It is time for a tale of Apples and Monks, Budgies and Bees and F1!

O.K., let’s not get too confused. I can explain everything, well, almost everything. The thing with the socks? I have no idea about that.

It all began long ago, no, recently but long ago is a better start, anyway, I was walking home from work, chomping on a nice juicy apple as I had missed my afternoon/second break at work and was finishing my snack on my way home. I like a nice juicy crisp apple, not too fluffy and not too dry. I like a lot of fruit but this story doesn’t work with bananas for reasons I won’t explore right now.

Just ask me later.

Anyway, apples. I noticed the core of said delicious fruit, (I don’t think it was a Delicious variety, just tasty), contained what appeared at first to be small specks of dust, rather than pips. Now, my reaction was initially that there had been a fault in the germination or growth of this particular specimen but then I thought again. A lack of viable seed means absolutely nothing for an apple grower. Had I wanted to save a seed from this wonderfully, enticing, (o.k. I’ll stop) this apple,to sow and possibly grow my own from, I would have been wasting my time.


Not because of the size of this seed, nor the quality but simply this.

Apples do not grow true from seed.

Let me explain. Plants grown from seed carry the genetic make up from their parents. As with anything grown via the process of parental crossing. Fertilization. The mixing of genes to produce an offspring.

When this happens, in food growing, we look for plants that will produce what the parent gave us. Size, flavour, colour, vigour and many other positive attributes.

It is the sharing of these attributes and the passing on from generation to generation that allows us to reliably produce useful crops, whether on a small scale at an allotment or in a window box to the vast plains of the american landscape.

I found out about this when I was a single man but on the very cusp of becoming a married one. I had been given two budgies as pets to keep me company while living in my flat until my soon to be wife could join me. Sentimental but fun. These two, originally named Jake and Earl, soon became Jake and Pearl after I decided to research a little about the birds and I discovered there is a subtle way of sexing the birds.

The fleshy bit above the beak, containing the holes for the nostrils, is called the Cere. This will differ in colour and flatness according to the sex and age of the bird.

There you go. You’ve learnt something.

However, I was not eating a budgie, but an apple. Budgie eating is frowned upon even after a hard day. Besides which, they aren’t anywhere near as juicy.


All this was discovered or at least expanded on to a greater degree by an Augustinian Monk, Johann Gregor Mendel. He crossed a few different pea plants, wrinkled seeded and round , yellow and green. He discovered that the ensuing plants gave varying results, differing in traits from their parents, even when like featured plants were bred. This tied in with my discovery of colours in budgies. Two blue feathered parents wouldn’t necessarily produce blue offspring. This is due to dominant and recessive genes. The same occurs in humans with things such as eye colour. A blue eyed person may have a dominant blue eye gene but a recessive green gene. If they breed with another blue dominant green recessive, they could find the green gene becomes more dominant. A blue dominant/brown recessive and a green dominant/brown recessive will probably have brown eyed children, because the brown gene is present in both parents.

Back to Peas. Mendel found that by careful selective crossing of plants, he could ‘fix’ a trait, such as wrinkled seed. This meant that this plant would always produce a particular feature from that batch of seed. A predictability of sorts. This is known as F1 seed. These seeds generally produce a uniform result, but without the guarantee of doing the same in the next generation. Plant A crossed with Plant B would always produce C, but Plant C would produce different offspring. Prolonged breeding fixed a reliable result for plants though and this led to the seeds we buy now.

If you purchase a Parsnip variety described as Long and Tender, for example, it will produce, under ideal conditions, long and tender roots. You shouldn’t get tough or stumpy roots. Seed suppliers can reliably produce many more years of the same seeds with this type of seed, but an F1 seed must be produced by carefully crossing the right parents each time, thus making them an expensive option.

So, why not the same with apples?

Apples are a little bit..well.. sexy.

Yes, sexy. Rampant for want of a better word. Most need at least two partners to pollinate them. Many small gardens contain crab apples, which may not themselves seem appetising but are very good pollinators for other varieties. Due to the vagaries of plant flowering times, sometimes the males and females of the same plant will miss each other and the third wheel acts as a go between. Regardless, this mix means it is rare if not impossible for a seed from an apple to contain much of the same D.N.A. as the fruit it came from. The amount of genes in an apple (about 57,000, thought to be the highest number in the plant world) means its difficult to get that mix right. Also, being a triploid, (3 parents) carries a few problems, not the least that some chromosome simply won’t divide.

