Fruit/Vegetable Anomalies #5 Courgettes


Photo 1: Keeping strange company
Courgettes (aka zucchinis) are the subject of this post. Garlic, potatoes, carrots, and strawberries have featured in previous articles.

In Photo 1, we have a double (or twin) courgette. A clearer picture is shown in Photo 2 along with some fellow courgette oddities ...

Photo 2: Courgette Anomalies
I'm not sure why we get conjoined courgettes - they are not common but not rare either especially in the courgette and squash family. It could be a double ovary (most plants only have one) or a single ovary that has split. You do see this type of phenomenon (Inosculation) in trees where two trunks meld together.

The other oddity displayed in Photo 2, the formation of a snout at the flower end, is far more common among courgettes. It is said to be due to incomplete fertilization and is particularly prevalent at the beginning of the cropping season. This could be down to a general shortage of pollinators (bees and bumblebees) or just a periodic shortage due to inclement weather (cool and/or wet). If you cut open one of these oddities, you will find the 'snout' does not contain seeds whereas the 'normal' part of the courgette does.

These strange-looking vegetables are perfectly edible though I usually discard the snout as this tends to go brown (off) quite quickly.

Alma Mater - Norwich and UEA - Postscript

 In what I assume is fairly normal behaviour, revisiting our alma mater prompted me to look up the names of some contemporaneous students using Google and LinkedIn. I found my first-year room-mate at UEA, Alan, who I haven't seen for 50 years and who now lives in the USA. Alan reminded me of a prank we played in our second year at University: the Big Froth.

Photo 1: The Square, UEA

The Square at UEA was a small amphitheatre with a pond and waterfall (Photo 1). It was a popular meeting spot when the weather was good. On our recent return visit to UEA, we noted The Square was still there but the water feature had gone.

Four Chemistry undergraduates (Alan, John, Barry and myself), like good scientists, did some research and experiments to come up with the right formula of water softener, detergent and colouring (potassium permanganate) - all purchased locally. Anyone who has lived in Norwich will know the water is very hard - hence the need for water softener.

The end result ...

Photo 2: The Big Froth

We forgot to take our own pictures - quite possibly we didn't have cameras in 1973. These black and white photographs don't really do it justice nor do they record the pink colour of the froth.

You can read and hear Alan's account, with a little more detail, here and here.

Fruit/Vegetable Anomalies #4 Garlic

 Another addition to the wonky vegetable series. See here, here and here for previous instalments.

This time it is a recently harvested garlic plant. This year's main garlic crop (Early Purple Wight) was planted out in March after pre-spouting in an unheated greenhouse during February. The crop was lifted towards the end of June. Unfortunately, more than half the harvested bulbs suffered a fungal attack leaving our crop severely depleted.

One particular plant had developed an extra bulge just above the main bulb (Photo 1) ...

Photo 1: Malformed Garlic?

... which turned out to be bulbils, a vegetative means of reproduction that are clones of the original plant.

Photo 2: Garlic Bulb and Bulbils

Softneck garlic (e.g. Early Purple Wight) are prone to producing bulbils. It may be indicative of a stressed plant. It is standard practice to remove any above-ground bulge at the earliest opportunity so that the garlic plant can put all its energy into the below-ground bulb. I obviously missed this one. Bulbils are perfectly edible (milder garlic flavour) or you can save them for planting out the following season.

Fortunately, Mary rescued some older garlic bulbs (possibly up to 4 years old) that had been planted with the roses to deter aphids. This crop (Photo 3) has been processed and frozen for future use ...

Photo 3: Up to Four Year Old Garlic?

... and the rose bed replanted with fresh garlic.

Alma Mater - UEA and Norwich - Day Six & Seven


Photo 1: Bittern in Norwich Castle Museum (May 2024)

Day six was spent with our son & daughter-in-law in and around Norwich since this was their first experience of the city. The morning was spent in Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. There is an admission charge (£7.80 per adult, with a rather measly £0.40 off for us oldies). It is an excellent museum - if we were Norwich residents then we would happily buy an annual pass (£44 for senior citizens) and visit every week!

One reason to come to Norfolk is the opportunity to spot a bittern in one of the many wetland reed beds that abound in the fens and broads. Notoriously shy, the booming call of the male is likely to be your only 'experience' of this bird. From disastrously low numbers in the 1990s, the bittern has staged a remarkable recovery thanks to nature conservancy and habitat restoration. Needless to say, despite a boat trip on the broads (see below), stuffed museum examples was the closest we got to seeing a bittern.

