Addio Estate – Harvest Time

It’s that time of year again, the beginning of autumn when the bounty of summer comes in. And like so many of us who grow our own food, I’m feeling a bit inundated at the moment!

So far, I swapped some of my egg glut for a bag of crabapples and elderberries for jelly making; pickled and dried nectarines off our tree; dug and bagged potatoes (and I’ve still got more in the ground); eaten and dried so many beans; vainly tried to stem the attack of the killer zucchinis; dried enough prunes for the coming year but still the kitchen looks like it’s overflowing with plums now I’ve finally got the last of the fruit off.

Then there’s the tomatoes.

Some of you might recall I talked about some volunteer Roma tomatoes that survived winter in the worm farm and germinated in November. Well, quite a lot of them came up in one of the wicking barrels! I thinned the plants out and over the last month picked about 4 kg (just shy of 9 lb!) of perfectly delicious tomatoes.

Summer has been a very mixed bag here in Tasmania with much cooler temperatures and more rain than usual, and it seems we’re getting more balmy weather now that we’re officially into autumn. Everyone’s been complaining that tomatoes are slow to fruit, smaller than average and so on, but I think the flavour has been outstanding!

I don’t normally grow a lot of tomatoes but I decided to go for it this summer so I could bottle fruit as it ripens for use in winter stews and curries. This is reflected in the varieties I chose – Principe Borghese, San Marzano, Polish Giant and Debarao. These are all in various stages (the Debarao are still flowering) but I did bottle the first kilo of San Marzano this week and they are fabulous!

I didn’t factor in for the Roma crop (it was quite a surprise!) and that’s come in earlier than the rest. So I decided to make that wonderful Italian pantry staple, Passata. It’s kind of like making your own pasta sauce, totally to your taste and giving your winter meals a touch of those sun-kissed summer days.

Three things to note before we start. Firstly, I don’t blanch and peel the fruit for this as it takes a lot of time and basically I’m lazy. (In truth, I’d just blanched a couple of jars of small San Marzano tomatoes for bottling and was running out of time that night). Instead, I put the whole thing through the blender and the skins break down beautifully doing it this way. Secondly, I used a combination of Basil, Marjoram and Oregano because that’s what I had close at hand and we love those flavours. Sage, Thyme, Italian Parsley and even a little Rosemary would be just as good. And finally, this recipe uses chilies – another fruit I have in abundance here! – but it’s just as delicious without them, so don’t feel compelled to use them 😀

Deb’s Chili Passata

2 kg ripe Roma (or any plum-type) tomatoes             1 onion, chopped

1 head garlic, peeled                                                         6-12 chilies, chopped (optional)

2 tabs basil oil                                                                   ½ cup fresh basil

¼ cup oregano &/or marjoram                                     1 tab honey

¼ cup minimum Marsala or red wine                           salt to taste

Wash the tomatoes, remove any stems, bruises, etc. Put them in a large stockpot with the oil, garlic cloves, honey, onion, wine and chopped chilies. Heat slowly over a low heat until the tomatoes start to sweat and mash down. Stir occasionally but leave the lid on as much as possible.

Add the fresh herbs and continue cooking until it starts to look like a tomato soup. Season it to taste. Take off the heat, cover and leave overnight.

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The next day, put the cold tomato mix through a blender and pulse to the desired consistency. Clean and sterilise jars/bottles and lids/tops. Put the blended mixture back into the stockpot and reheat. Boil gently for at least two minutes. Take off the heat and prepare a tall stockpot for a water bath (or Fowlers Vacola or Ball canning/bottling vat).

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Ladle the hot Passata into sterilised jars, add ¼ or ½ tsp of citric acid to each jar, cover securely with sterilised lids and place in water bath. Bring the water up to the boil and hold for 20 minutes with the lid on. Turn off the heat and leave the jars to continue processing for another 15 -20 minutes.

