Tuesday, January 31, 2012


This is what remains of the lovely Amaryllis the downstairs neighbor gave us:

The other night, it was completely dismantled by the disgruntled housecats. 

Plate: smashed,
Amaryllis: in tatters,
trash bag: shredded. 

They were in rare form.

I was particularly upset because not only was it *just* about to start blooming, but also, they seem to keep dashing my hopes that I'll be able to grow things in this flat without them being destroyed.  My only hope may be to grow things in the bedroom because they aren't allowed in there.  Ugh.  I love the little mongrels, but they do put a damper on my gardening around here.

Happily, there is good news on the community garden front!  They had a lot of applicants, but they decided that they want us all to have a chance to garden and as such, are going to be organizing us into teams to take over certain areas of the garden.  My team should consist of a range of experience levels and be made up of about 6 other people.  On February 12th, I'll get to meet them and start in on my Glaswegian community gardening.

Thank goodness.  I don't know if the cats and I were going to be friends for much longer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Quince O'clock

Alas, I had to leave my Pineapple Quince tree behind when I left the MKG.  I planted it two years ago and it has yet to set fruit- I bet 2012 will be the year.  I had never eaten quince when I planted it, but it's a perfect backyard tree because you don't find quinces at the store very often.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across beautiful, fragrant, perfectly ripe quinces at an organic fruit and produce store in Glasgow!  Quinces have a wonderful "ugly duckling" quality about them- they look like the lumpy lovechild of a pear and an apple.  Looks are not what quince has going for it.  But the fragrance!  I can't begin to describe what an amazingly aromatic fruit quince is.  After we brought them home, every time we walked into the kitchen we could smell them through the cupboard door.

The quinces I found in the store smelled too heavenly to pass up.  I picked up four (which was almost exactly 1 kilogram of fruit) and brought them home to turn into quince jelly.  I searched around the internet and found quite a few recipes- in the end I decided to trust Marisa of Food in Jars as the expert of the day.  After all, that woman has canned more jams, jellies and whatnots than most of America combined.  Her recipe only called for quince, lemon juice, sugar and water so it sounded like just what I was after.

I chopped up the quince and put them on the stove with water to boil... and boil... and boil... I kept topping up the water and stirring some more.  In the end, it took around 3 hours for the dastardly quince to cook down enough that I could mash them, stuff them in some cheesecloth, and drain out the juice.  At least the kitchen (and the whole flat, actually) smelled amazing during those three hours.

After separating out the juice, I measured it (for proportions with the recipe - I had 4.5 cups) and put it in the fridge to turn into jelly another day.  I also saved the quince pulp, as Marisa suggested, and plan to make it into an apple-quince-sauce.

When I felt rested and ready to tackle the jelly stage, I added sugar and lemon juice to the quince juice and let it bubble away on the stove.  I don't have my candy thermometer (currently it's on a ship somewhere between California and Scotland) so I used the cold plate method.  You place a small plate in the freezer to get very cold.  Then, when you want to test your gel, you dollop a small amount of jam onto the plate and push it with the tip of your finger.  If the jam oozes and spreads around, it's not ready.  If it wrinkles, you're good to go.  It took me about 3 or 4 tests before it looked like I had achieved jam (rather than syrup).

Normally, this would be the point at which I'd can the jelly.  However, the canning pot, jars, et cetera are on the aforementioned ship.  Therefore I just poured the jelly into two very clean jars, let them cool down on the counter overnight, and placed them in the refrigerator. 

Recipes always say that you should consume refrigerator jams within a week, but I think that's just silly.  I often have jars of jam open for months in my refrigerator and they are just fine.  The amount of sugar in them is one hell of a preservative.  However, I am also the Jam Contamination Police.  Plain old jam shouldn't mold because of all that sugar.  BUT, if someone puts a butter-covered knife into the jam jar... the butter and crumbs could mold.  As a result, I always have a teaspoon for the jam, and a knife for the butter, and never the twain shall meet.

I plan to enjoy the quince jelly on buttered toast, as well as in a (several) Manchego and quince grilled cheese sandwich(es).  There may also be some quince jelly and goat cheese crostini in the future, who knows?  I am just really looking forward to enjoying a fruit that I thought I had to leave behind.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Belated Glaswegian Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Um, so it's not the 15th anymore, traditional Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, but I am doing a lot of adjusting in this new land of Scotland so I'm cutting myself some slack.  You know why?  Because there are flowers blooming in Glasgow in January!

I grew up in New England and for some reason, I expected that dried berries or old seed pods would be the only botanical interests around here this time of year.  I was wrong.  There are still errant roses blooming here and there, heathers, and other plants I don't know yet.  But what is really exciting, are the bulbs! 

I recall welcoming spring in Connecticut with the snowdrops growing in the woods behind our decaying wood pile; I think it was roundabout March.  The snowdrops would then be followed by crocuses of yellow and purple down by the mailbox.  The final nail in the coffin of winter was the eventual explosion of a veritable bonanza of daffodils.  The emergence of the bulbs from their winter slumber was the cue and chorus of winter's end.

Walking the Snoutface through the lovely Botanic Gardens last week, I started to notice all the shoots the bulbs were sending out.  I was excited, but not expecting to see anything other than green for several more weeks or even months.  But I didn't have to wait more than a few days!  There are snowdrops along the banks of the River Kelvin and crocuses at the feet of the trees throughout the Botanic Garden.  If this is what the flowers are like in January, I can't wait for April!

Snowdrops along the banks of the River Kelvin

Purple crocus, paw for scale

Doorstep heather

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stalking a Community Garden Plot

Dreaming of a new raised bed...

Gardeners are a good bunch.  It doesn't matter where in the world you go, if you meet another gardener, you are sure to hit it off somehow.  I was lucky enough to learn that my new colleague in Glasgow has quite the kitchen garden of his own out in the country.  He has multiple raised beds, some greenhouse space, and chickens.  I am jealous already.

Once he learned that I am a big veggie gardener too, he took it upon himself to help me find a community garden plot.  Another colleague is involved in a garden close to my new place of employment.  She sent me all the info needed to apply for a raised bed in this garden plot. Last month, I filled out my application and I should hear any day now if I was successful in my quest for a shared raised bed.  I hope that the MKG can continue in this small way here in Glasgow.  Plus, I have never gardened in a climate like this one; a community garden would be the perfect way for me to meet local gardeners and learn from their experiences.

Here's hoping that I can get my fingers in the dirt here soon!  My little wee Phalaenopsis is cute and all, but it's not very tasty.
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