Due to ongoing work at the Castle Museum, some sections were not open to the public. By way of recompensation, the entrance fee to the museum also included free entry to Brideswell Museum, dedicated to the history and development of the City of Norwich. Well worth a visit in its own right.

In the late evening sunshine, we paid a short visit to The Plantation Garden, adjacent to The Cathedral of St John the Baptist - one of two cathedrals in Norwich with this one being the Roman Catholic version.

Photo 2: The Plantation Garden, Norwich (May 2024)

Photo 3: The Plantation Garden, Norwich (May 2024)

Photo 4: The Plantation Garden, Norwich (May 2024)

For our final day in Norwich, I booked a boat trip on the Southern Comfort paddle boat. It is difficult to get a good view of the Norfolk Broads from dry land so I would always recommend getting on the water. Hourly and daily boat hire is available if you want to do your own thing or there are public trips like this one.

Photo 5: Southern Comfort Paddle Boat

The 1½ hour trip costs £10 pp which seemed good value (there was also a booking charge of £1.92 - a somewhat unusual amount?). The captain provided a comedic commentary of life on the river but didn't spot/hear a bittern! There was plenty of other life out on the river. Boats of all types and sizes ...

Photo 6: Sailing Boats, Horning, River Bure (May 2024)

Photo 7: Pleasure Craft heading to Ranworth Broad (May 2024)

Wildlife including greylag geese and swans (but no bitterns) ...

Photo 8: Swan & Cygnets, River Bure (May 2024)

And expensive riverside properties with their own moorings ...

Photo 9: Riverside Properties, River Bure (May 2024)

Photo 10: Riverside Properties, River Bure (May 2024)

There were a small number of ocean-going yachts chugging along the river - it takes about an hour to get to the sea near Great Yarmouth.

We took a small detour to Ranworth Church on our way back to Norwich ...

Photo 11: Inside Ranworth Church (May 2024)

... a local landmark with a visitor centre serving food and drink. Unfortunately, due to a shortage of volunteers, the visitors centre was closed. So, we had a look around the pretty church with its impressive rood screen. Three of us (Mary sensibly did not join us) then proceeded to scale the 96 foot tower for wonderful views over Ranworth Broad and the surrounding countryside. This task is not for the faint-hearted or anyone with mobility issues. There are 89 (seemed a lot more) uneven stone steps up a spiral staircase, followed by metal then wooden ladders and, finally, a heavy trapdoor.

Photo 12: The Climb up Ranworth Tower (Credit)

The effort is worth it for the magnificent views from the top ...

Photo 13: Ranworth Broad from the tower of Ranworth Church (May 2024)

Photo 14: Ranworth Broad from the tower of Ranworth Church (May 2024)

Photo 15: View from the tower of Ranworth Church (May 2024)

A lack of hills and mountains makes East Anglia, and Norfolk in particular, a place where the sky dominates the views. This is very obvious from Photos 13, 14 & 15.

To give you an idea of how high up we are at the top of Ranworth Church tower, here is a photo of Mary at ground level ...

Photo 16: Mary from the top of Ranworth Church Tower

Just down the road from Ranworth Church is Fairhaven Gardens - recommended by one of our Norwich friends. We didn't have enough time to visit the gardens but, luckily, the cafe was still open for refreshments.

Dinner was booked at Namaste Village, a short walk from our digs. Great food, great service. Book to avoid disappointment.

Alma Mater - UEA and Norwich - Day Four & Five

These two days were spent mooching around the city. Day five included a change of accommodation as our son & daughter-in-law were joining us for a few days. The on-suite room, that had served us well for the first 4 days, was superseded by a large apartment in the city centre. Photo 1 shows the lounge/dining room. The record player in the far corner came with a supply of LPs from the 1960s/1970s (Beatles, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, etc); many of which I also listen to at home!!

Photo 1: Lounge Dining Room of our Norwich City Centre Apartment

Day four was spent wandering the streets of Norwich, popping into churches including St Julian's, art exhibitions and the occasional 1970's student haunt such as Head in the Clouds ...

Photo 2: Mary outside Head in the Clouds (May 2024)

... where she went for the full student re-enactment by buying a top. Head in the Clouds opened in 1971, a few months before we both started our university careers. I used to buy my loon pants from here (aka loons, bell bottoms, flares). The clothes were cheap, imported (from India/Asia?) and colourful - and you never washed them with other items as they were not dye-fast.

