’s column.
2) April 9, 2010 Autumn is the best planting time here for the ornamental garden – garden tasks this week.
3) April 7, 2010 Summer has hardly waved goodbye but it must be autumn – the early camellias are in flower. Camellia brevistyla.

You wouldn’t credit how pleased I am with my new clothesline prop. While 95% of this country favours the rotary clothesline (originally styled the Hill’s Hoist, I am told), I quite like the nostalgia of the one wire strung between a dead tree trunk and another that looks as if it may be on the way out. This wire has served the house inhabitants well for 60 years and who am I to change traditions? The bamboo prop, however, requires replacement every five years or so. Fortunately we have a stand of this giant clumping variety on a small island in our park. Mark says he thinks this particular bamboo is one of the dendrocalamus family. There has been some resistance here to the suggestion that we could follow Asian traditions and build our own bamboo scaffolding when the upper story of the house next requires painting. The do-it-yourself ethos does not extend quite that far.

No bletting the chaenomeles in our climate

More ornamental than useful - chaenomeles or japonica apples

More ornamental than useful - chaenomeles or japonica apples

I have been harvesting the chaenomeles though harvesting is perhaps too much like hyperbole. I have been picking up a bowl of their golden yellow fruit. Most will look at the fruit and say quinces but they are not. If you said japonica apples, you would be closer to the mark. Quinces – or cydonia – are small trees from central and south eastern Europe and are closely related to apples and pears. The fruits look like golden pears. The chaenomeles are from east Asia, including Japan, and are shrubs referred to inaccurately in the past as japonicas. In fact we associate the flowering sprays of japonica strongly with Japan where the simplicity of single flowers on bare wood is evocative of that wonderful, sometimes stark, simple beauty so prized in Japanese gardening and floral art.

Back to my chaenomele fruits which are not only very decorative and long lasting, they also exude a perfume which I find pleasant. It is such a shame you have to work hard to transform the crop into something edible. The usual approach is to turn them into japonica jelly though I admit I have never tried this. My jam making efforts are limited to the raspberries these days and as it takes us about three months to get through one jar, there is a not a big incentive to be more adventurous. I did try making chaenomeles brandy one year, wooed by the delightful aroma of the fruit. I figured that I would follow the recipe for damson gin though this fruit clearly needed slicing. So I layered the slices of chaenomeles alternately with sugar in the mandatory stoneware crock, of which I happen to own several. Then I poured a bottle of brandy over it all and put it in a dark place for a year to gently steep. Yes, a whole year. Now, the damson gin recipe says that after a year, you should strain off the liquid, dilute it with another bottle of gin and leave it to mature for a second year. In my forays into damson gin, we waited the first year but never made it to the second bottle of gin and a further twelve month wait. Neither did we get past the mid stage with the chaenomeles brandy which we strained off and drank after twelve months. It was pleasant if a little underwhelming. But this is not a household where we ever drink liqueurs or indeed any sweet drinks, so perhaps our palates were just not accustomed to sweet, high octane alcohol. I prefer my brandy with lime and soda.

These days I just bring a bowl of chaenomeles into the house for aesthetic reasons. They sit for weeks without going off, golden orbs with an odd waxy coating, exuding a natural tropical perfume. So much nicer than those synthetic air fresheners marketed by Glade, I feel. The remainder of the crop hang on to the bush until their weight pulls them off and they lie below. Although the bushes are rangy, scrubby things of no merit or form out of season, in early spring the dark pink flowers are eye-catching and in autumn the fruit is a feature for a good couple of months.

In case you are wondering what a chaenomeles tastes like, I can assure you that the taste and texture does not match the fragrance. They are astringent – will pucker your mouth – but apparently in colder climates, the first frosts reduce the astringency. This is a condition referred to as bletting (there is a piece of information which you may need one day for Trivial Pursuits or quiz nights) and bletting is a key to growing good Brussels sprouts, swedes and turnips. Personally I prefer to live in a climate where we can grow oranges and avocadoes even if that means we can not have bletted crops since we never get a run of heavy frosts, or much frost at all.

Some years the chaenomeles pass me by because the good fruiting bushes (and by no means all of them fruit as spectacularly as this one) are in an area of the garden which has been a bit of a wasteland. Probably every large garden, and quite a few smaller ones, have areas where you hurry past with eyes averted because you really don’t want to address the problems there and if you ignore them, perhaps other people won’t notice them either. There comes a day when you can no longer pretend that the area does not really matter. You have to get in there. In our case, it is an area where the ever growing trees and shrubs had turned a formerly sunny position into overgrown shade forever making incursions outwards. It certainly helps to have somebody at your behest with a chainsaw and mulcher but you can get a long way with strong loppers and a sharp pruning saw. These jobs always escalate beyond what was originally envisaged as you keep penetrating onwards and inwards. We have trimmed and removed a prodigious amount of material. We have allowed sunlight into areas which haven’t seen light for nigh on a decade. We have rediscovered plants which only Mark ever knew were there. We have dug out sizeable nikau palms. It is possible to have too many self-seeded nikaus and we have more than enough. In fact we have turned dense forest or jungle into woodland.

Woodland means keeping a lighter canopy of larger plants but sufficiently open to allow reasonable growing conditions below. I haven’t finished yet but I have reached the fun stage where finally I have had the chance to try the traditional method of establishing a drift of spring bulbs. That is broadcasting handfuls of bulbs and planting them more or less where they fall. It avoids the natural tendency to plant in rows or as edgings on the margins. In this case, I have been scattering English snowdrops and interplanting with Cyclamen repandum, the last of the dwarf species to flower in spring. I have removed all the herbaceous leafy plants and relocated them. In this one patch, I don’t mind if the ground is bare for periods of the year. All I want is the higher canopy and a natural build up of leaf litter with small bulbs popping up in season.

Attractive in season but prickly and nondescript at other times

As I moved futher outwards to the sunny area again, I reached the chaenomeles and that is a bit of a challenge. Not only is it battling quite creditably with the competing growth, it seems to be attaining mammoth proportions. A mere two metres high, but it arches and layers over an area more than four metres long. I didn’t mention it is somewhat spiny and prickly, did I? It is just as well it has pretty flowers and very decorative fruit or it might have gone the way of other prickly plants – into the waiting mulcher.