Remove the jars carefully (they will be very hot) and put them on a board to cool. Check for a seal, label and store in a cool place. This will last unopened for up to a year but mine never lasts that long!

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This recipe made just over 2 liters and can be bottled in smaller jars as well – I just have lots of swing top bottles this year!

Enjoy, and if you try this recipe I’d love to hear what you think of it 😀

Take care and talk with you all soon, I have to go make Plum Butter now………..

Oh Beautiful Friday!

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My life is a little bit insane at the moment, hence the lack of blogging (sorry!)

I’m as always, up to my eyeballs with uni (getting a portfolio of poetry together this time) and work has started again at Oak Tasmania. This year, I’m doing my musical things with The Superstars and we have some big plans for 2017 but I’ve also started tutoring a Food Gardening group two mornings a week. It’s been hectic!

In the space of a couple of weeks, we’ve started doing experiments with growing carrots in pots rather than in traditional garden beds, resurrected the worm farm, started a vegetable and herbs seed bank, done quite a lot of weeding, cleaned out the small greenhouse that’s on site, potted up some basil and eggplants and planted some lettuce seedlings that are already up and running 🙂

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Future salad!

Eventually, we want to grow enough to pass on to the kitchen and provide the cooking courses with fresh, clean produce to turn into salads, soups and encourage better eating among the Oak staff and participants. I’m also hoping some of the seedlings will go home with the gardeners, most of whom are very keen!

This week we spotted a very old dinghy around the back of the site and we’ve decided to appropriate it. Our plan is to bed it in securely, fill it with sheep poo and some good loam and plant it out. The drainage is good – she came with lots of holes! – and we’re thinking about an experiment with some seed potatoes we discovered to begin with. Although they’re very late, in a raised bed we should get a crop and I think we should dress it up and name the old girl something like “The Good Ship Spudalicious”. (Photos are coming!)

Meanwhile, at home it’s a bit overwhelming with nectarines just finished and plums coming in and I’ll be getting the dehydrator out this weekend to turn most of the plums into prunes for the winter months. And I did get my one apricot off the new tree! A few months ago I cheered that there was one solitary fruit and it ended up perfect and utterly delicious ❤

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The maincrop bush tomatoes (San Marzano and Principe Borghese) are just starting to size up and ripen but the Debarao are still flowering and a little behind the Polish Giant Paste that are very green but already very big! Undoubtedly, the best cropper so far has been the bush Roma’s that were an unexpected bonus. I’ve been picking them just as they’ve started to colour and I’ve got a couple of kilos off them already that I plan to bottle in the next few weeks. Everyone’s tomatoes in southern Tasmania seem a little late this summer, but while the rest of the country’s been in a devastating heat wave, Tasmania has been relatively mild and surprisingly damp this year.

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Principe Borghese Tomatoes

Last week I picked enough perfect grape vine leaves to put in brine for making Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves)

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At least I got the year right even though it’s February now!

and this week I put up two bottles of Pickled Nectarines. This is really simple and relatively quick. All I do is put halved and pitted nectarines into sterilised jars with a cinnamon quill, a star anise and piece of dried Habanero chili in each (totally optional!) and covered them with a heavily sweetened apple cider vinegar (the ratio is 1:1) while it’s still hot. Covered with sterilised lids and put the jars through a water bath for 15 minutes, these nectarines are wonderful with ice cream as a dessert or sliced with game meats. Just leave them for a few weeks for the flavours to develop.

And Wednesday, I had a great time playing a gig at Irish Murphy’s in Salamanca. Because of everything that’s going on in my life at the moment, I haven’t been playing as many solo shows and it was so good to play some songs and catch up with lots of friends 😀

Because I’m working more, I decided to make a mega Zucchini and Ham Slice to freeze and take for lunches – it’s a great way to use up some of the zucchini and egg glut! I used 8 eggs, three grated zucchini, a 1/4 cup of flour, a few left over boiled Nicola potatoes, some cubed ham (about 2 cups) a little fresh sage, thyme, marjoram, a couple of finely sliced Cayenne chilies and a grate of nutmeg. After I’d beaten all this together, I added about 1 1/2 cups of grated Colby cheese and about 1/2 cup of grated parmesan and baked it in a greased deep pan for about 45 mins in a moderate oven. I ended up with 7 generous serves that will make work lunches a lot easier!

