The effect of rapid, slow or medium growth on fruit and vegetables

The article below. appeared in the Geelong Advertiser in 1850. It should appeal to all veg and fruit gardeners. It’s full of sound advice and common sense, expressed in a somewhat idiosyncratic style. I found it while researching another piece about the relationship between flavour and terroir (for want of a better word). I was so enchanted by it, that I thought the world would be a better place if it was more widely publicised. I have tidied up some of the spelling, and introduced paragraph breaks for the sake of legibility.You can find the original on if you’re interested. It’s a cracker.

photo‘There is a vast difference between the productions of the garden, according to the mode of treating them, the size of everything, always affecting its flavour. The first consideration therefore is, do you want strength of flavour or other wise?

Generally speaking, we want vegetables to be mild; therefore, they
cannot be grown too large. Generally speaking, again, we require fruit to be
highly flavoured, and therefore they can be grown too large. Had not the eye as well as the palate to be pleased, we should never care to have fruit of any
kind beyond an ordinary size, but in vegetables the more rapid the growth the

Cabbages, onions, radishes, spinach, cauliflowers, brocoli, etc, are
praised for mildness, and condemned when they are of strong flavour. The
former is always the result of rapid, free growth; the latter, of a stunted growth. A cucumber is milder, celery is milder, even horse-radish, stringent as it is, is very much milder, when grown rapidly, than when its growth is slow; the Spanish and Portuguese onion is mild compared with ours, because its grow this free and rapid. The Spanish onion seed grown here is never so mild, because it is longer making its growth, and less when it is grown.

Fruit has its season of growth, like anything else, and the skill of the gardener is used to grow it large. The excellence of fruit is, stupidly enough, to he decided by its size in almost all cases, when in nine cases out of ten, nay ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, it loses flavour according to its beauty. No one can complain in a general way, of the want of flavour in a grape, such as we see at shows. It would be affectation to say that a splendid large muscat of Alexandria, was, when well ripened, short of quality, but by comparison, that is to say by the side of one that had been the whole season growing only half the size, it would be found weaker and less rich.

Nobody will venture to say that a five pound queen pine is so good as one of two or three, grown in the same time. Nobody will venture to show flavour to a melon of excessive growth against one of moderate growth of the same sort. The Jersey charmontelle pears are handsome fruits, as compared with the English grown, and bring more money, but they are no more to be compared for flavour than a turnip is

with an orange. We do not complain of people’s taste; we are simply stating facts, and showing that according to what you want so ought yin to provide. If we wanted currants for wine, we should not look for fine fruit small currants are more highly flavoured. Let a red Warrinton gooseberry grow of its ordinary garden size, and the flavour is exquisite ; grow it as large as you can for show, and it is absolutely washy in comparison. Let there be found on a pear tree, say on a wall, for which all things requisite have been done; let there be found an ill-formed fruit, one that has been stunted, and eat that, and compare it with one of the finest, and you will at once see that the uniting of the slow growth, and the high flavour, go together.

But we must not confound this subject by considering all large fruit are of interior flavour but that large fruit of a particular kind are worse flavored than ordinary sized ones of the same kind, that is weaker flavored, which in fruit is always an objection, but in vegetables an excellence. In vegetables, the younger they are, the better they are, but this is only in cases where the growth is checked as it grows old. A summer cabbage is always mild, but it will continue mild as long as the growth is not checked, so that until it gets hard in tile heart, and thereby checked in its growth, it will eat well. Thus is it that a white, close cabbage, as hard as it can well be, will be nice and fine when properly cooked , but if allowed. to remain on the ground in that state, or be a few days cut, it becomes in either case rank and strong. Turnips sown at a good season grow quickly, and taken while in growth will be fine, but the same seed sawn in a dry season, advances but slowly, and eats strong, and if left a little. longer on the ground, they become woody and stringy, as well as hot and strong.

We might run through the whole list of fruits and vegetables, and prove these facts in each and every case, but we have been content to mention those with which our readers must be familiar, because facts brought home to one’s mind bring conviction. Of those proofs, connected with vegetables, enough has been said, but perhaps as regards fruit, people are not so easily convinced, because, excepting those who can taste under the same circumstances, none can form a proper judgment. If we take a well ripened bunch of grapes, and find amongst the berries some small ones as fullly ripe, they are always of fine flavor. If an orange tree happens to have, as those who grow them must have seen, two or three very much smaller than the general crop, they will be found richer, that is stronger in flavor. Take a middle sized strawberry of any sort grown in poor soil, and the smaller ones will be the sweetest and best; not but that the starving –system may be carried too far. Indeed, if the vine be starved too much, it will not ripen its fruit, but even the vine may be grown upon the hot gravelly or chalky soil, where the fruit will not come half so large, but that fruit nevertheless is of the highest possible quality.

Let the pine grower, who finds a deformed, stunted unmarketable fruit, and eats it at home, say, if he once in a hundred times ate a well-grown specimen so fine and rich in flavor. We remember to have eaten at Richmond, at a dinner, we believe chiefly of gardeners, portions of some of the most beautifully grown pine-apples, that perhaps were ever put on a table, and we hesitate not to say they were the worst and poorest in flavor that we ever tasted.

We have al.o tasted several times the heavy Providence pines, but we well remember putting a stunted Providence pine – one which weighed under two pounds might well be so called-before several pine growers – and as the crown was pulled out. and the stalk cut close, before it was put down, and thus the only evidence of the variety removed; it was pronounced to be a splendid flavor, equal to anything they knew, nor were they easily persuaded it was a Providence, until the plant it came from, and the crown, were shown as proofs.

The difficulty of persuading people that large fruit is worse than small arises from the fact, that larger kinds of fruit are raised constantly, and many of them real improvements on old varieties, and this makes people familiar with larger fruit, that supersedes altogether many of the inferior and older kinds, so that we are met by prejudices against small fruit, but we cannot too strongly impress upon the mind that to be a judge, the fruit to be compared must be the same variety.

Take a Moor Park apricot, which may be grown larger than any other kind that we are acquainted with; on the same tree that in some parts grows this fine fruit, may be occasionally found some deeply coloured stunted fruit, speckled as if blighted. These are invariably of splendid flavour. So much for the general principle that we have laid down, the blighted, stunted, mis-shaped fruits have been as long growing as the finer and larger ones, thus establishing the principle, or rather confirming the truth of the principle laid down, that rapid growth reduces the flavour, and that the loss of the essential flavour is an evil in fruit, but a good in vegetables.

But in one thing all will agree: there is but one opinion of the fact, that mild turnips, mild radishes, mild cabbage, mild every thing in the list of culinary vegetables must be the best. This then ought always to be thought of when you are growing things. The gardener, who exhibits for flavour, should never choose the largest fruit. The Horticultural Society has always given prizes for size, and this has led not only to extravagant growth but also to the cultivation of large and poor sorts of fruit, instead of those more distinguished for flavour than beauty. At country exhibitions where everything is judged by flavour, the best effects are produced. We should like to see this more attended to in the metropolis, and we are certain that the fruit growers have only to study the principles which we have now laid down to induce them to direct their attention more to the flavour than the size and beauty of the fruit.’

Geelong Advertiser 1850

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About Matt

Food writer, television presenter and big eater.
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One Response to The effect of rapid, slow or medium growth on fruit and vegetables

  1. Max says:

    I was pondering whether to harvest the zucchini or let it grow… I must Google it, I thought and now thanks the Geelong Advertiser and this post, I think I have my answer. Amazing that the person writing this over 160 years ago and no thought that it would inform all these years later and the medium by which it would be read.

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