Posts tagged ‘Shrub’

November 22, 2012

Lemon and Rosemary Tartlets – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Rosemary is both a handsome shrub for the garden and a delicious flavouring in the kitchen. Rosmarinus officinalis, as it is named botanically is an evergreen shrub that grows to about 1.2 metres (4ft) and produces bright blue flowers in late Spring. Although it was killed by the hard winter a couple of years ago, it survive most Irish winters without harm. It is ideal fro pot cultivation and when growing it in the garden give it a postion with a good sunny aspect and a soil that is well drained.

The foilage when crushed releases its aromatic oils and the gastronomic mind sends rapid messages to the taste buds, the mouth starts watering. The mind usually summons up images of slow roasted lamb, pork steak or a pasta dish. One of my favourite ways of cooking freshly dug potatoes is to scrub the skins thoroughly and cut the tubers into thin lengthwise slices of about 2cm thick. Toss the sliced potatoes in some oil, olive or rapeseed oil, and then roll them in freshly chopped rosemary. Sprinkle with salt and cook in the oven for about 40 minutes at about 200 degrees Celcius. Serve with anything savoury, they are a delicious meal by themselves, make a garlic and yogurt dip, and prepare to stuff yourself, you wont be able to stop eating them.

Rosmarinus officinalis var. prostratus is a low growing rosemary with a spreading growth habit

But rosemary as an ingredient in a dessert is less usual, and when Hanna proposed baking lemon and rosemary tartlets I immediately said yes. The rosemary adds an aromatic flavour to the sweet lemon filling. This is a combination of flavours that works so well. The soft texture of the lemon filling melts on the tongue while the molars crush the pastry, rosemary sneaks up to surprise you while you are transported to taste bud heaven…

Lemon and Rosemary Tartlets Recipe (makes 9 tartlets)



  • 11/3 cup of  Spelt flours (1:2 whole grain : white)
  • 2 tbsp Muscavado Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Finely chopped rosemary
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup of cold butter
  • 1-2 tbsp cold water


  • 1 cup of yogurt
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest


  1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celcius
  2. Lightly butter tart pan
  3. Mix/crumble the pastry mixture together, only add the water at the end
  4. Press the pastry into the forms in the tray and bake for 15 minutess. Let cool before filling
  5. Mix the yogurt and sugar well
  6. Add the eggs one by one and the lemon juice and zest
  7. Mix well and put into the pastry
  8. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes
  9. Allow to cool before serving

September 23, 2012

Aronia Jam

by Ciaran Burke

We walked under the spruce trees, passed the twisted hawthorn and down the slope. The long grass brushed our knees, the mild damp autumn evening surrounded us and calmed our senses. The small river trickled over rocks, a soundtrack to soothe as we walked in to the lower part of the garden.

Here trees and shrubs grow in the grass, eventually we will have a woodland where ornamental species mingle with productive plants bearing fruit, berries and nuts. The weather has been so consistently wet I have not been able to cut the grass in this area of the garden since June. The area even flooded a few times when the stream over flowed, then that whole part of the garden looked like the river Shannon. As a consequence, the lower garden is a bit of a wilderness. Despite the wet conditions many of the trees species have grown well. Plants that grow here are tough. Birch trees are happy, willows are ecstatic. The alders, Alnus glutinosa, which we planted in the sucking, wet ground a few years ago have rocketed skyward, their branches provide shelter and their roots fix nitrogen to enrich the soil. Hazels are thriving where there is better drainage close to the stream and Parottis persica ‘Vanessa’ will soon turn gold and crimson with autumn tints.

Betula albosinensis ‘Fascination’ in our “wilderness”.

We picked our way through the grass, plucked some leaves of sorrel to munch and taste their sour flavour. A bush with large clusters of shining black berries drew our attention, Aronia melaoncarpa. Here in our wilderness, it has grown and triumphed. 1.5 metres high, so far, it will in time grow higher. A close relative of the wider grown genus, Cotoneaster, Aronias have a similar display of small white flowers in May.

Aronia melanocarpa fruits

Now in Autumn it gives us its best, the green leaves start to turn a rich red before fading to orange and gold before they fall. Hanging from the stems are juicy black fruits, the size of grapes. It is a plant of beauty and strong constitution. No weeding has been done around it, no fertilizing, no pruning. In wet acid soil it has thrived, and it has been fruitful. It also is growing in shade for most of the day, not until  late afternoon when the sun has moved past the tall spruce trees does the plant receive direct sun rays.

Leaves of Aronia melanocarpa showing the first signs of autumn coloration.

There are other species of Aronia and hybrids too.  Aronia arbutifolia is a smaller leaved plants with small red edible fruits and fiery red autumn foliage. Aronia ‘Viking’ is vigorous with dark purple edible fruits and good autumn colour. We also have another plant of Aronia in our garden with dark fruits that are smaller that A. melanocarpa with a different taste, I think it is A. x prunifolia.

