Saturday, August 11, 2012

Late summer longueurs, with pumpkins, onions and visitors.

Against habitual preference, I am rather enjoying this time of year, probably because any kind of summery weather is so belated and so unaccustomed that it seems precious.  It's hard not to feel a bit cheated of the late spring and early summer that I love, but to rail against the weather is futile; better late than never, and being high and dry as we are up here, usually struggling against drought, it's been good not to have to water the garden too much.

But it's a dry, flat season all the same; lots of work to do, family visitors to feed and entertain - the two functions in these parts being very largely synonymous - which is all great of course, but not a great deal of creative inspiration, the perceptions dulled and sated by summer's fullness of wealth. It was ever so. The light offers little of interest except at each end of the day.  I stay up and sleep in too late, but vowed this morning to get up and catch the sunflowers in the morning light.

I edited a version of this where I cropped out the heap of plastic over the disused raised bed in mid-shot, which didn't really look so evident at the time, and the old fence post in what used to be the hens' living space.  But it's really all part of the landscape.  I don't miss the hens too much, except that while they lived, no food was ever wasted.

The sunflowers were a mixed packet which were supposed to be shorter, multi-headed and mixed colours.

They are multi-headed, and come in pretty bronze shades as well as yellow, but some of them are very tall nevertheless,

and reach quite shamelessly for the sky.

They appear more richly coloured in the morning and evening light, it's true, but it's in the heat of the day that the bees enjoy them most.

The white clump of stuff in the photo before last is coriander. Conveniently, here in Europe (as I understand it) we give the same name to the green leaf as to the seed, so no fussing about cilantro etc, pretty word though it is, know how to pronounce it though I don't.

Convenient because the plants that I have are somewhere between the two states now; they have long since bolted, but still yield plenty of leaf for my needs (I've frozen plenty too), but the seeds are still soft and green, and their flavour too is interestingly betwixt and between, and boost the rather mild flavour of the leaf, which I put down to a lot of rain and not much sun. All kinds of bees and hoverflies are loving the flowers (see how I give way to the use of the verb 'love' in a continuous tense, is this capitulation, sinisterly influenced my fast food advertising?), so I'll leave them to finish flowering and harvest as much seed as I can for replanting and as spice.  Interested to know if others have done this and any recommended techniques.

I'm aware I've not answered Catalyst's question on the last post about the difference between male and female flowers of pumpkins, which gives me a ready excuse to post a load more pumpkin pictures; you know you want to see more of my pumpkins, really you do. Of course the main and most evident sign of a female flower is that it will have a fruit forming at the base of it, like so:

and the male doesn't:

However, and I remember my mother teaching me this at an early age with the flowers of primula and polyanthus  (she was rather less communicative about the sexual development and characteristics of human beings, but never mind, it probably would only have embarrassed me hideously if she had been), the difference can also be observed within the centre of the flower itself.

It's all to do with whether it's a stamen (the male's single pointy thing, above),

or a pistil (the female's collection of vase-shaped bobbly bits, above).

And really, that's all you need to know.

(Yet speaking of such matters, I cannot fail to observe how typically women are drawn to vessels and containers - boxes, cups, vases, saucepans; I myself am a sucker for bowls and have to stop myself collecting far too many, especially those with beautiful insides like Mason Cash mixing bowls with the blue linings, and wee cider bols with glossy red interiors.  Men, it must be observed tend more to tools, implements, remote controls for the TV even... It amuses, delights and slightly appals me that we are so transparently driven by our biology, even down to our aesthetics.)

And while we're on pumpkins, and sex, it must be time for an update on the fruit.  The largest of them are the size of a fair-sized melon, but their breeding and the matter of the male/female flowers puzzles me.  You may not remember (and why on earth would you, since I cannot expect you to share my preoccupation with these vegetables, Tom's eyes glaze over when I start to talk about them), I planted two kinds: the classic big orange rouge vif d'Etampes, one of the few widely available here, from a packet, and some saved seed from an unnamed lumpy greenish-skinned variety of surpassingly good flavour I got from a local box scheme.

