Trees are another way to give structure to a garden, as I wanted our garden in Lemnos to be a fruitful garden the first trees that went in were fruit trees. Many of you reading this blog will have luxuriant vegetable gardens and fruiting trees and will make your own preserves, but to have an apricot tree, for instance, is a very proud accomplishment for me. I’d never imagined having this, or a fig tree, and both of ours are now flourishing in our island garden.
I’ve now got various citrus trees planted along the back wall and at least one fruit tree in each of the vegetable beds. (Surprisingly I’ve found that in mid summer vegetables do well in the shade of these trees.) I also have a cumquat in a large pot on the terrace, a pomegranate in the ‘hot’ garden hanging over the front wall and a quince in the shady walk (these two last toughies are in places that receive less water). Most of these trees have done well but a few have not survived the extremes of island weather.
Almonds are not really known as winter hardy trees yet in our garden there were five old almond trees when we arrived. These were definitely survivors of a number of cold winters. We still have four old, with knarled trunks, and signs of new limbs having grown after old limbs have been removed. In South Australia I have seen almond orchards in bloom, but here we always miss this early bloomer as we always arrive in late spring. In September, before we leave, we spread out sheeting and Anestis attacks the trees with a long stick then gathers buckets of nuts. We dry them out before taking off the outer covering.
Our guests, one in particular, know that a nut-cracking job awaits them on their holidays with us. But as a reward they take home a couple of bottles of fresh almonds.
We crack the hard shell and store them in bottles, to be used in cooking, or toast them to eat raw. Some of the toasted nuts we mince to make nut butter.
Oranges and Lemons
Anestis and I planted citrus trees in a bed in front of a new high stonewall at the back of the property; two Valencia oranges, two lemons, and a tangerine. That year, in the cold mid-winter frosts, the lemons and tangerine died. I have since, twice, replanted lemon trees. But this year I am hopeful that when I return the lemon tree that survived the previous winter is large enough to have also survived this one. Before leaving I covered the roots of all the citrus trees with straw, held down with sacking and stones. I hope it worked. It would be so good to have our own lemons as both Takis and I use a lot in our cooking.
The Greeks are not used to jams or marmalades, they prefer their fruits bottled in syrup. These fruits are served to visitors on a plate as a desert, along with a glass of cold water. For this purpose oranges tend to be picked small and green.
I’ve already written about Takis Marmalade passion, and that is another reason we’d like to have our own oranges, sweet and bitter and lemons in Greece. Takis’ marmalade product seemed to be approved by several of our samplers, so maybe this is the start of another manufacturing project for Takis and perhaps for Greece?
Figs and Pomegranate
Our fig tree is quite tall, over ten feet, and it was nearly as wide until some of the side branches snapped. I think it might be time for me to plant another. There seems to be a couple of different fig trees on the island, one that bears small sweet black figs and the one we have that has larger red seeded fruit.
We love eating the fresh fruit, but soon have too many to keep fresh. That is when I start making jam, or rather a type of marmalade, as I put in lemon rind. I also try to use the least ripe fruit and cut back on the usual equal quantities of sugar to fruit.
Trivial fact: Actually ‘fruit’ is a misnomer as what we eat are the fleshy receptacle of the flowers and seeds.
When I dry the figs I follow the pattern told me by Vetta. I cut a cross at the stalk end then open a fruit out and flatten into a four petaled section. These I put on a try in the sun covered with netting to keep of most of the flies and ants. After two days I turn them and do this each day for about five days. If they are dry I drop them quickly into seawater that Anestis brings me from the beach. (Yes, seawater! It’s traditional, and gives the dried fig that dusty white salty look and taste.) After this dip I then dry them for an hour (but without cooking them) in the oven. Then after cooling I wrap them in plastic wrap and they keep for a year or until we have eaten them all. I’ve used them in fruitcake and Christmas cakes, and they are very good.
