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Dublin: 10 °C Thursday 21 February, 2019
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Pear and chocolate jam I can make in under 45 minutes? What's not to love?

Tips on growing and preparing your produce from GIY’s Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

I’VE OFTEN THOUGHT it strange that the “apple a day keeps the doctor away” maxim must have originated at a time when it would have been difficult to find an apple to eat each day all year round.

The apple season here runs from September to Christmas but since apples store quite well (kept somewhere cool and dark), one could eat Irish apples until March or April. After that, traditionally, it was time to move to the great summer fruits and wait until September for the new season apples to appear again.

These days of course one can eat an apple a day all year round with no problem whatsoever because of the abundance of imported apples available in our supermarkets.

In fact, over 90% of the apples consumed in Ireland are imported. We import approximately €100 million worth of them annually and even in peak apple season here, the apples on our supermarket shelves are more likely to have been grown in New Zealand or South America.

This makes life very difficult indeed for the 40 or so commercial apple growers left in Ireland.

So, how has it come to this? Part of the problem is that we’ve been brainwashed in to thinking that apples should all be the same size, shape, colour and flavour.

shutterstock_87827902 Source: Shutterstock/mypokcik

Almost all of the apples consumed worldwide now come from just a handful of varieties such as Pink Lady, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. Such homogenisation suits the food chain, but it deprives us of the opportunity to sample the incredible diversity of apple varieties.

We have hundreds of native varieties in Ireland alone and because of our cooler climate, Irish apples are sweeter and crisper than the warm-climate equivalent.

The Irish Seed Savers Association has a collection of over 140 native apples trees, cultivated to do well here and to be grown without the use of pesticides and other chemicals.

As consumers we have tremendous power to lower the import levels, support Irish apple growers and get our hands on better tasting apples at the same time.

It’s simple – between now and spring of next year, simply do not buy imported apples. Ask for Irish apples in your supermarket or go direct to growers like Conn Traas in Cahir or David Llewellyn in Lusk.

If you find an apple you really like, buy them in bulk and store them. Growing some of your own apples is a great way to develop a deeper appreciation for the vagaries of apple growing.

About 4 years ago I bought eight apple trees from a nursery near Dungarvan and sowed them in the front garden.

This is the first year where they’ve really come in to their own and since I have a mixture of early, mid and late cropping varieties it should give a decent supply until Christmas. I grab an apple each morning before I jump in to the car – it might just keep the doctor away, and one thing is certain: there is simply nothing like the flavour of an Irish apple.

shutterstock_186532787 (1) Source: Shutterstock/Dream79

Things to do this Week – Harvesting Celery

If you sowed celery earlier in the year, they should be ready now. Harvest celery by cutting at ground level – make sure that you do so in such a way as to keep the stems together.

Celery will keep for a number of weeks in the fridge and will in fact continue to blanch once picked. Wash in cold water and dry it carefully before putting it in the fridge.

You can also harvest individual stems (rather than the whole plant) if you wish.

The great issue for celery lovers is how to preserve the crop – it doesnt store well in the ground particularly after the first frosts and it doesnt store well out of the ground either.

Probably the best method of preserving celery is to freeze it – it freezes relatively well but will lose some of its crispness when thawed out, so its probably only usable in cooking (soups and stews etc) as opposed to fresh.

shutterstock_83699545 Source: Shutterstock/across

Recipe of the Week – Pear and Chocolate Jam

What’s not to love about the combination of pears and chocolate? This recipe comes from Cian Fleetwood, a member of the GIY group in Dundrum. Cooking time is approximately 40-45 minutes.

Once made it compliments vanilla ice cream, or can be used as a topping on porridge, or mixed with natural yoghurt.

Cian has even known one person who has used it as a dip when eating a pack of Tayto. Proper order.

Ingredients

 1000g/2lbs3oz pears peeled, cored and chopped

 1 lemon, juice

 400g/14oz granulated sugar

 150g/5oz dark chocolate 70% or higher, broken

Directions

Mix together the pears and lemon juice and put into a large pan with the sugar. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, and then simmer until fruit is soft, stir occasionally. Stir in chocolate and simmer gently, stirring until chocolate has melted and is well blended. Spoon into hot sterilized jars and cover.

Once cooled store in the refrigerator.

shutterstock_58802152 Source: Shutterstock/Supertrooper

Tip of the Week – Last Hurrah for Peas and Beans

Beans and pea plants are on their last legs at this stage so we can go ahead and strip them of pods, compost the plants (chop them up first which will help decomposition), deconstruct wigwams and other supports.

Blanch and freeze beans and peas that you cant eat immediately. Beans that can be dried such as borlotti can be left on the plant if the weather is dry – if not, cut the plants and hang them somewhere dry and warm. Once dried you can shell and put the beans in air-tight containers - they store well like that and make a great addition to stews and soups.

Dont forget that legumes are nitrogen fixers – they take the nitrogen from the air and put it in the soil during the growing season which improves the soil for next year, particularly for nitrogen hungry crops like brassicas.

So instead of removing the roots when pulling out the plant, cut the plant at soil level with a knife instead and leave the roots behind in the soil to rot down over the winter (and return their nitrogen to the soil).

If youre curious, you can even dig up the roots carefully to see the little nitrogen nodules (little white clumps) hiding in among the roots.

Michael Kelly is a freelance journalist, author and founder of GIY.

Read: Many of the herbs the high street charge a fortune for are sitting, free, under our very noses>

Read: Struggle to eat your greens? Twist veg into new shapes to replace carbs>

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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