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But now, it’s Friday night and I’m beat! All I’m good for is watching the cricket on television and drinking cups of tea. I keep looking across at the pile of clean washing and wish it would fold itself up……..

 

 

Tis the Season

It’s Boxing Day here in Australia, which for me means the true start of summer holiday reading, grazing on leftovers, warm weather (usually) and the start of the Sydney/Hobart yacht race, which I usually don’t watch – living in Hobart I’m usually more interested in the finish!

But surpassing all these things, it’s the first day of the Melbourne Boxing Day test match. This year Australia are playing Pakistan and I’m enthralled already. Two of my friends are at the game and I think one year I’ll have to fork out the money and go myself, though I’m loath to give up my comfortable couch and grazing rights for a hard plastic seat and overpriced snacks!

The yard has been very productive too, there’s been loads of potatoes (and more to come) plus raspberries, strawberries, beans, the start of the cucumbers, the first of the basil and the mandatory salad greens that always grow in my garden. Interestingly, I’ve had some “volunteers” that have done very well the last few weeks.

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These Roma tomatoes came from seeds in the worm farm and ended up as fertiliser/soil conditioner when I was planting out the dwarf apples back in late winter. I’ve repotted a few that are flowering but it’s astonishing how well this batch has fared – and with no help at all from me!

The raspberries have been quite wonderful and there’s been a lot of luscious desserts this summer as well as just enjoying them fresh, straight off the bush ❤ We’re not a big jam-loving household but I think it’s worth experimenting and make a little sometimes just to add some variety. So, for something a little different (for me) I decided to make a few jars from the excess. Raspberries are a good source of pectin so jam making is pretty straightforward although there’s loads of warming the sugar before cooking tips and tricks. I’m too lazy for that! Here’s my basic recipe.

Lazy Woman’s Raspberry Jam (Makes about 3 x 300 ml jars)

500 g (1.1 lb) clean, whole raspberries

500 g (1.1 lb) white sugar

1 tab lemon juice

a small knob of butter

Pick over the berries and make sure they’re clean. I find this works best with a mix of very ripe and slightly under ripe fruit.  Put in a large, heavy based saucepan. Gently pour over the sugar and shake the pan to make sure the sugar covers and coats all the fruit. Cover and leave overnight.

The next day, wash glass jars and screw top lids (the “pop-top” kind) in warm, soapy water, rinse in hot clean water. Because we don’t eat a lot of jam, I tend to use small jars for this, nothing over 300 ml. Sterilise the jars in a cool oven and put the clean lids in a small saucepan of simmering water. This jam is fast to make, so I find it best to get the jars and lids done before I cook the jam.

Put the sugar and berries on a low heat and add a tablespoon of lemon juice. Shake the pan gently until the gorgeous raspberry juice starts to show through and increase the heat. Then stir occasionally to ensure the jam doesn’t stick. Bring it up to a simmer and continue to stir. Let it boil for a minute or two and toss in a small knob of butter. (This is a very old trick to eliminate the scum that sometimes forms on boiling jam – and it works with any and every jam!) Test for a set by putting a little on a saucer and letting it cool.

Once setting point is reached take the jam off the boil and put it on a heat-proof surface somewhere convenient and safe to pot up. Bring the sterilised lids in their saucepan to the same spot, a pair of tongs, oven-proof gloves or a tough tea towel handy to grab hot things and a heat proof board to put the filled jars!