Photo 3: Mary deciding which top to buy (May 2024)

A trip to Norwich has to include a visit to Norwich Market and its 190 or so colourful market stalls (Photo 4). The market in Norwich was mentioned in the Domesday Book and is still going strong. At the beginning of the 1970s, when we used the market, at least one-third of the stalls sold fruit and vegetables; these have largely disappeared due to competition from the supermarkets.

Photo 4: Norwich Market (May 2024)

Street food and specialist food emporiums are now the main type of stall. We did enjoy some very tasty vegetarian fish (battered halloumi) and chips at Lucy's Fish & Chips.

Photo 5: Mary at Norwich Market (May 2024)

Norwich has a modern library, The Forum, which opened in 2001 after its previous incarnation burnt down in 1994 (see here, here, and here for more details). In addition to housing the library, the office/studios of BBC East and a couple of restaurants, the large atrium hosts exhibitions and events. During our visit, the Nara to Norwich Exhibition was on display in the atrium organised by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures.

Photo 6: Nara to Norwich Exhibition, The Forum, Norwich (May 2024)

We were fortunate that during our visit to The Forum, we witnessed a performance by the Karyōbinga Shōmyō Kenkyūkai ensemble (Videos 1 & 2).

Video 1: Buddhist Sutra Chanting, The Forum, Norwich (May 2024)

Video 2: Buddhist Sutra Chanting, The Forum, Norwich (May 2024)

There was time for coffee/tea and cake at Biddy's Tea Room (delicious, great service, busy) ...

... before heading back to our digs for the evening after a brief diversion to check out the location of our next accommodation.

Day five was largely taken up meeting a couple of friends from our University days who still live in Norwich and with whom we have kept in touch with by exchanging Christmas cards. Betwixt these two visits we managed to dump our bags at the new digs (Photo 1). Dinner was a Thai takeaway (👍) with our son & daughter-in-law.

Starlings - Not Everyone's Darlings

 Starlings tend to get a bad press as over-aggressive, greedy and petulant garden visitors; in other words, a bit of a bully. I suspect this is largely due to their gregarious nature which leads them to associate in large social groups. Of course, when they congregate in the tens and hundreds of thousands to put on their flight displays (murmurations), everybody loves them.

Photo 1: European Starling (June 2024) Enjoying a Dried Mealworm (June 2024)

Video 1: Starlings Taking over the Bird Feeder

This bully image is unfortunate because they are fascinating birds. Because of declining numbers they have been put on the Conservation Red List, albeit on the lowest classification level (Least Concern).

We are certainly seeing a lot more starlings in the garden and especially around the bird feeder. While they can take over the bird feeder (Video 1) at times, and will on occasions squabble with each other (Video 2), the other bird species (e.g. house sparrow) tend to just ignore them.

Video 2: Argumentative Starlings (June 2024)

You can read more about starlings here, here, here, here and here.

We fill our bird feeders with seed, mixed suet pellets (mealworm, insect, peanut and berry varieties), peanuts and dried mealworms. Mealworms are their favourite food, seldom lasting more than 10 minutes in the feeder; suet pellets are a firm second favourite though I don't know which variety they prefer. The young starlings seem to be overly dependant on their parents with regards feeding.

Video 3: Adult Starling Feeding Young Starling

It would be nice if the starlings could repay us for all the food they've eaten by putting on a murmuration display ...

Have You Seen the Price of Zucchinis?

 I got a bit of a shock last week when I saw the price of courgettes in our local Sainsbury's supermarket.

Figure 1: The Price of Courgettes (June 14th 2024)

The country of origin was stated as Morocco, Spain and United Kingdom - it must have been a helluva big courgette! Moreover, the courgette shelves were exceedingly bare though I've not heard anything about a shortage.

Fortunately, home-grown courgettes are now available from my kitchen garden. The first one was picked on June 13th and was slightly oversized (555 g) due to it being hidden under the leaves of the zucchini plant.

Photo 1: First of this Season's Zucchinis (June 13th 2024)

I picked another one the following day (14th June), just a tiddler by comparison, ...

Photo 2: Second of this Season's Zucchinis (June 14th 2024)

Based on the Sainsbury's price (Figure 1), the first two courgettes of the season are worth £2.10 which is about the cost of a packet of courgette seeds ...

Figure 2: Cost of Zucchini Seeds (June 14th 2024)

All future courgette produce is pure profit.

We do eat a lot of zucchinis - they form the base of my Vitamix soups, as well as being a key ingredient in curries, stews, casseroles and pasta sauces. Also nice as a side vegetable sauteed with apple, onion and tomato.

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