I have heard that pumpkins and squashes are very promiscuous things, that all kinds of cross-pollination takes place and you can never be entirely sure what you'll get - unless I suppose you only plant one variety of selected seed.  Many of the fruits which are developing would seem to prove that some such wanton miscegenation has indeed been going on.

(The two above are some odd ones I planted in pots on the terrace, an experiment to see whether, with liberal amounts of pelleted manure and water, pumpkins can successfully be grown in pots.)

However, what I don't understand is, the fruits begin to develop, and show signs of their final markings, shape and colouring, before the female flowers open and can possibly be pollinated by the male flowers (of which their seem to be many more coming now).  So surely cross-fertilisation this season can't affect the fruits of the same year? So why worry about pollinating them at all? Perhaps the fruits would wither without it, as some have done, or perhaps it is the seeds inside which would be barren, which means perhaps that this year's motley of shapes, colours and patterns is down to last year's fruiting elsewhere. Clearly I must do some research on this matter.

More veg talk.  This seems very largely to have become a gardening and cooking blog, and a sporadic one at that - where are the deep, solemn, frequent and would-be lyrical posts of yesteryear? Anyway, this is the final harvest of the Roscoff pink onions, curing in the sun in the same old wine box I bletted the medlars in .  The largest is about 10 cm across, but they've been somewhat affected by the damp, and may not keep long.  Not to worry, using them up won't be a problem.

Molly enjoyed having visitors.  She got to walk out on the beach with Benj, and it was quite nice for me to let someone else on the end of her lead having to run round in circles and get her untangled from the rocks and out of the rockpools.

She was much livelier as she always is with other people about, though they got up a bit late for her liking, no matter how much she snuffed at their bedroom door and barked in the hall.

Emily's dad shows her the seashells he's collected.  However, the only kind she's really interested are the mussels she gets to eat with chips.  It's worth having them here to watch and wonder at the enormous quantities of these succulent bivalves she can put away, and the speed with which she does it.  I procure huge quantities of them which I cook in the largest stock pot we own, put out a large paper tablecloth, supply her with a bowl and a ladle, then wind her up and watch her go, her little thin elbows stuck out sideways, and a look of rapture on her face, occasionally murmuring 'They're so nice!' between mouthfuls. Then we take her to Le Vivier in Erquy and she orders another bucketload, this time with Roquefort sauce, and starts all over again. I'm not sure I even know what the inside of a mussel looked like at fourteen. Show her a green pea and you'll get short shrift, mind.

Just save me some chips, says Mol.

Breaking news - or nearly.  The Olympic women's mountain bike gold medal winner, Julie Bresset, hails from Ploeuc-sur-Lié, a small inland town just down the road from us, hitherto noteworthy only for being the origin of a variety of potato, the BF 15 (a fact not negligible among potato cognoscenti...).  Apparently big screens were set up in the centre of town for the populace to watch her progress.  I was almost tempted to go along but the thought of sweating out the midday sun among the citizenry of Ploeuc (pronounced something like Plurk) didn't quite hold enough appeal.  Now there is doubtless revelry in the streets and I almost regret my decision. 


I'll try to do more little-and-often kind of posting from now on, which is really what I prefer to see on blogs that I read, rather than such long but infrequent offerings.  


Bruce Taylor, a.k.a. Catalyst said...

Lucy, your posts are always greeted with pleasure as they always feature beautiful photos and useful information, as today on the sex of pumpkin blooms. Curiously, earlier today I was just reading in a year-old Smithsonian magazine about a "sport" in the U.S. of raising monster-size pumpkins. In the most recent contest, the largest weighed in at over 1,600 pounds! That's a lot of pumpkin pies!

marly youmans said...

You are lucky in Mol and veggies... Our Susquehanna now eats all raw vegetables and will happily pull down pea vines and investigate raised beds. I didn't bother this year. Glad to see your fertile pumpkin plants...

One of the little nearby towns (New Berlin?) had an Olypmpian and put up a town screen. Rather sweet. Our village had an athlete competing also (actually we had one human in triathlon and also a horse), but evidently we still put the Baseball Hall of Fame first...