Yes, breeders do cross plants and discover new varieties, but they then reproduce them by cloning, or grafting. Taking a slip of the original tree and joining it to a new root. This can then produce more material to be taken and added to more rootstocks. Grafting means that some part of every tree is from the first parent. Every Granny Smith is a part of the first ever Granny Smith tree.

Each Bramley Apple has a thin slice of the original dessert apple in it.

For a baker, it is the equivalent of sour dough starter. You take a portion, use it but feed the original so you can keep it alive to use again and again.

So, if you do try to grow that seed, that shiny pip from you lunch box fruit tomorrow, remember, if it grows into a nice big tree and you like the fruit (which will be entirely different), the only way to share it is by slicing a bit off.

But if you do want to experiment, try Sweet Peas, or grow Courgettes near other Cucurbits such as pumpkins or cucumbers. These are notoriously promiscuous but only need two parents. The results may not be edible always but they will be interesting.

Don’t forget, it is the fruits from the plants from the seeds of the first cross that will differ. If you grow Marrows and Butternut squash on the same plot, you will get Marrows and Butternut, but if you save the seeds from them and grow them, who knows?


Righting the Wrongs Men do/ Resetting The Balance.

I am the first to admit, we men as a sex rather than a race do some stupefyingly annoying things. In the eyes of women everywhere, especially those in a relationship with us, we can be as irritating as sand in the bikini at the best of times.

But, during a chance conversation with my mother and one of my three sisters today, I had the opportunity to settle the score somewhat, in the favour of my male colleagues, my brothers-in-arms as it were.

The original discussion was between the two females and developed around the fact that one brother-in-law never takes out the recycling bin when it’s full unless asked to by his spouse. This was made out to be even more frustrating as he has to walk past it on his way to go outside for a smoke (he uses on of these ridiculous vapour things now, but still goes outside.)

After another suffering in law was berated in his absence for not putting dishes into the dishwasher but instead in the sink directly above the machine, I had to speak out in defence of the normally stronger sex, particularly as my nephew, a young teen, was being castigated along side his father for the same crimes.

As I said then, as I will always say, it is not that men don’t want to do the right thing, its just that when we thing we do, we are generally wrong anyway. Especially if we do exactly, to the letter, what we were told off for not doing previously.

An example you say?

I have often arrived home from work or the plot to find washing on the line in the garden, noticed it has started to rain so decided, in my mind correctly and helpfully, to gather in said dry laundry before it gets wet again. Good idea I hear men chorus as one.

Except for when the rain stops as suddenly as it started and the washing is in a basket in the house when lovely wife arrives home.

“Did you get the washing in?”

“Yes, it was starting to rain.”

“I was airing it. The fresh air was to freshen it up and it didn’t rain, it just spotted.”.

“Sorry, (wrong for doing right again), I’ll pop it back out if you like.”

“No (big sigh) I’ll do it myself, you always hang it wrong any way..”

Sound familiar?

I have telephoned my lovely and faultless wife before to check I should get the washing in when it’s starts to rain before now. This is because nearly thirty years of married bliss have made me question what would otherwise be obvious and logical decision.

It’s the same with the recycling bin and Big G, my poor fellow sufferer. Had he taken the bins out, emptied the cans and bottle into the outdoor bins he would possibly have incurred the not unimpressive wrath of my delightful sister had she been waiting for the bin to be empty so she could wash it out, or some similar reason.

And who hasn’t been caught out by setting of a washing cycle for just a few items or put dirty plates in with clean ones by mistake when filling a dishwasher that is actually waiting to be emptied?

How about seeing someone has started painting a wall and deciding to help by finishing the job, only to discover they were testing a colour, deciding against it and had gone off to choose a different shade of paint?

My ultimate classic husband gaff?

I used to put my used dishes, glasses or cutlery directly into the sink after use, more so if there was already soapy water and some items in there.

But now I check first.


Drinking glasses, or any glassware, doesn’t go in the same mix with roasting tins, gravy covered items or any other fatty or greasy item.

I know this now, but then, as I pointed out earlier, I’ve had nearly thirty years of training.

