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Plump Griselle shallots come to the rescue

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 07:45 UK time, Sunday, 7 November 2010

For one reason or another, it has not done me much good to think past the day ahead. I haven’t had the luxury of thinking about much longer. There has always been the possibility of an enormous change at any minute.

There are, of course, advantages to being forced to live here, right now. But there are other much more painful moments.

It’s funny what rescues you in these moments, some fat plump Griselle shallot sets to plant in new compost, new wooden labels to write upon, a garden that starts at your back door or realizing that you can name all the autumn leaves beneath your feet. And right there that sickening moment has gone and the day unfurls.

Griselle shallots

The shallot sets say I am staying put, for the next six months at least.

Griselle are sometimes known as grey shallots and as far as taste goes they outstrip any other shallot around. They come from France and are considered by some to be the only true shallot. They have a deep, sweet, heady flavour and none of the bitterness of some onions. They mellow in your mouth and when slow cooked so that they are carmarlised they are heavenly.

These grey shallots have a series of papery grey outer skins, hence the name. They are a more closely related domesticated form of the wild Allium oschaninii than Allium cepa. A. oscahninii is found growing is temperate Asia, around where the garlic crescent lies, in Turkistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Iran. The Persians and Egyptians both revered the shallot and it was thought to be brought into French cuisine under Charlemagne’s reign. The other characteristic of these shallots is that the thick, fleshy roots persist during bulbing.

new labels and shallots

You sometimes find them in the supermarket, they tend to be large and plump, where as home grown ones tend to be much smaller, but still pack wonderful flavour, so don’t judge them too harshly if they don’t swell to market size.

I am growing mine in wooden crates because in new compost I fear that they may be highly susceptible to all sorts of horrors such as white rot, botrytis and downy mildew. I’ve given them extra spacing for this reason (I figure this will offer more opportunity for air circulation and less competition stress).

Plus I thought they might get lost in the rather wild polyculture that my garden seems to have adopted. It does feel a little like the garden is running its own plan these days and there are lovely surprises with that. Land cress, rocket (wild and cultivated), lamb’s lettuce and even regular lettuce arrive in gaps, unannounced ready to be left to grow or harvested to leave space. Where as all my sown winter lettuces were munched by slugs whilst I was away in America, the sweet rocket is taking over and I cannot eat it fast enough, so there’s a lesson learnt, even the chickens seems a little bored by it.

Autumn medley of plants

Alys Fowler is a garden writer and presenter of BBC Gardeners' World.

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