I am still reading at the mountain--on no. 188 and feeling that this may all come to a happy end. After 316 I shall come visit more often.

Anonymous said...

Lucy, everything about this post delights me. The feeding = entertainment, the difference between male and female blossoms (thank you! now I know why I have so many flowers and yet no squashes), the humor that makes me laugh out loud. Here's a link to a little town in NH that you really should go visit around Halloween some year:

xo, alison

Anne said...

Our weather out here in the Pacific Northwest has been a lot like yours and my zucchini (I grow the yellow variety) are just staying finger size while big male blossom after male blossom bursts open for a morning and then crumples. The spaghetti squash (I have no idea what you Brits call them) are numerous and growing larger. Lots of male blossoms on those too. Somebody told me that the male blossoms should be removed to get more fruit. Is that true?

Rouchswalwe said...

This makes me wonder about the pumpkins in Japan. Sliced they made the most delightful tempura, which simply doesn't work with the pumpkins round here. Your long post made me happy. I poured a Nut Brown Ale and then sat back to read, click on the photos, and relax. There's quite a bit of havoc here now with the roof being torn off to be replaced. The last several rains brought down the ceiling! Luckily, my buckets were in place. And back to the garden. I was puttering around the building this afternoon, thinking for the umpteenth time that I should chop the weeds growing at the edge of the parking lot, when a hummingbird appeared and fed from the monster weed in the corner. I would have never thought to see hummingbirds here in the deep city. I've been smiling the entire afternoon!

Supper? Mussels!!

Crafty Green Poet said...

I enjoyed reading this and such lovely photos, specially the golden sunflowers. Fascinating discussion of pumpkin flowers, i hadn't really thought about it, as we don't have enough room to grow pumpkins, though we did try courgettes last year as we got the seeds from somewhere, we got beautiful flowers but no fruit,

Plutarch said...

Fascinated by the insect on the pumpkin flower and its mastery of langauge. English too.

Setu said...

I watched the beginning and the end of Julie's race. She is a very nice young lady with an iron will. She might achieve great things in the future, I think. And look, I am not chauvinistic, but she said "Long live Brittany!" before saying "Long live France!" Good girl! I think her fellow-citizens were shouting for joy when she crossed the finishing line.
Yes, Ploeuc sounds like Plurk (and Plogoff like Plug Off, that's why we have no nuclear plant there ;-)
Your pumpkin series is full of suspense: I hope it will have a successful end. The first (and last) time I grew pumpkins, I found that all the beautiful small fruits had been carefuly eaten by some animal. A rabbit, perhaps?

the polish chick said...

another lovely post, made me crave mussels.

can't wait till next year when i'll plant a wee garden on my balcony.

Dick said...

Beautiful sunflowers (and all else). Ours have failed along with everything else except for hardy herbs, which have flourished.

A shame to miss the celebrations! We got drawn into the whole thing, quite against intentions and we watched Mlle Bresset doing good for Ploeuc!

Nimble said...

Only time to say that pronouncing the word Ploeuc has made my day.

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

Cat - some of my yellow/orange pumpkins are football sized already, I have high hopes!

Marly - Mol will steal green peas from the colander while I'm picking them, but stops short, so far, of picking them off the bushes. As ever, the things you find time for astonish me; good luck with the reading!

Alison - thanks for the link. I think some zucchini are self fertilising, I think otherwise the fruits start to form but unless fertilised, wither and drop off. I guess it's all in the timing...

Anne - did a bit of rootling about male blossoms, but no one seems certain, seems as if the taking off the male blossoms is for cucumbers, otherwise, unless you've a self-fertilising hybrid of summer squash, some at least are necessary. Spaghetti squash/marrows, or vegetable spaghetti here!

R - I had a Japanese friend in England who grew excellent veg from seeds she used to bring back from Japan, including a fabulous and very beautiful variety of pumpkin, similar to the Crown Prince variety, blue-green corrugated outside and very dense, sweet orange flesh with which she too made wonderful tempura. Lovely about the hummingbird!

CGP - they do take up a bit of room - sorry to hear about the courgettes!