I saw a pomegranate hanging over the stone wall of a neighbor’s house and loved that combination of stone wall with a red fruiting tree hanging over – for often the fruit is still hanging in the tree after the leaves have fallen. It can stand 10-15 F and can manage a Lenin winter so I’ve planted one in my ‘hot’ garden to hang over my front stonewall. It is a small deciduous tree (with yellow leaves in autumn) growing to about 15 feet and the fruit will only ripen in a hot dry summers.
The thick rind surrounds a mass of reddish juicy seeds and I press the seeds to make juice. Another use is in salad recipes with the seeds sprinkled over the finished salad.
Apples and Cherries
Apple trees fill me with joy in spring with their delicate white-pink blooms, so gloriously virginal, yet so transitory. How lovely, but how impossible to gather and use in a bridal spray or for church decoration. But then how satisfyingly productive and various the tree is in autumn, filled with red, green or yellow fruit, each with a different purpose. One apple is good for sauce, another for pies and another for eating raw.
I love apple trees and tend to plant them in all my gardens. I very much wanted two apple trees at the entrance to the vegetable garden, but in one of the mix ups that occur in gardening, one died and was replace by yet another pear tree (we now have three) that was give me as a gift, and my replacement apple tree is where I really wanted to plant a cherry tree, to be able to cross pollinate with one across the path. Oh well, I hoped the bees would find their way around the garden to the appropriate trees, as it is not a very large plot.
Lemnos is not really a suitable place for apple trees but this was my first really productive garden so wanted to try to grow them. They have grown, but need their feet kept cool with mulch and to be watered well. So far they have only produced small fruit.
A neighbour who has an allotment in a nearby well-watered valley seems to have more success, and brings us a few before we leave in September. These I’ll often use with our quinces, making an apple-quince fruit compote.
Apples and cherries don’t do too well on the island but I have kept trying. Cherries need to cross-pollinate, and as one of the first couple died I have one surviving cherry whose flowers stay infertile.
I’ve since decided to try a couple of sour cherries, which are much tougher and make lovely jam.
Peaches and Pears
Peaches are one of the largest exports in Greece. We once drove past acres and acres in the valley between Thessaloniki and Kavala. This is where Anestis first found work in the country, joining the army of foreign workers in those fields. My peach tree has nearly given up the ghost a few times, with straggly branches, fruit fly, heat, and finally over loaded limbs so I had to thin them out.
But we did get some peach fruit eventually – clingstone peaches that are best cooked into a compote.
Pears seem to do better than most fruit on the island and although I’m not a great fan of pears I love their delicate flavour when eaten fresh, at just that perfect time when they are neither hard nor floury. They are best picked green, just before they ripen and then eaten as the colour lightens, to a yellower green; it’s a very limited time of perfection – but for a day or two they can be heavenly. However in Lemnos I seem to have ended up with three trees, which is probably a good thing as it helps to have one or two to pollinate each other – though three pear trees is one more than I wanted, and all produce well.
As pears do not store well, nor last as long as apples, I often have to find something to do with them. Cooked they are fairly insipid and not easily converted to jam, with only perhaps the pear and almond tart to recommend them in this form.
Apricots and Plums
Apricot trees seem to do well on the island. We might never be there to see the blossom but fruit ripens soon after we arrive. Some years the tree is heavily ladened with fruit, though not every year.
In a glut year I make up batches of compote and freeze for later use or pack fresh raw fruit with sugar to freeze. One year we were going to miss the harvest and a neighbour offered to pick them and make up batches of apricot jam for us. Takis, who also prides himself on his apricot jam, was very critical of the fact that Costa had added cinnamon to the mix however I found that added into an almond and apricot pie it was just right.
Plums should be easy to grow they seem to be elsewhere. I did have one tree that was growing well, and after three years had a lovely crop. However a week or two after this crop the tree started dying. I could not believe my eyes. Maybe it was the heat again, or maybe it gave too large a crop, or maybe someone had cast the evil eye on it.
I had a bucket full of lovely purple blue plums, and converted them to jam, made compote, and a German plum cake. I know that plum jam is a bit ordinary, but it can be used as a topping or in cakes. Plus, we ate a great number of fresh plums with enjoyment.