Happy Christmas Gentlemen, and good luck with that after Christmas Dinner minefield!


A story for the younger readers in time for Christmas.

Simon Smells A Song.(A Christmas Special)
Simon the Snowman stood still in Tony Portland’s garden while the family ran around chasing the snowflakes that fell from the grey foreboding sky. Simon could feel each flake as it landed on his cold, hard body, making him grow a tiny little amount each hour. The children had built him only a couple of days ago, when the first heavy falls had settled and the winter term at High Glenn School had ended. Tony had finished work early that day, as the snow had stopped him from travelling to several appointments. They were only complimentary calls to drop off gifts from his company to their customers so he didn’t mind too much. It meant he could indulge himself, playing with the kids and making snowmen, snow angels and even a snow donkey. Tony had loved building snowmen when he was their age and even remembered the look his creations had taken then: Two spheres with proper sausage shapes down the sides for arms and a smaller ball for the head. Tony thought the stick arms that the traditional Christmas card snowmen had was quite out of keeping with the rest of the body. He was a perfectionist even then, a twelve year old artist specialising in frozen rain.
Now, as a middle aged soap salesman with the usual 2.4 child family and suburban semi with a landscaped garden, he rarely got the chance to let loose with his creativity. Hours driving between calls left little scope for the imagination so he would picture the trucks that sped past as huge galloping beasts or the slow moving milk floats and tractors that held him up as lumbering slugs or tortoises. The towering skyscrapers made magnificent ivory castles where evil geniuses lay in wait, the motorway cafe a secret forest hideaway for him and his fellow travelling champions.
Tony had built Simon the Snowman a small igloo to stand beside him and told his offspring that he often saw the snowman slip inside when the light had faded and the moon lit the white glistening garden.
One morning, about a week after Simon had appeared, a Robin had started using the rim of his hat as a perch when he swooped into The Portland’s garden, looking for food for the brood back in the nest, hidden in a hedge just beyond the fence at the end of the lawn. Tony was a good snow designer, that was not in question, but Simon couldn’t help thinking that there must be something more functional to use as a nose. Carrots were traditional but everything smelt, well, quiet!
That was something no one not made of white cold snow knew. Everything may look like a human but the simple fact was, they didn’t function the same. Snow people heard and saw and smelt things the same as any person but not through the same organs.
When Simon smelt a beautiful perfume, like Mrs. Portland wore when she fed the birds, it was through his black coal eyes. If he saw the colours of the scarves the children wore, it was with his mouth made of little shiny pebbles.
But if, like today, a little song bird stopped by to sing a beautiful lullaby to him, it was that bright orange vegetable in the middle of his face which funnelled the sounds through to his heart. As carrots are quite thick and hard, this meant very little of the song made it through. Simon could see the bird and how its little head bobbed up and down as it trilled but he could barely make out the sounds clearly.
Simon was getting a touch depressed as the days passed and more birds would come and eat at the bird table Tony had put up for his wife. All those magnificent songs and he heard so little of them.
Then one morning, something changed.
Cherish, the little girl who helped build him all that time ago, ran into the garden all swathed in layers of woollen clothing, and threw open the door to the old wooden rabbit hutch that stood beneath the kitchen window. As she hurriedly shovelled the bedding out in a large bucket, her brother Archie took the water bottle from its mount and replaced it with a full bottle, emptied the remains from the little hopper that held the feed pellets for the rabbit and ran back into the house to fetch some fresh vegetables for the family pet.
Mrs. Portland came out with Archie shortly afterwards and started rummaging through a carrier bag for some cabbage leaves She stopped suddenly looking puzzled.
“You know, I am sure we picked up some carrots for Thumper last week Archie, but I can’t find any now!”
“Daddy gave Thumper a carrot the day before yesterday. He loves carrots Mummy!” Cherish whispered.
“What about the snowman’s carrot?” asked Archie, eyeing Simon eagerly?
“Simon won’t have a nose if you do that you silly!” laughed his sister.
Cary Portland laughed. “We have a lovely long wooden cone in the house, from the old building set your daddy had as a boy. If we use that for the snowman’s nose, Thumper can have his treat!”
So, when Tony came home that afternoon, he recognised a small part of his childhood sitting right in the middle of Simon’s face, proudly standing out making Simon a very handsome snowman indeed and bringing together two generations of his family, parents and children.
What Tony would never know though, was that his old wooden building brick was wonderful at conducting sound. Now, whenever the Robins, Starlings and Thrushes flew in to feast on old cake crumbs and suet, Simon heard a concerto of voices filling the heart of a happy old snowman.

