An Ode To The Humble Plum

Well, it’s been another incredibly busy week! The weather – always a mixed blessing in Tasmania – has gone from the height of summer to feeling like an early autumn in a few short days. Mind you, I’m not complaining too much about the rain. Although I’m on the usual suburban mains system in the house, I only water the garden area from tanks and a small pump, with an extra line I put in to gravity feed down to the greenhouse. With a lot of mulch, it’s a pretty efficient system, but usually by mid-February, the levels are getting very low. This year, tanks are full again!

On the other hand, the accompanying wind has played havoc with some of the fruit trees, with lots one of my dwarf apples toppled in its tub Thursday. I’ve anchored it firmly back and staked it, so hopefully it will survive.

This week has also been full of plums, with most of the tree picked, dried and (for the first time) even sold and traded on. When I first came here eight years ago, there were some extremely neglected fruit trees that were mostly in a pretty woeful state. There was a lot of brush cutter damage to trunks, effectively ring barking some, brown rot in many and everything literally overrun with weeds. Some I couldn’t save but right down in the back corner, furthest from the house, was a very old plum tree, strangled by blackberries, English ivy and yet, in spite of everything, covered in small unripe fruit. The main trunk was split, it had been very poorly pruned, allowing some rot to set in but I realised it was a very old European prune plum and therefore, most definitely worth saving!

What it was – the jungle plum!

After several years of regular weeding, careful hand removal of blackberry suckers and some judicious pruning (initially with a chain saw) this tree has come back into its own. A couple of years ago we laid lots of cardboard, sand and finally pine bark to suppress weeds and it’s been a very successful makeover.

What it became – well cared for!

So much so, that I always have way too many plums for my household. They’re not the most wonderful plum to eat fresh, but I love making things with them. Some years I make a few jars of jam or sauce and one year I made a quite delicious perry from the yellow fleshed fruit – but always there’s lots of dried fruit – prunes to chop up for muesli, add to apple cobbler or even savoury dishes like Moroccan lamb stews. Best of all, as I walk past my pantry shelf on the way to the laundry and the back door, I pop a few in my pocket to have as a sweet snack on those cold winter mornings, a little memory of summer that was, and the promise of summer to come ❤


Hooray for Cider! – A Book Review

This is an extended version of a review I posted on Goodreads this morning. 

I bought my copy online and if you’ve read this book, please let me know what you think – I always like to hear your opinions!

Cider: Making, using & enjoying sweet & hard cider, 2003 (1980) 3rd Edition, by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols, Storey Publishing, MA. 


Cider by Annie Proulx
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is possibly the most informative and inspiring book on cidermaking I’ve ever come across. Admittedly, it’s aimed at North American readers, but I still found plenty of fascinating and relevant information that I can adapt and use on the other side of the world in Tasmania AU.

I picked this up online and secondhand, but why anyone with even a passing interest in all things cider would part with it is beyond me! My intention was to use it as a reference book, something to dip into as I needed to look particular things up, but it’s incredibly well written and readable – I found myself engrossed in the text and really couldn’t put it down.

Yes, there’s probably a good deal about things I’ll likely never need to use, aimed at orchards on an acreage. At the moment on my little urban farm, I have four dwarf sweet multipurpose apples, a baby Huon Crabapple (all in tubs because of space limitations) and at most, I’ll probably expand it out to ten dwarf trees with cider varieties. So it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever have the need or inclination to learn how to set up and care for large wooden barrels. After reading this book though, I can see the benefit of a small cider press for future crops.

The bottom line is, I was fascinated with the information and how it was delivered. Annie Proulx is one of my favourite fiction writers and I think her influence and love of the subject makes the text flow. Lew Nichols is a professional cider maker and his understanding of the science shines through. And it should be noted there is a quite a lot of science in this book, but it’s written in a way that’s accessible and easily understood by anyone with even the merest grounding in high school chemistry – notably me! The diagrams and charts are relevant, practical and well connected to the text, and many of the old photographs and illustrations are really lovely to look at. Reading the acknowledgements shows they sourced information from many specialists across a wide range of disciplines.

Despite there being a number of reviews on Goodreads about how irrelevant this book is to backyard cider makers, I beg to differ. As an occasional maker of perry, cider, apple cider vinegar and fruit wine, I found a tremendous amount of information here that is very relevant to me, and it’s given me ideas of how to improve my brewing and horticultural practices.

