Wartime Garden: Marrows

Last year we grew Table Dainty, a recommendation of the largely forgotten Wartime Gardener, Eleanour Sinclair Rhode. This glorious gardener in her book, Uncommon vegetables and fruits: How to grow and how to cook, recommends this 'for it is an ideal little marrow, the fruits attaining only about a foot in length'. Unlike a normal marrow that may only fruit one large marrow or two at a push, this wonderful plant last year gave us around 10-15 marrows per plant. It may not look much at the moment but this little plant will soon trail over the plastic surrounding it, setting flower, then fruit that will head straight to our kitchen and winter stores.

Wartime Garden, growing marrows.

That wonderful radio gardener of the war, Mr Middleton says of marrows in Mr Middleton Talks About Gardening (1935):

'If you want a few really nice marrows for the show, a good idea is to train them over a sloping framework of some kind. An old gate, sloping from the ground near the plants, to a wall or fence or some other support, four or five feet high, does quite well. Tie the shoots here and there, and then let the young marrows hang under the gate. By this method you get them perfectly straight and evenly marked, and free from slugs or soil blemishes, and they will grow to quite a good size without breaking the stems.

Of course we don’t all happen to have a spare gate, but l’ve no doubt you can fix up a contrivance of some kind which will answer just as well. But whatever you do, especially if you try this on an allotment, let it be something neat and inconspicuous. I should be very sorry to suggest anything which might encourage the use of old bedsteads and other worn out domestic appliances on the allotments. I should like to take this opportunity of appealing to allotment holders generally to be a little more considerate of the public point of view and try to keep the allotments a little tidier than they usually are. I have seen allotment fields recently which, from a distance, look like vast rubbish dumps rather than productive gardens. Surely this is hardly necessary? A little ingenuity and a coat of green paint can often cover up a multitude of eyesores.'

We're sure by the time war broke out, Mr Middleton changed his opinion on make do on allotments. He may have had a nervous breakdown on our plot, seeing us plant marrows into tyres but like the compost heap planting of last year this technique takes up little space and allows easy access to feeding the plant.

The sowing was incredibly easy, after a follower of our twitter feed adopted the same marrow this year for her allotment and planted the seed direct, covering with a bottle cloche. We did likewise and germination was quick in the recent heat. We plant a little later here, and though Mr Middleton recommends the sowing of marrows at the end of May for us Northerners, we left it to the start of June.

There are a number of recipes for Marrows from the war years including those who kept rabbits. The recipe here was simple, rabbit and marrow chips.

There was the more staple Marrow Pudding (we can hear your mouth watering now). Which involved boiling a small chopped marrow in water until soft, then strain through a colander. Then fill a pie dish three-quarters full with the marrow. Add a lump of butter and a little sugar and spice for flavouring, this tended to be pepper. Fill up the dish with milk and bake on an over tray for 45 minutes at 190C, 375F, gas mark 5. Serves 4. Those we doubt you'd get four people willing to eat it today.

There is the tasty spam stuffed in a marrow.

What most people do not realise is that marrow did take over a necessary role in the kitchen. It took over the role of fruit as it could be made to taste of anything it touched, forget mashed parnsips made to taste like bananas, marrows could take on anything you threw at them. Something that has changed our ways in the kitchen is a desire to preserve our food as chutneys, jams and cans. Earlier this week we started to preserve our glut of strawberries, and Carol said something that made us think: 'I'm glad we can do this again because nothing beats homemade jam'. She's right, nothing beats homemade preserves, simply nothing, no shop bought, no independent jam maker, no niche jam club. The simple reason why is because you grew them, you preserved them and along the way you learnt a hell of lot more than you did scanning it through a supermarket till. 

This leads us to our favourite marrow recipe, beyond stuffing it with spam.


Fills 7-8 500g/1lb jars

2kg/4lb 8oz marrow, weigh this after peeling, seeding and cubing.

3 lemons, grated rind and juice.

75g/3oz dried root ginger, bruise it hard. As Fanny Craddock said stabbing a turkey, it's best to think of someone you dislike while bruising the ginger.

2kg/4lb 4oz sugar.

Cook the marrow in a little water until tender. You can use the tip of a knife to test this, you want the marrow cubes to remain intact and not fall apart when pricking them. Drain through a colander and put in a large bowl. Add all the lemon rind and juice. Place the bruised ginger in a square of muslin tied shit and add to the bowl. Add all the sugar and cover with tea towel and leave in a cool place for 24 hours. After 24 hours removed the muslin and ginger, put the contents of the bowl in a pan and heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved and the marrow is transparent and the syrup thick. Place in sterilized jam jars and seal. If you want the marrow and ginger jam to be spreadable, mash the cooked before putting into jam jars. It should make a syrup like jam rather than a thick gooey jam.

In the garden:

In the kitchen:

Pig For Victory Series (Our own Dig For Victory pamphlets and films): 

Links to Andrew writing on the Wartime Garden for other publications:

Dig For Victory and Pre-War Films

You can type wartime garden in our search box to find more results.

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