Plutarch - ah the poor sap, he thinks it's all about him but really he's just the go-between... I don't know what the French for that particular cliché might be, never having had occasion to use or indeed hear it. Setu could probably tell you...(in about 15 languages!)

Setu - she is a good girl then! Though Ploeuc is really quite Gallo Brittany of course. Of course the pronunciation isn't exactly Plurk, but a shorter sound somewhere between that and Plock and Pluck... We also had a Costarmorican do well in the BMX, I believe, but we find that's a bit too gladiatorial for our taste, all those broken collar bones make me wince. I was quite happy that I genuinely felt more involved with a local Olympian than with all the British medal winners, though I was happy for them too. Sorry about your pumpkin failure!

PC - Mussels are a bit fab, and cheap and sustainable too. Not sure pumpkins would make a great balcony crop, unless you get a baby variety, but courgettes/zucchini might be.

Dick - I didn't really mean to take much notice of the Olympics, and in fact didn't watch a great deal, but kind of enjoyed it being on, and with the family here it was quite nice having it there and people wandering in and out and commenting and cheering people on and stuff, so I enjoyed the event.

Nimble - happy to amuse! In fact, as I said to Setu, it's not quite as crude a sound as Plurk, but still has something of a sink plunger in action quality about it!

marly youmans said...

Thanks, Lucy--since June I'm afraid that about all I have accomplished is reading... or so I feel. Looking forward to completion of the project.

marly youmans said...

Thanks, Lucy--since June I'm afraid that about all I have accomplished is reading... or so I feel. Looking forward to completion of the project.

marly youmans said...

Eep, why twice?

Beth said...

Lucy, please do...I love these glimpses into your everyday life, both in pictures and stories. And the pumpkin-family images are especially beautiful!

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

All these greenery stories are keeping me out of your comment box, offering only opportunities to make a fool of myself. This is infuriating since I have a vitally important query about conversational mores in France which I've been dying to insert privily and which will have to wait for some more propitious time.

However (equally privily) you may have noticed that the regular British Film Institute poll has, after fifty years, displaced Citizen Kane from the best movie of all time and substituted Vertigo. Ho hum. Much more important Oyu's Tokyo Story (shot in 1953) moved up to third. I've been aware of TS for many decades but have never had a chance to see it. Given the passage of time I felt I had to buy it. Watched it last night as part of the ineluctable uphill flow of events towards my birthday. The simplest of stories - an absolute masterpiece. Silence as the final credits ran which, given the audience (Mr and Mrs LdP and elder daughter Professional Bleeder), was a triumph in itself. In book terms on the same level as Le Père Goriot, and not entirely dissimilar. You cannot afford to be without the experience.

No need to respond to this command. Merely act.

HKatz said...

I love how the sunflowers seem to be keeping watch for someone, straining to look out over the yard to see who's coming.

Mol is adorable.

And I'm impressed with your botanical knowledge :)

rr said...

Paiget's schemas. Enclosure schema and trajectory schema in particular. (But isn't schema plural already?) Anyway. Bags v guns. I have, you'll be astonished to know, two gunners. Sprung from an obsessive bagger. Bag lady!

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

LdP - how could I not with such an impassioned recommendation?

RR - Wow, thanks, how interesting! I vaguely remember about schemata (I think that's the fancy plural but don't think it's necessary, on the site you link to they just stick an 's' on) but wouldn't have made a connection. So is the enclosure/trajectory thing reckoned to be gender-skewed? Though I think perhaps a more fnah-fnah Freudian interpretation is more fun, or at least the way my mind runs. I fought shy of getting too knee-jerk about men all being weapon-obsessed, but swords or ploughshares, whatever. There are other factors at work I suppose: bags have never interested me over-much, bowls and to a lesser extent boxes much more, from which one may deduce that you like to travel and carry things with you, which is probably another schema like transport or something, and I like to stay home and collect and concoct things, which might be assembling, I guess.

Cars must cover a lot of bases, transport, position, enclosure, trajectory...

Still think it's quite a lot to do with wombs and willies.