With an oven mit or tea towel, get a hot, sterilised jar out of the oven. Carefully fill with the hot jam, which should pour quite easily. I use a small clean china cup for this, but be careful – jam scalds are not fun! Grab a lid with the tongs, shaking excess water off and very carefully screw it on the jar. Put on a heat-proof board or similar to cool slowly. Continue until all the jam is done.

As the jars cool on the board, press the center of the lid to ensure a seal. If the center won’t stay down (which happens occasionally) put this jar aside and use it first. Clean the outside of the jars with a clean damp cloth and label them clearly with name and date. This will store unopened in a cupboard for a couple of years but in my experience it usually gets eaten within a few months. Raspberry Jam will darken as it ages too, taking on a deep ruby hue.

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In the meantime, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone the compliments of the season. It’s been quite the “annus horribilus” for me and many others but as with all things in life, it’s really what you make it and there’s been some truly wondrous things among  the moments of sadness. Thank you to so many for offering comments and kindness throughout this year, it’s very much appreciated.

Personally, I’m not a religious person but I respect the power of positive thought flowing through to positive deeds. So whatever you believe, be kind to each other. That way we can’t go wrong 😀 ❤

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kunanyi/Mt Wellington, Hobart 25th December 2016

Let the Madness Begin! – Day 19 NaBloPoMo

I had a really good day today.

Because I’m back on schedule for my uni assignments, I decided to make the most of the lovely spring weather and spent most of the day in the yard.

There were rabbit hutches to muck out, chickens to talk to and (at long last!) tomatoes to start planting, and later, I did quite a lot of work in the greenhouse.

Around this time every year, life gets a bit crazy for me with lots of summer vegetables that I start from seed. These either need to be either planted out in garden beds (like tomatoes, beans and salad greens) or potted up for growing in the greenhouse (primarily basil and chillies).

This year is no exception, and this afternoon I potted up one of my favourite summer herbs, Shiso (Perilla frutescens), also known as Beef Steak Plant.

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I use it shredded in salads and when the leaves are full size, as a wrap for sashimi and even for pickling and drying. I love it’s spicy, fresh flavour. I have a really good and simple pickling recipe here if you’re interested.

To have enough for fresh and preserving, I usually grow about two dozen plants in small pots and keep them in the greenhouse. I use a weak home made liquid feed once every couple of weeks

There was also a punnet of Bergamot (Monarda didyma) that I’m planning to use to attract bees, and add flowers to salads and for tea that yielded a dozen plants, more tomatoes and a punnet of five very healthy Jam Melons (Citrullus lanatus).

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These very old fashioned fruit are a real blast from my childhood, when my mother would use a melon to make autumn fruits go much further for desserts such as pie fillings, tarts and of course, Melon and Lemon Jam. The melon is fiddly to seed but once cooked, the translucent flesh takes up other flavours beautifully. I was given the seed by a lovely woman in northern Tasmania and I’m really pleased these grew. I intend to grow the strongest two but don’t have large enough garden beds left to put them in! So, I’m planning to put them in big tubs and let them spill out across what used to be the corner of shame – now well tended pine bark around the plum tree.

It’s a little bit of forward planning (and maybe wishful thinking) but I’m hoping to have at least a couple of melons to use for making the last of the berries stretch that little bit further at the end of the season ❤

Tomorrow I’m potting up the first of the basil – the official start of “basilapocolypse” – and more tomatoes. Next week, some of the chillies will be ready to go. Then things will get really crazy!

Sunshine at Last! – Day 16 NaBloPoMo 2016

I’m really tired tonight.

Last night I went out and celebrated Meraki Management’s 1st birthday, had a drink (yes, only one!), listened to some wonderful local, original music and caught up with lots of friends – it was lovely! There’s a fabulous vibe in Hobart at the moment valuing live music, which in many ways is bucking against the global trend. Long may it prosper!

This morning I slogged away at more weeding and prepared another area for tomatoes. It was overcast but very muggy, and as the morning progressed, the cloud burned away and it ended up being a really lovely day. But tomorrow is forecast to be increasingly windy and 29 C (84 F), well above average for this time of year.