I’m sure this is a book I’ll treasure and keep going back to year after year. Now excuse me please while I go and gather some timber – I want to make a cider press 🙂

View all my reviews

My secondhand copy from the UK

New Traditions – Day 3 NaBloPoMo 2016

I’m writing to you with the smell of new bread baking in the kitchen. It’s one of those things that spells “home” to me though my family weren’t into yeast-based cookery when I was a kid. We had bunches of dried herbs, cured meats and always pickled onions. I also remember the rows of Fowlers Vacola preserving jars (the Australian equivalent of Ball Mason canning jars) full of bottled fruit that my parents would put by every summer so we could eat apricots and peaches in the middle of winter.

I still put food by, it’s a deeply ingrained habit that I doubt I’ll ever fall out of love with. Instead of bunches of herbs hanging (and the luxury of a walk in pantry) I have new traditions – a dehydrator, a set of tall stockpots and a thermometer for water bath processing and a ragtag assortment of jars that I routinely wash, sterilise, fill, process, store and use.

My “pantry” is a bookshelf with a curtain to cut out the light and here I keep my preserved cordials, bottled and dried fruit, basil and lemon oils, homemade apple cider vinegar, bread flour and spare egg cartons. At the moment it’s mostly empty jars. There’s no bottled fruit left, one lonely roll of fruit leather from last summer, some pickled and dried chilies from the autumn harvest and a few bottles of sauce, fruit cordial, basil oil and flavoured vinegar.


To this day, I’m not sure why we never made bread when I was a child. I suspect with six of us in the house when I was young, it would’ve been much easier and less time consuming to buy bread than make it! My mother was a wonderful baker and I learned many delicious cake and biscuit recipes from her. Every Saturday was baking day and after lunch, the kitchen table would be cleared to make enough biscuits and small cakes for the coming week. In winter there would also be a few dozen Cornish pasties that would end up reheated as lunches, a savoury Pasty Pie and at least one large cake for the weekend and any visitors that might call in.

For those of you who’ve followed my blog for a while, I have a “pet” sourdough plant I named Wee Beastie. She lives on a shelf in the kitchen, where she watches everything that goes on and demands feeding daily. I started her off on new year’s day 2015 so she’s approaching her 2nd birthday.

Wee Beastie - watching and waiting!

Wee Beastie – note the air bubbles visible through the glass jar!

This living culture requires no other yeast and is a wonderfully frothy mix. My basic recipe is roughly 2 cups of Wee Beastie, 2 cups of strong bread flour, 2 teaspoons of bread improver and some olive oil to stop the dough getting too sticky. Sometimes I add half a cup of rye flour and add a couple of tablespoons of water so the dough is fairly soft. Once this is knocked together in a bowl I turn it out onto my wooden bench and knead it thoroughly for about 5 minutes. Then I make it into a loaf shape, coat my hands in olive oil (about a tablespoon) and massage the oil into the loaf, putting it in a bread pan to prove.

I’m essentially lazy, so it only gets one chance to rise. Normally, I knock the loaf together in the afternoon, leave the dough to rise overnight and bake it the following morning. The results of this slow process are pretty spectacular and incredibly delicious!


Even when it’s a few days old, this bread makes the best toast, perfect with a poached egg  ❤ I’ve even sliced it very thin and toasted it for an alternative to bought crispbread.

Meanwhile, I have to go. There’s an essay to write and (in the name of science) fresh bread to taste test 😉


Sunshine, Rhubarb & Good Ideas – Day 13 NaBloPoMo 2015

So, Friday again – where did the week go? I had to take the day off work today, my back is not behaving itself and I’m going pretty slow at the moment.

Still, I managed to feed the hungry beasts this morning, check that everything survived the rain and enjoy a little bit of sunshine. In the midst of my “go slow”, I had some gentle exercise, pulled a few weeds and picked some rhubarb. I have six plants of “Victoria” – the green variety – that get fed heavily a couple of times a year and give back a load of wonderful, tart stalks from the end of winter until the end of autumn.


I tend to roast bite-size pieces coated in brown sugar instead of stewing these days but I’ve got so much I’m thinking of making sparkling wine and syrup with some, as well as the usual crumble and Rhubarb Fool. (Any unusual suggestions or recipes would be appreciated!)

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is actually a vegetable rather than a fruit but it’s generally used for sweet dishes and drinks. Just make sure to remove the leaves before preparing and never let your chickens have any part of the plant – the oxalic acid make it lethal for poultry or rabbits.

And speaking of rabbits, I checked the babies this morning too. All are thriving, getting chubbier and growing fur 🙂

One week old 13th Nov

I found fresh mushrooms last night from the compost bags so had a filling breakfast of mushrooms on sourdough toast. I’m heading to my local plant nursery for some more mushroom compost next week!