Growing Stuff – Sweetcorn (Maize)

Love this blog and this is typical of the quality of the posts.

The Forget-me-Not Cultivation Blog

In my ever conquering quest to get more people to grow their own fruit and veg,  I wrote a series of blog posts last year on individual veggies, fruits and herbs to show everyone just how easy some are to grow.

The series, of five, which delved into runner beans, parsley, strawberries, blueberries and radishes were all chosen because they are very simple to grow and delicious to either use in cooking or eat by themselves.

Now we’re in the midst of a new gardening year I thought I’d create a new series.

Five more posts on fruit and vegetables that are just really simple to grow and can be grown well in the smallest of places.

I’ve grown every single veg/fruit or herb that I post about which means I can guarantee they are easy to grow!  It also means that I won’t be posting on lettuce…

View original post 998 more words

Wanna be startin’ somethin’..


Excuse the poor reference to a dead mans song. I just had a need to make an attention grabbing headline. But if that worked and you’re here, well, thanks.

I’ve gone on, droned on to be precise, of late about a brief and relatively small bout of ill health which, in the grand scheme of things, is trifling but has brought in its wake a few mind stimulating ripples.

The prime one is the abdominal state of our N.H.S. Nursing profession. Not the nurses themselves but the lack of support and training they seem to get. I won’t discuss anyone person or incident because it is not a personal attack, far from it, it is more of a plea on their behalf, but when the young female nurse asked me what I would like to eat after my operation was cancelled and I was taken off of Nil By Mouth status, I pointed out that I was only allowed dairy free, non-fat food. She offered me a tuna sandwich or what she appeared to pronounce as a ‘cheeken’ sandwich. I said tuna would be nice but without any butter or spread of any kind. Just bread. I would like chicken if possible, I added but again, no dairy.  She reliably suggested she would see what she could do and would I like a salad too?

Within a few minutes the poor girl reappeared with a tray bearing a clingfilm covered salad and a choice of, and I do not lie here, a tuna mayo roll or, if I didn’t like it, she could offer a sandwich. Not a chicken or cheeken sandwich because there wasn’t any available but a cheese and tomato sandwich.

Needless to say, tiredness from two sleepless nights (it was a hospital observation ward. Screaming, confused people with broken limbs come as a default.), I gave her what I am ashamed to say was short shrift and a quick rude lesson is basic English. Another sister came over later and asked what had happened so obviously I had embarrassed both her and myself and it had been noticed. She didn’t apologise, she didn’t need to but I did, and found me some powdered soup, so containing no milk and possibly no actual real food, and a banana for which I was eternally grateful.

Other tales from a broken health service include such gems as having my I.V. replaced by torchlight, night staff with a continuing sniff and an exotic sounding drinks vendor who served coffee in a quarter pint plastic beaker made using a tablespoon not a teaspoon to add the coffee. But all those are just the observations from a miserable git after three days on free fluids only.

The real issue is during the quieter moments, the English native staff spent their spare moments teaching the immigrant hopefuls so they could qualify and earn a better if not living wage.

The once proud and shiny N.H.S. which was the envy of most of the civilized and all the uncivilized world is now a very ill patient itself, almost terminal.

We have a choice now.

Give it all the medicines available to cure it, regardless of cost or put it out of its misery and bring on the American system of private health or charity.

Currently critical services across the country are raising their own funds through charity events just to stay open and running. This is a service we pay for, run by a government we pay for on our behalf. Never should any of these be begging for coffers from the charity purse.

As I stated earlier, that was a prime one, numero uno ripple but not the only one. If anything though, the rest are quite positive and upbeat by comparison.

Sometime ago when I was getting serious about beers and food, I started to build a blog about combining your best choice of ale with your favourite bread and filling recipe. It was to be a fun exercise with contributions from readers and pictures of said meals and bar snacks. A little bit of background history combined with recipes and experiments would fill the gaps, so to speak. I didn’t go through with it though, stopping before going live and just holding onto it for future possibilities.