I hope all my baby beans survive but this is perfect for the raspberry bed, which is looking like a wonderful (and early) crop this season.

With overnight temperatures only predicted to go down to 11 C (52 F) and no rain likely until next Tuesday, I’ll probably be up early and out watering everything before it gets too hot. Although I live close to central Hobart and have mains water, I like to use rainwater out in the yard. I’ve plumbed a gravity feed line down the the back corner and the greenhouse and I have a small electric pump that provides mains pressure. It’s a good system but I’m continually tweaking it. Over the coming months, I’m planning to set out extra lines off the gravity feed with soaker hoses that I can turn on and off as needed. It’s a big job and quite fiddly, so I’m happy to take it one bed at a time.

Tonight I had the house to myself and being tired, I decided on a very simple dinner. A piece of fresh fish, a little butter and everything else from the garden. I cooked off chopped garlic in the butter, added a sliced mushroom (from the compost bags again!) and once that had softened, I pushed it aside and put the fish in. Once I turned it, I tossed in shredded silverbeet and sliced fresh snow peas. I covered the pan for a minute or two while I got a plate and cutlery ready, serves the veggies first and put the just cooked fish on top. It was delicious!

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Tomorrow after watering, I have to finish off my last assignment for my current unit. I decided to put myself way outside my comfort zone and prepare a draft for a children’s picture book. Maybe that’s what I’ll write about tomorrow for NaBloPoMo.

Sometimes I don’t know why I do this to myself!

Goodnight friends, be well and I’ll see you tomorrow ❤

Rainy Day Self Care – Day 13 NaBloPoMo

I’ve been really struggling today, feeling physically unwell but also quite inexplicably sad since I woke this morning.

Perhaps it’s the weather. It’s been very wet and bleak almost all day, so I didn’t have much chance to be in the yard. I’ve become very aware of how sensitive I am to such things. So I decided to remain as positive as possible, do things that made me feel better and generally engage in some self-care.

I got out my uber-fabulous rain jacket, found a beanie and went to splash around, feeding the hungry hordes and finding little things to photograph – something that always makes me feel good.

First stop after feeding was to check the greenhouse. Usually by November I need to water fairly thoroughly in there but today it was so damp it wasn’t necessary. I did find breakfast though 😀

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I only picked the one on the right and while it was lovely, we really haven’t had enough sunny days to encourage fructose production. I’m concerned the raspberries will be the same too but it’ll be at least a couple of weeks before they start producing significantly. And surely the sunshine will be back by then!

Of course, the best way to cheer me up is to see new things happening and I was very pleased to discover several flowers on the Cayenne chillies this morning. I really love these long, thin skinned chillies. They are great fresh but dry easily and they have a light and bright flavour, that lifts all manner of dishes.

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Meanwhile, I decided to make a really hearty slow-roasted organic chicken for tonight’s dinner so I headed for the French Tarragon patch, which is booming at the moment.

This is my take on Tarragon Roast Chicken.

I had some chestnuts left in the freezer that I dry roasted and shelled back in autumn. They were chopped up finely with a couple of the small garlic heads and the Tarragon and thrown in a bowl. I beat in an egg and a little olive oil, and mixed in about half a cup of fine sourdough breadcrumbs to help bind it all together.

In the slow cooker I made a trivet of a halved onion, some small carrots, a few celery sticks from the garden that were too big for using in salads, a few more little garlic heads and the rest of the Tarragon. I put the stuffed chicken carefully on top of the vegetable trivet, seasoned it and poured over about a cup of white wine. Then I put it on low and forgot about it for a few hours.

After some quiet time reading, watching trashy Sunday afternoon television and a long luxurious shower, we prepared potatoes, parsnips and carrots for roasting. Now, this is totally decadent but it was a household decision to add some home made garlic butter to the roasting pan – because fresh garlic!