Do you have any favourite recipes or bright ideas for using rhubarb? Please leave a comment below. 

Freaks or Future? – Day 8 NaBloPoMo 2015

Late last week, Woolworths Australia released a new advertisement, featuring high profile personal trainer Michelle Bridges. The ad is spruiking a new line of frozen meals the supermarket chain developed with Bridges. During the advertisement, Bridges described people who grow their own food as “freaks” and suggested that precooked frozen food was preferable to fresh fruit and vegetables. As you can probably imagine, the uproar on social media was big enough to make the supermarket pull the ad almost immediately. There’s an article worth reading at the Guardian Australia.

Well, I guess I’ve been called worse in my time.

But it got me thinking about all the ways growing my own food makes me healthier and happier. First and foremost, I get a lot of physical exercise all year round gardening. Some of you might be aware I have a degenerative spinal condition, coupled with body-wide osteoarthritis. Over ten years ago, my then GP told me that I’d most likely be in a wheelchair within a couple of years. Not bloody likely! Occasionally, it lays me low and I need to use a walking stick but fortunately, acute episodes are rare these days. My current GP is convinced that my half an hour minimum in the garden has improved my core strength, muscle mass and general well-being – not to mention raise my normally low vitamin D levels and provide me with food.

And then there’s the food.

I started gardening at this house a week after we moved in, almost six years ago. I have potatoes for eight or nine months of the year and free range eggs about ten months. I grow enough garlic now for almost the whole year. I still buy brown onions and some carrots but stopped buying salad greens and herbs after about three months. The last couple of years I’ve been breeding meat rabbits as an ethical source of protein and I’m researching growing mushrooms and installing a beehive next spring. I’ve tweaked my salad greens into seasonal delights, and now we look forward to winter too because that means sweet, frosted kale, silverbeet, chicory, endives, corn salad and (my favourite) English spinach.

Baby raspberries

Baby raspberries

Fruit begins with rhubarb in September, and progresses through strawberries November and December, raspberries, boysenberries, youngberries, loganberries, silvanberries and (for the first time this year) blueberries from December to April and apricots, nectarines and plums from January to the end of March. I also have a peach and double graft apple I’m espaliering that will probably fruit next summer and a lemon tree that will be planted out in the autumn. And everything is picked fresh the day it’s needed so the nutrient levels are high.  There is excess – I always grow too much – but it’s given to family and friends and I make cider and peri with excess fruit, fruit leather and dried chillies, beans and kale chips as well as freezing.

Blueberries starting to form

Blueberries starting to form

Also there’s a creative aspect of getting my hands in the earth – it makes me feel good about the world and gives me inspiration to write. When I’m in the garden, I lose all track of time and get to think about things I need to. I’ve solved some really big problems over the years out in that garden. I plan and plot and think about the season to come as well as the one I’m living in, it’s a window to the future.

And finally, there’s those wonderful moments when you can sit back, rest, enjoy and just be…………….. ❤

My favourite spot under the Chestnut tree

My favourite spot under the Chestnut tree

The Busy-ness of Spring – Upcoming Shows

Chestnut Tree Spring Oct 2015

Hello friends,

I love spring. The cycle of the seasons visibly turns and every day brings new things in the garden, the chickens are laying more eggs than we can keep up with, and here in Hobart we’re coming out of the hibernation of winter and starting to go out again.

Rhubarb Fool

Rhubarb Fool

Vanilla Ice Cream

Vanilla Ice Cream

Wee Beastie Sourdough

Wee Beastie Sourdough


And I’ve been busy! In the kitchen I’ve been making Vanilla Ice Cream and Baked Coffee Cheesecake with the excess eggs, brewing and bottling cider, making Rhubarb Fool from the mass of spring rhubarb and my weekly “Wee Beastie” Sourdough. It’s been absolutely wonderful to eat so well, with so much produce coming directly out of the garden.

The garden is always a work in progress but I’ve started planting out climbing beans this week, there’s basil in the Seeds and Basil Seedlings Oct 2015greenhouse and too many vegetable seedlings coming on to mention.

And there’s music happening too! I’m in the middle of a unit in Creative Writing for my second major through Griffith University. For my final assessment I’m planning to write a portfolio of new pieces that will become new songs. Depending how it goes, perhaps the core of another album.

Meanwhile, there’s gigs coming up too.

