Cropping our kitchen garden is one of the biggest jobs at this time of year. Vegetable harvesting can be kept at a fairly steady demand throughout the season, with carefully planned sowings giving us a regular weekly harvest. This gives us a ready flow of crops to supply the daily needs of our restaurant and should never overwhelm chef or gardener. But at this time of year, when our fruit crops are in season, large gluts are inevitable. While the kitchen garden is in peak production, harvesting can take up to 20 man-hours a day. This is a huge amount of work but in return the garden rewards us with some of the tastiest things in the world.
Throughout July we will harvest about 30 punnets of strawberry’s a day. This fruit is only picked when the berry has fully ripened to a uniform deep red. This allows the fruit to develop its full flavour and perfume, which can only be experienced from garden grown strawberries. Over the years we have grown a lot of strawberry varieties, but some of the best still remain Cambridge Favourite as an early, Sonata, Elsanta and Symphony as a mid season crop and Florence as a late.
Currants are another major glut which has to be harvested and processed in the kitchen. At their peek we might expect to harvest 40 – 50 punnets a day of ripe fruit. Red currants and white currants are easiest to harvest, as they form on long trusses. These can be sniped off in one, as soon as the bunch of fruit has ripened. Black currants however, in their bunches of two and threes, seem to ripen much more unevenly and are a bit more of a fiddle to pick but are oh so delicious! Their unique balance of sweetness and acidity make them perfect for jam and they have one of the highest vitamin c concentrations of any fruit.
Gooseberries are an interesting fruit to harvest as they can be used at varying stages of ripeness depending on the sweetness required. The first thinning’s in June are hard and sour, but make an excellent savoury sauce to go with fish. As the season continues the gooseberries only get bigger and sweeter, until the end of the month when they are simply divine fresh from the bush. Harvesting these thorny little bushes can be a painful experience, but by growing them as cordons the scratches can be avoided. It also helps more sun get to the fruit for ripening and can create quite an elegant feature.