After the veggies were starting to brown, the chicken was carefully lifted and finished off in the oven with all those lovely vegetables. I decanted off about 3 cups of rich liquid from the slow cooker as a sauce base and made a cornflour roux. A tablespoon of homemade mushroom ketchup and a dash of cream finished off the sauce.

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This was utterly fabulous. The Tarragon and garlic shone through without overwhelming, the chicken was succulent but cooked through, vegetables crisp on the outside and fluffy inside, and the stuffing was nutty and rich but not stodgy.

I’m now going into a food coma – but feeling much better than I was earlier in the day 😀

And to finish, here’s Bernard Black Bunny, telling me to “go away woman, can’t you see I’m eating?”

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Take care friends, and don’t be shy about looking after yourselves ❤

Lazy Day Gardening – Day 12 NaBloPoMo 2016

After yesterday’s foray into family history, today was a gardening day ❤

As many of you are aware, it’s been very wet in Tasmania the last half of this year and it’s taken a long time for soil temperatures to rise enough to ensure reasonable growth. Tonight, we’re expecting a big north easterly to come through, which is expected to bring flooding again to parts of the state. I think most farmers and gardeners are holding their breath, as it’s getting late to plant main crop vegetables. Here’s hoping it isn’t too devastating!

I’ve been holding off planting out tomatoes but once this wet passes, I’ll be putting out this year’s plants and hoping we get a long enough summer to produce a reasonable crop. But today I got stuck into preparing the beds in a method I call “lazy gardening”. Because of my spinal problems, I have to be careful about how much I do and how hard I work. It’s a constant trade off between maintaining (and slowly improving) core strength and not overdoing heavy tasks that involve a lot of bending. And today was perfect for me, still and warm but overcast.

I generally do yoga stretches before I start (which I’m sure the chickens find hilarious) and have become very conscious of not doing a heavy, repetitive task for too long, otherwise I stiffen and find it incredibly hard to walk properly for some time afterwards. Today I forked over a relatively new section of a bed that had become quite weed-ridden with all the wet weather. The soil was quite soft thankfully, and relatively easy going.

To break the job today, I planted out a few mixed zucchini in another bed, and some beans – an heirloom climbing Borlotti and a new variety (for me), a climbing Pea Bean that I grew from seed. This has a delightful, perfectly round red and white seed. I’ve no idea what the flavour is like but this slug thought the seedlings were pretty tasty!

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I also had a wander around the garden and discovered loads of raspberries and a few Jostaberries, a complex cross between gooseberries and a black currant. I just hope we have enough sunny weather in the next few weeks for them to ripen and sweeten!

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Lazy gardening involves very blinkered vision and really is a relative term. I try and ignore all the other jobs that need my attention and just focus on one small area, something that I find very difficult. It also involves  a large bottle of water, somewhere to sit, my smartphone and a blue tooth speaker that I put on an upturned pot. This ensures I have to stop regularly, sit down, have a drink of water and listen to something interesting while I work. Today I had Tom Baker reading Doctor Who audio books – The Brain of Morbius by Terrance Dicks, while I variously weeded, looked for snails, fed the chickens the weeds and snails, watered the greenhouse and took some photos of things in the garden.

After a busy day, tonight I grilled Lamb Leg Chops which marinated most of the day in my version of Za’atar (garlic, preserved lemon, sumac, chillies, basil oil, Lebanese oregano and cumin seed) and served with Cous Cous and fresh vegetables from the garden. It was delicious!

And to finish, (because there’s so many eggs at the moment) I made a simple baked vanilla custard – so simple but so wonderful. The recipe couldn’t be easier. 6 eggs and 3/4 cups of sugar well beaten in a large bowl. Then add 2 cups of milk and 1/2 teaspoon of good vanilla essence. Pour into a greased souffle dish and place in a baking tray with some hot water. Bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes or until set through. This basic recipe serves four and can have nuts or lightly stewed fruit or fresh berries added.

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