This Sunday at The Brunswick Hotel in Hobart, I’m playing a short set out in The Yard (the beer garden) with a bunch of other local musicians, including the incredibly talented Cassie O’Keefe and my friend Matt Dean. Very pleased also that this is a family friendly show, so feel free to bring your young music-lovers 🙂

Thursday 19th November, I’m sharing a night with Cassie at The Homestead in Elizabeth Street, one of my favourite places to go and hang out with friends. No idea what’s going to happen that one – we might even work out some songs to play together!

Friday 20th November, I’ll be doing the early spot at The Globe Hotel in Davey Street. If you haven’t caught this weekly event yet, I really recommend it. It’s organised by Kevin Gleeson who basically loves all kinds of music and is good friends with so many of us. It’s a great excuse to hang out and have a good time with mates.

And there’s more on the horizon! If you want to keep up to date with my shenanigans, hook up with me on Facebook here.

Yep, it’s spring and it’s busy – just how I like it.

Wherever you are, be well friends ❤

Hubble & Bubble




So, the blossom is starting to show, daffodils and snow drops are popping up and the soil is starting to warm up – I think spring has finally reached Tasmania – and about time too!

I think we were all getting a little sick of the cold weather this year. A few days ago the Bureau of Meteorology announced what many of us already knew – this was the coldest winter since 1966. But that doesn’t mean the weather’s suddenly warmer.

Last weekend we had more cold weather, snow on Kunyani/Mt Wellington and more rain than we’ve seen here in the south for several months. So, I got busy indoors 🙂

Wee Beastie and Cider Kit 29 Aug 2015

The last cider brew unfortunately lost its airlock while it was still playing out and had the first faint tinge of sourness when I’d checked it the previous weekend. So, during the week, I transferred about 8 litres to a 20 litre food grade plastic bucket and put about the same amount of clean, filtered water and Mother, my vinegar plant. The rest is sealed in clean fruit juice containers and will gradually all become Apple Cider Vinegar.

In the photo below, you can see the vague shape of Mother down the bottom, doing her thing. It takes about three months to produce a good, robust vinegar, suitable for medicinal and culinary purposes. I recommend processing to arrest the yeast. This is done by heating the strained vinegar to 70 degrees C, cooling and bottling. And of course, the longer you leave the processed vinegar, the more mellow the flavours become.



Meanwhile, the fermenting barrel got a very thorough clean out, all the seals checked and left to dry in the sunny laundry.

My sourdough plant I started at the beginning of the year, affectionately known at this house as Wee Beastie, was ready to make another loaf and there was a new brew of cider to put on.

The bread was pretty easy to get happening. Two cups of Wee Beastie, two cups of strong bread flour, half a cup of rye flour, a little salt and 2 teaspoons of bread improver to make the gluten work. No dry yeast necessary! I knocked the loaf together, kneading it for about ten minutes. Then, coated my hands in good olive oil, rubbed the dough with it, put it in a pan on the water heater (the warmest spot in the house!) and covered it with a tea towel.

Leaving the bread to prove, I replenished Wee Beastie with the usual half cup of bread flour and third cup of filtered water, mixed it well, covered it with cheesecloth and put it back on its kitchen shelf to start fermenting again.

The cider is always a bit of effort, because I like to use filtered water rather than straight out of the tap but usually, the results are pretty darn fine 🙂

Keeping Notes 29 Aug 2015This time I was using a Brewmate kit I bought a few months ago from a local brewing supply shop. I’ve never used this one before but its base is Australian pear juice and it comes with sparkling wine yeast, nutrient and apple flavour concentrate. I’m going to see how it plays out and taste a little before deciding to use the concentrate or not.

And, as always, I’ve taken notes on the brew, including the specific gravity, base temperature and so on. I find it easier to keep track if I write it down, and let’s face it life’s too busy to keep everything in our heads! The notebook lives with the clean bottles and brewing things and I add to the notes when bottling and again when I do the first tasting.

I use a heat pad to put the barrel on and with an even temperature, the brew started to take off by late Sunday.

While I was attending to the cider, the bread started to rise very nicely. I think sourdough loaves generally need longer to prove and this time of year when ambient temperatures are still quite low, it pays to give it that little bit extra.

But the result was a delicious light rye, with a beautiful sour tang. It’s still quite a robust, dense loaf that makes the best toast!

WB Light Rye 29 Aug 2015


Well, I must run and get some rehearsal done for upcoming gigs – more on that later 😉

Take care and see you all soon ❤

What are your best brewing and/or bread making tips? Please leave a comment – I love to hear from you all!