Since a friend was diagnosed as diabetic and I fell foul of my own inner organs, I’ve been looking with vested interest at alternative recipes. Mainly in my own case out of a need admittedly but as an insight into the world of non diary foods, it’s been a very educational journey. Scrub that. I hate when people, celebrity wannabes in particular, describe any period of transition as a journey.

It’s been an education.

So, I may well resurrect the beer and sandwich blog as a recipe source for those with dietary intolerances and specific medical requirements.

Because, any chance of using another pop song title can’t be missed can it?

If You Tolerate This..


Every Cloud…

The last twelve months has had it’s high points and lows but the curious area has somehow orbited around food and the consumption of it. I started to notice an increase in the bloated, sometimes painful feeling I had after eating white bread or white bread type foods. Due to the popular idea that honey can help reduce hay fever symptoms, I had already started using it in a lot of my meals but since converting to wholemeal bread, I discovered the delight that is honey on wholemeal toast. It is, to my mind, the closest thing to cartoon honeycomb it is possible to imagine. The open texture of the bread, crisp and light, when drenched with honey warmed by the heat from the bread, becomes filled with the sweet, almost malty earthiness of the natural and aromatic honey, making the whole thing melt in the mouth irresistibly. We regularly have, until recently, opted for home made pizza at least once a month rather than any of the various expensive and frankly bland and limited home delivery or supermarket bought varieties. This makes it easy to have a wholemeal base, something I cannot recommend heartedly enough. I thought this was helping my stomach issues but I seem to have missed the obvious culprit. Before I went over to the darker bread side, I had already dramatically reduced my milk consumption after my Mother suffered some health issues which led to my cholesterol levels being checked. I was near the upper level but o.k. so I chose to act then. I had experimented with cereals without milk, substituting with fruit juices. As a result, I can happily say that muesli with apple juice is a revelation. Try it. But ultimately I turned to toast instead. I had been trying out alternatives for butter in sandwiches, as it seemed counterproductive to layer spreads or sauces on top of it and had even started a blog here to promote the wonderful new combinations I had discovered. All these things failed to alert me tot the fact that perhaps dairy was the key.

That was brought to my attention in an alarming way.

I have probably spoken at length, too much for most of my friends I am sure, about my experience with gallstones but needless to say, something triggered the attack which brought them out of hiding. It was most likely cheese according to my specialist.

Cheese. The very centre of many wonderful, memorable and innovative sandwiches, pies and even tarts. My erstwhile culinary companion, now my evil nemesis. My bile trigger, soliciting a waterfall of fat attacking fluids which flushed my tiny spiky stones out of their safe zone and into my pain thresh hold.

So, since the fateful day I have removed any trace of dairy from my diet. Also, any suspicious fats, red meat or oily meat based chartucery. This itself has opened new doors for my taste buds, as well as a headache for my wife, chef and head researcher. 

Dry ingredients in a sandwich have an annoying habit of evacuating at the first chance so something has to go betwixt bread and filling to adhere one to the other. Butter, margarine or mayonnaise is out, so what comes up to the job?

Despite the name, peanut butter contains no dairy so that works, but it doesn’t compliment salad or some white meats. Chicken is surprisingly good with it though, think satay and you’ll understand. Tomato paste, with or without red peppers or chilli is delicious and pesto has it’s place too.

Go on. try it yourself. Pickle or piccalilli is great with chicken or turkey and salads but the link with fruit can’t be ignored. Who hasn’t had cranberry sauce with turkey? Put it in a sandwich and you’ve upgraded to sandwich making maestro.

Go on, experiment. Leave dairy to the cows and seek out new horizons.

Then let me know what you find here! 

As an aside, the silver lining to this story is this. I now weigh just under 100 kilograms. That’s about 15 1/2 stone in old money. That’s also the lightest I have been since I was married almost 30 years ago. Fresh fruit salads and no dairy. Raw/steamed vegetables every day and, due to a job change, a 2 mile walk to and from work each day have all helped but the result remains. I have added not one but two new holes in all my belts and my suits look more Saville Row and less stuffed sofa .

It’s not a recommended way of changing your eating , being rushed into accident and emergency then waiting for a laparoscopic gall bladder removal, but the diet works.