Aronia melanocarpa

I was surprised by how well our plant of A. melanocarpa had grown, and by how beautiful it looked, my mind turned to jam. I mean, I thought about making jam! The berries make a lovely jam.

Beside our tunnel I have a number of plants of Aronia melanocarpa and A. ‘Viking” which I had propagated from cuttings. As soon as I give the long grass and rushes a strimming, I will definitely plant more Aronia bushes.

Aronia fruit



  • 1Kg of ripe aronia berries (A. melaoncarpa or hybris, not A. arbutifolia).
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 350g sugar
  • 2 large cooking apples.


  1. Put the aronia berries in a saucepan with a little water and juice of a lemon. Cook on a low heat, simmering until they are soft, this takes longer than blackcurrants or blackberries, 35 – 40 minutes.
  2. Chop up the apple into pieces, do not skin and cook in a separate saucepan with a little water until it reduces to a soft mushy pulp. Press the pulp through a sieve to remove the skin pieces and set a side.

    Cooking apples sliced and in the sauce pan


  3. When the aronia berries have softened stir in the sugar a little at a time. Then add the apple pulp.

    Transfer the apple pulp into the jam once the jam fruit has softened.

  4. Turn up the heat and boil the jam, it should be raging, a roiling boil which will splatter like mad, be careful, it is very hot.
  5. After about fifteen minutes then jam should be thickening and ready for potting.

Filling jars and Storing

  1. Transfer the jam into sterilized jars. I put washed and dried jars with lids removed into a cold oven and then turn the heat to 140 degrees Celcius. Leave them in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes. I put the lids in too.

    Jam jars washed and dried, In the oven for sterilizing.

  2. Fill the jars while jam is till hot, I use a jam funnel. Put lids on straight away and screw tight. This will cause a vacuum to develop as the jam cools, you will hear lids pop after a while. When the jam has cools, label with date and store jars in a cool, dark dry place. Well prepared jam can last for a year.

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June 26, 2012

Honey Berry, Siberian Blue Berry – Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica

by Ciaran Burke

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – berries in a bowl

This morning before I left to supervise the Royal Horticultural Society examinations taking place in our Galway centre today, I enjoyed a bowl of muesli topped with berries of Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica- it is so uncommon in gardens that there has yet to be a common name adopted for it; honey berry, blue honeysuckle and siberian blueberry.

Whatever you wish to call it, this is a berried plant to get excited about. The fruits have a taste similar to blueberries and are packed with Vitamin C, and unlike blue berries it will grow in alkaline soils! ANother great feature of this shrub is that the fruits ripen very early in the year, before such fruit bushes as black currants.

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – fruit on bush

Home for Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica is Kamtschatka Penninsula in north east Siberia. The plant can survie minus 40 Celcius and the flowers which are borne in Spring will tolerate frosty conditions as cold as minus 8 Celcius.

I first came across the plant in Finland, or rather in a book written by a Finn, Lief Blomqvist. In his book Puutarhan marjat (Garden Berries) he inspires me with his amazing range of edible berries which they grow in Finland. The book is written in Finnish, my wife Hanna translates for me. He also runs a nursery north of Vaasa, which apart from stocking perennials and shrubs, stocks old, rare and winter hardy (in mid-Finland) apple varieties and unusual fruit and berrying plants. We visited his nursery last summer and were amazed by the range of plants on offer, especially the fruits.

Each summer when we return from Finland, we do so with a few plants in our suitcases, we usually have to post home dirty laundry! The first time our luggage contained two sea buckthorns, Hippophae rhamnoides, ‘Rudolf” and ‘Raisa’, male and female. Despite being stripped of their rootball clothing of potting compost they established well and last summer after three years, we enjoyed out first crop of berries.

Varieties of  mock orange Philadelphus ‘Erectus’, sand cherry, Prunus pumila and of course Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica have been among the many to make the southern journey in August every year since. The Lonicera has started to fruit well this year. It produces fruits about 1cm long hidden amongst the foliage. The fruit ripen early, before any of the other bush fruit and the taste similar to blueberries.

The plants grow about the same size as black currants, about 1.5m and live for about 30 years, although it is said that their peak production is on plants that are between 7 and 15 years old. Cross pollination between two cultivars, like blueberries, provides larger crops. Unlike blueberries, this relative of the honeysuckle does not require acid soil conditions. They grow best in a sunny position and any soil that is not very wet.

Apart from their excellent flavour, the fact that they fruit early is a hugely positive characteristic, they fruit at the same time as strawberries, before currants and gooseberries. We have one plant without a cultivar name with hairy foliage, the first that we purchased. The following year we got L. caerulea var. kamtschatica ‘Duet’. L.’ Duet’ has not fruited well as yet, there was an issue about weed competition, but the other unnamed plant has fruited quite well. The latest addition is L.’Gerda’ which is said to have really big fruits, we wait patiently for its large sized bounty next year. About five weeks ago I took some cuttings of a plant from my mothers garden, an un-named cultivar and they have rooted well.

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – fruit on bush

The flowers are small, borne in pairs in the leaf axils and are in bloom very early in the year. Although cross pollination is said to produce better crops, our plants are flowering at different times, perhaps this is the reason that ‘Duet’ is not producing well. Next year with L. ‘Gerda’ for company and plants raised from cuttings we should have the flowering seasons well covered and we can look forward to bumper crops…maybe enough for jam, honey berry jam, sounds nice!

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – mashed and sugared , a fresh jam on home made bread – delicious!

June 18, 2012

Pickled Elder Flower Buds – Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

Pickled Elder Flower Buds

Elder flowers open in succession, so even now while there are flowers in full bloom there are further flowers still to open. The flower heads when harvested at the green bud stage are delicious pickled, a bit like a substitute for capers.

Collecting the flower heads

Snap off unopened flower heads. Collect about 30 heads for a 1 litre jar. You can leave the stalks, they can be eaten too.

Boil up a litre of cider vinegar, or you can use a malt vinegar instead.

Elder flower buds in colander after washing

Wash the harvested flower heads and place them in a clip top storage jar.

Elder flower buds in clip lid jar

When the vinegar has boiled, pour it over the flower heads.

Pour the boiled vinegar into the jar containing the elder flower buds

Seal the jar and the allow the vinegar to cool.

The flower heads can be eaten as soon as the vinegar has cooled.

Pickled Elder Flower Buds

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March 11, 2012

Gaultheria berries, some are good to eat

by Ciaran Burke
Gaultheria berries with yogurt

Gaultheria berries with yogurt

Some G. mucronata berries are quite tasty with some home made yogurt and brown sugar! Or enjoy them as a nice treat when in the garden. It is great to be able to pick a handful of berries and munch them while taking a break from weeding in the garden.

The small, narrow, dark evergreen foliage is densely packed along the stems, each little leaf ending with a short spine.  Masses of small white nodding flowers are produced in May, creating a cloud of soft white over the branches. In winter plump berries replace flowers, decorating pots and borders.

The berries remain on the plant for such a long time, already on show in September they will be looking good right through winter until late spring. Like marbles, they clutter the stems, the colour range from white to mulberry-purple. Named cultivars are sometimes offered for sale but more usually they are just sold incorrectly labelled as pernettya.

Gaultheria mucronata -red

The flowers of P. mucronata are dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are borne on different plants. This is important to know if you expect to have berries on your plants.

One male plant should be sufficient for a group of  about 8 female plants. A low growing male cultivar called ‘Thymifolia’ is a good choice as a pollinator especially where a neater growth habit is favoured. There is a hermaphrodite plant which produces bright carmine-red berries called ‘Bell’s Seedling’ which is an Irish cultivar. One solitary plant can produce berries without the need for the company of a pollinator.

The edibility of Gaultheria mucronata berries is a subject clouded in confusion, with some texts stating that all members of the genus have poisonous berries.  I have eaten them, enjoyed them, and survived!

It is known that South American natives have valued the berries for their taste and health benefits.  The texture of the flesh is somewhat watery and the skin dryish, but it is not unpleasant at all. Recently I was tasting some of the berries in our garden, a friend was with me and we noticed that berries from one bush in particular had a far stronger and better taste than the others, while another had no taste at all. Selection of individuals for their flavour is something that could be worked on. What is quite amazing is how long the fruits stay and remain good quality onthe plants, from autumn until now in March.

Gaultheria mucronata - deep pink

Gaultheria mucronata - deep pink

Let the fruit ripen well so that the flesh is soft when gently squeezed. Be careful though, plants offered for sale are usually grown as ornamentals and not grown as fruit plants. Due to this fact there may be insecticides incorporated with the compost. Whether or not the plants have been treated with pesticides should be confirmed first before tasting the berries.

G. mucronata which hails from Chile and Argentina, was relatively unknown to gardeners from its introduction in the 1830s until plants raised by the Co. Down nurseryman T.Davis of Hillsborough were exhibited in London in 1882 and attracted attention. He showed plants which he had raised and selected over the previous 30 years. Sadly most of these cultivars are probably lost to gardeners of today but there are many others to choose from. They require acid soil, they are ideal for ground cover or can make attractive outdoor pot plants.

This text is an extract from an article (edible ornamental berries)  in the current issue of Organic Matters, the magazine of IOFGA (Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association) available in news agents countrywide.

Gaultheria mucronata -white

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